Washington County Court Fails Its Duty and Presumes to Infringe on Constitutional Rights

Joseph Wood, Washington County Judge

In an ideal world, government provides for its citizens by addressing problems so complex or so large in scope that citizens alone or even in groups cannot address them. Our tax dollars support government agencies that regulate the costs of necessary utilities, the purity of our food and drugs, and the safety of our mass transportation systems such as airlines and trains, among many other things. Under our U. S. Constitution, matters of personal conscience such as privacy and religious belief are left to the individual.

At the local level, we here in Washington County, Arkansas now find ourselves with a county government which has forgotten—if indeed they ever knew—their proper role. For example, about a year ago, the county government closed their south Fayetteville hazardous waste collection center. There was no public notice of this decision.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced by Quorum Court Republican Patrick Deacon and passed through committee last night quotes a Bible passage and presumes to embed certain religious beliefs into county law. A more experienced county judge would have stopped this presumption in its tracks.

A deeper look at the county judge’s tenure finds that upon taking office, he not only fired experienced county employees but replaced them with cronies from his former position at Ecclesia College. He gutted several of the county’s departments and ended up defending his actions in court.[1] Environmental affairs, tasked with protecting our natural springs, streams, and the rest of our land, was reduced to one employee. The county archives, a priceless repository of old deeds, marriage records, and other arcane and fascinating bits of our local history, was relieved of its professional archivist and its open hours reduced to a few hours one day a week. Other departments suffered similar cutbacks, all in the name of saving money and, to the Republican mantra, reducing government.

Hazardous waste isn’t something to toy with. These subtle poisons are found in virtually every household—cleaning products, solvent-based paints, pesticides, weed-killers, and other garden chemicals, batteries, motor oil, kerosene, swimming pool or hot tub chemicals, pharmaceuticals (all medicines), obsolete computer equipment and televisions, thermometers, barometers, thermostats, fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes (CFLs), and more. Educating the public about household hazardous waste (HHW) over the last thirty years has been a major effort for community recycling and solid waste departments.

Washington County had made some headway not only in educating residents about the nature of HHW but also in providing a convenient drop-off location where such items could be safely collected for appropriate disposal. This has meant that tons of these chemicals have NOT ended up being poured on the ground or dumped into landfills where someday, no matter how great the liners, they will leak into the ground. Chemicals in the ground don’t just sit there. They don’t decompose into harmless biomass. They migrate through fragmented limestone and clay and every other type of strata until at some point they join groundwater. And sooner or later, that groundwater becomes the water we must drink.

Now perhaps Judge Wood and his cohort were not aware of the dangers inherent in HHW. Perhaps their only thought was to make other use of that small building on the county’s south campus that would save the county a few dollars. (The building is currently used for storage.) And perhaps their thought was that any solid waste issue, including HHW, properly fell into the domain of the Boston Mountain Solid Waste District (BMSWD).

Whatever the considerations which entered into the decision to close the HHW collection center, these considerations did not include the cardinal rule about the safe disposal of HHW: disposal should be convenient for the greatest number of people.

In a society acculturated to the concept of convenience, it is the burden of public officials to ensure that the solution to important problems like proper HHW disposal is made as convenient as possible. Number 1 consideration should be to accommodate the operation of a facility which has become well known and well used by area residents.

When the county closed its HHW collection center in south Fayetteville, BMSWD scrambled to open a new collection center in Prairie Grove. However, Prairie Grove has a population of about 5,800 people whereas Fayetteville’s population is over 85,000, which raises the question of who is being served with this location change. The tenuous justification for the move hinted that it wasn’t the county’s responsibility to collect HHW for Fayetteville. Also, that Prairie Grove was more rural and therefore more suitable for HHW collection from county residents.

Questions posed in early April to Judge Wood were diverted to Brian Lester, formerly county attorney and now assistant to the judge.

Q: How much money did the county spend on the south Fayetteville HHW collection center?

Didn’t know.

Q: What was the tonnage collected annually at the Fayetteville HHW center? Has that tonnage increased or decreased in the year since the south Fayetteville facility closed?

Didn’t have any data.

Q: Why did the county not notify Fayetteville solid waste officials about the planned termination of the south Fayetteville site and ask for a cost sharing solution?

No answer.

Q: Is the county’s population center at or near Prairie Grove?

A: No, the center is just south of Fayetteville.

Mr. Lester alleged that BMSWD now offers local HHW pickup at various outlying communities such as Elkins. Not true. The district’s plan for HHW collection is that if a community decides it needs a HHW collection, it will provide a location and staff and the district will provide education and disposal of said waste. At the present time, the only HHW collection service in the county is a weekly one-day collection event in Fayetteville, which began AFTER early April when we circulated our questions to not only Mr. Lester, but also a quorum court member, BMSWD employees, and Fayetteville solid waste representatives.

BMSWD confirms that they received no advance warning that the county judge planned to terminate their contract to use the county’s building in south Fayetteville for the HHW collection center. Likewise, Fayetteville solid waste officials confirm that they received no warning or offer of cost sharing or other arrangements to secure the south Fayetteville location for the program.

No one advising Judge Wood or his staff on this decision seems to have considered that lots of residents of small towns and rural areas of Washington County used the Fay’vl HHW facility because Fayetteville is the largest city and the county seat and serves as the shopping, entertainment, and employment destination for most of the small town/rural residents of the entire county. Which, obviously, means Fayetteville is the most convenient HHW disposal location for most county citizens.

The allegation that Prairie Grove is a more convenient disposal location for rural citizens than Fayetteville is a fabrication based on the need to cover ass after the issue was raised with hard questions.

Government and only government has the power and scope to make decisions that provide protection for the region’s water supply for decades and centuries to come. Unfortunately, Judge Wood and his cohort’s interests seem to center on his religious beliefs and how to best impose those beliefs on individual county residents.

Despite Judge Wood’s administrative experience in various posts, his primary interest seems to follow his Masters of Christian Leadership degree (2016). Aside from imposing religious beliefs on county government, Joseph Wood’s righteousness apparently suffers lapses.

“In the 2016 race for County Judge, former Ecclesia board member Joseph Wood replaced Republican nominee Micah Neal when he abruptly withdrew from the race.  Neal later pled guilty to federal bribery charges over state funds he directed to the school.  Wood’s first actions as judge were to fire employees without cause, and violate county policy by hiring Ecclesia cronies without posting the position. It’s not gotten any better from there. Despite running on fiscally conservative credentials, Wood has presided over dwindling reserves and a budget shortfall in the county.”[2]

Not only Neal, but another state senator Jon Woods (appealing a fifteen-year sentence) and a well-known lobbyist Rusty Cranford (serving a seven year sentence) were part of this scheme to divert tax dollars to a religious school while lining their own pockets. As investigators ultimately discovered, the scam involved sixteen people in two states.

“As part of his guilty plea, Neal admitted that, between January 2013 and January 2015, while serving in the Arkansas House of Representatives, he conspired with an Arkansas state senator [Jon Woods –ed.] to use their official positions to appropriate government money known as General Improvement Funds (GIF) to a pair of non-profit entities in exchange for bribes.”

While Joseph Wood may not have been complicit in this scheme, his position as Ecclesia College board member made him responsible for the activities of its representatives. If he knew about this illegal scheme, perhaps he viewed it in the same way he views the unconstitutional overreach of the proposed resolution declaring the county ‘pro-life’ – that the end justifies the means. The end, in this case, would be a ‘Christian nation.’

Joseph Wood announced in May 2021 that he is running for lieutenant governor, a position one step away from the power of state leadership. In his lengthy press release announcing his candidacy, Wood extolls his career and adds his blessings to the Trump presidency:

“President Trump will go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents because he pushed ahead in the face of adversity and delivered results. Arkansas needs a proven leader for the future of Arkansas. I am running as a strategic thinker and leader who consistently delivers results. I am running as a conservative, committed to faith, family, and fighting for what’s possible in Arkansas.”

The tenure of Judge Wood has been a black mark on our county’s reputation. If elected to state office, this man and his supporters will only drag the state further down, and we’re already scraping the bottom.

We aren’t the only person to speak out about egregious behavior by Republicans on the Quorum Court. This letter to the editor was published in the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Democrat-Gazette on February 7, 2021. Please note that this Patrick Deakins is the same member of the court who put forth the pro-life resolution cited above.

“Public’s voice provided little time in meetings

“On Tuesday, Feb. 9, after months of the public calling for a public discussion regarding over $4 million in CARES Act relief funds being sent to Washington County, the public was finally offered an opportunity for discussion. Or so we thought.

“I was excited for this opportunity as my own Justice of the Peace, Lance Johnson, will not respond to my other attempts to reach him. At the beginning of the meeting, JP Patrick Deakins was elected chair of the committee, then rudely and sarcastically breezed his way through the entire agenda and insisted the only time for public comment would be at the very end, even though an agenda item was named for “public discussion.” At the end, under a brand new rule, only 12 minutes were allowed total for the entire agenda, 10 items in total.

“Five members of the community, in a county of over 230,000, were allowed to speak. Five. And, the last person speaking was yelled over and cut off, on an item that hundreds of us have waited months to discuss.

“I hope the public is aware that whether for or against any items, we have been completely shut out of participating in our local government. This 12-minute rule applies to all county business. The county received “reimbursement” for over $4 million dollars in funds they claim they spent on covid-related expenses, yet detailed as their justification were expenses that were budgeted prior to the pandemic. They have hijacked our tax dollars and our democracy. That is our money and our Quorum Court, and we are not allowed to have an opinion? This should rock every one of us to our core and they should be ashamed of themselves.

“Start talking to your neighbors, friends or family about running. We have a Quorum Court to take back.” Written by ReBecca Graham.

~~~

See https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2019/apr/12/corruption-case-spans-16-people-2-state/


[1] See https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2018/03/30/washington-county-official-resigns-amidst-lawsuit-over-county-judge-joseph-woods-hiring-practices

[2] http://www.forfayetteville.com/2018-elections/washington-county-races

Evangelical Christian Perversion

Josh Duggar arrest photo April 29, 2021

With yesterday’s arrest of Josh Duggar on federal charges of child pornography, this family of “19 Kids and Counting” fame is once again under the spotlight. Age 33, Josh along with his wife have so far produced seven children, following in his parent’s tradition of gene reproduction without regard, apparently, to the need to actually parent those children, an allegation supported by Duggar’s continuing sex crimes.

As a teen, Josh molested four younger sisters and at least one friend of theirs. Members of their church, the sprawling First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas, along with an officer of the Arkansas State Police (now in prison for child porn) helped Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar cover up these insidious crimes until the statute of limitations had run on any potential prosecution.

On the heels of that scandal in 2015, Josh’s rough treatment of a woman he hired for sex hit the news along with the revelation that he had joined a dating service dedicated to married men who wanted to hook up.

“A few months after apologizing for his “wrongdoing” in the child molestation scandal, Duggar has confessed to cheating on his wife Anna, developing an Internet pornography addiction (which he later removed from his statement) and signing up for two paid subscriptions to Ashley Madison.”[1]

Duggar’s extensive political connections reflects poorly on the Republican slate of elected officials.

Is it finally time to examine the roots of such disgusting behavior? Is it time to look at the repressive nature of evangelical Christianity that lies not only at the foundations of Josh Duggar’s offenses but also of the innumerable cases of youth ministers and preachers and multiple other respected positions of these churches who find themselves embroiled in sexual misdeeds?

Other such abuses appear with crushing frequency not only in Northwest Arkansas but across the country where evangelicals embrace their collective ignorance. Previous posts regarding this issue include a report on earlier Duggar shame as well as the rape of a six-year-old girl rehomed by Republican state representative Justin Harris, owner of a childcare center in the small town of West Fork. [See Footnote[2]]

These are not isolated incidents. Hardly a week goes by without the report of another minister or youth leader or congregational member caught in one or another sex crime. The Washington Post spotlighted the problem of sexual abuse within the evangelical Christian community in a 2018 article:

“Across the United States, evangelical churches are failing to protect victims of sexual abuse among their members. As the #MeToo movement has swept into communities of faith, several high-profile leaders have fallen: Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was forced into early retirement this month after reports that he’d told a rape victim to forgive her assailant rather than call the police. Illinois megachurch pastor Bill Hybels similarly retired early after several women said he’d dispensed lewd comments, unwanted kisses and invitations to hotel rooms.

“…The sex advice columnist and LGBT rights advocate Dan Savage, tired of what he called the hypocrisy of conservatives who believe that gays molest children, compiled his own list that documents more than 100 instances of youth pastors around the country who, between 2008 and 2016, were accused of, arrested for or convicted of sexually abusing minors in a religious setting.”[3]

While on the surface church members who embrace the teachings of Christ might seem the least likely to commit such abuses, it seems that the fundamentalist religious power structure and their teachings lie at the heart of these perversions. Just as Catholic priests (and nuns) have been found disproportionately likely to sexually abuse young children compared to the rest of the population, evangelical Christians hear the same unnatural lessons from the mouths of their preachers. Sex is sin. Touching yourself (otherwise known as masturbation) is sin. But if you sin, God will forgive you (so, in essence, there’s a backdoor if Satan overcomes you…).

Attempting to live outside the demands of the biological bodies we inhabit is nothing but an elaborate game of whack-a-mole. The need pops up no matter how sternly we might try to suppress it. The stronger the urge, the louder they preach, the more likely the urge will slink off sideways into situations where the risk of being discovered is least likely to surface. Little kids can be intimidated into silence. Little kids are gullible, easily convinced that this diddling inflicted by an older person is somehow okay. Little kids are innocent, therefore they don’t taint the abuser in a sexual act the same way an older experienced sex partner might.

Then there’s evangelical power structure of an authoritarian god who delegates his authority to the male who then is enabled to rule over lesser beings like women and children. Those under this male authority can be subjected to his abuses, and those abuses can be covered up on his edict, making sexual abuse very tempting to repressed males.

But the roots go deeper still. The way this religious authority works is to demand adherence to a set of rules. This is the opposite of teaching people how to think or take responsibility for themselves. After all, if you ‘sin,’ it’s not really you, it’s Satan.

Children brought up in this belief system are often forced into homeschooling or church schools where they are taught not to question. Despite humanity’s crowning glory of cerebral function, intellect is switched off in favor of rules. Parents of Josh Duggar are a perfect example of this willful ignorance, refusing to obtain secular psychologist help when their oldest child’s incestuous fondling came to light and instead keeping it in the church family.

“The roots of the Judeo-Christian sexual prohibitions, as well as the sexual prohibitions of religions such as Islam, spring from ancient Jewish tribal law. During early times wives were considered “property” and laws were specifically codified to protect three things: livestock, wives and dwellings–an order or importance that seems clear in Jewish law. Beliefs among different groups ranged all the way from the approval of prostitution, homosexuality, sex with slaves and liberal views toward divorce, to 180-degree shifts in each of these areas.”[4]

“One of the myths of ‘evangelicalism’ is it inoculates the young against ‘sin’ and keeps them pure, compared to the alternatives. While anecdotal stories can be told this simply is NOT statistically true for most evangelical young,” reports this author in a first person exposé.

“It sure wasn’t true at the evangelical school I attended or in the church. In fact, the worst of the bunch was the pastor’s son. Yet the pastor publicly claimed his son was pure and virginal even though he absolutely knew that was a lie. In reality, the son was going through a large number of the teenage girls at the time and it wasn’t all consensual. His wife, who I knew somewhat, later said in an interview they were having sex and the pastor knew it the whole time but lied from the pulpit. ‘Dr. Hyles’ lying was blatant just like David’s. David was a blatant liar. He told lies that he couldn’t possibly get away with. The problem is that his dad has set himself up so good, that everybody doubts everything because that’s how they have been taught.’ But the preacher dad also lied about his own affairs, as did his son-in-law who seduced an underage girl when he took over as pastor.’”[5]

In another article, the relationship between sex crimes and extreme religious beliefs is set out in stark terms.

“While outwardly decrying abuse, extreme religiosity may breed it. In a sample of first-year students at a southern U.S. university, researchers found ‘significant relationships between religiosity and victims of child sexual abuse by both relatives and non-relatives. Persons sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions.’ A 2006 study of religiosity among Australian men incarcerated for serious sex offenses discovered that those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims than other groups, including atheists. Among Jewish men in an Israeli prison, ‘religious Jews … were more likely to be in for sex crimes,’ according to other research.”[6]

Tragically for all concerned, the evangelical response to the realities of natural sexual desires is to frame sexual misbehavior as a crime of Satan rather than a predictable outcome of their theology. Josh Duggar is the product of his family’s extreme religious beliefs, not an anomaly. It may be a relief to his seven children that he is currently being held without bond.

The family of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, a tribe of potential abusers and victims

See also:

https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/03/sex-addiction-fact-check-atlanta-shooting-history.html

https://www.vice.com/en/article/pa98x8/purity-culture-linday-kay-klein-pure-review

Even Biblical scholars tend dabble in child porn. https://medium.com/belover/when-bible-scholars-are-child-pornographers-ea6f62fe0b3f


[1] https://people.com/tv/josh-duggar-paid-for-affair-guarantee-on-ashley-madison/

[2] https://denelecampbell.com/2015/05/24/a-state-of-perversion/, https://denelecampbell.com/tag/duggar/, https://denelecampbell.com/tag/fundamentalists/

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/05/31/feature/the-epidemic-of-denial-about-sexual-abuse-in-the-evangelical-church/

[4] https://www.cybercollege.com/history.htm

[5] https://medium.com/the-radical-center/the-perverse-incentives-of-sex-in-evangelicalism-dd32e4a9767d

[6] https://theintercept.com/2021/03/23/atlanta-shooting-sex-addiction-religion-morality/

Arkansas Government of the Church, by the Church, for the Church

Arkansas State Capitol

Never before has the heavy hand of religion gripped so hard in its effort to control a state government. The Republican majority of the 2021 legislative session has strained to enact every conceivable moral judgment on the state’s citizenry, promising that a large sum of taxpayer dollars will be tossed into the maw of federal courts defending the church’s agenda.

Since many of these laws intrude into the private homes, bedrooms, and bodies of Arkansans in violation of their Constitutional rights, they will—hopefully—be overturned.

Established by Jerry Cox in 1991, the Family Council is again the force behind another disgraceful session, wielding its medieval outrage over Republican legislators who can’t seem to see beyond the church hymnal. It’s as if science never existed, which is exactly what the Council wants. The Council’s agenda could not be more conspicuous: strangle the privacy and individual rights of the people of Arkansas through the enactment of laws that move social norms backwards a century or more.

“The Family Council is a conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Our mission is to promote, protect, and strengthen traditional family values found and reflected in the Bible by impacting public opinion and public policy in Arkansas.”

Purportedly a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, the Council lists its areas of concern as Abortion, End of Life Issues, Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Same-Sex Marriage, Religious Liberty, Homosexuality, Gambling, Judicial Activism, Education Choice, Home Schooling, Divorce, Taxes, and Healthcare.

Seven of these fifteen ‘areas of concern’ are very personal, private matters, yet the Council has convinced legislators they have the right, yea, even verily the responsibility, to wade in and slam a fist down on the dinner table.

What follows is taken from the Council’s website.

“What a week at the Arkansas Legislature!

“The legislators stood strong and enacted H.B. 1570, a really good bill protecting children from dangerous gender-reassignment procedures. Lawmakers did this despite immense pressure from liberal groups across America.”

Following  ‘a brief look back at the week,’ the Council gets down to passing judgment on the legislation passed so far:[1]

Good Bills Passed So Far

H.B. 1570 (Prohibiting Sex-Reassignment on Children): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Alan Clark (R – Lonsdale) prohibits sex-reassignment procedures on children. The bill also prevents funding of sex-reassignment procedures performed on children. This bill will protect children from being subjected to surgeries and procedures that can leave them sterilized and permanently scarred. The bill has passed the Arkansas House of Representatives and been sent to the senate. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 474 (Prohibiting Fraudulent Fertility Treatments): This good bill by Sen. Charles Beckham (R – McNeil) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) prohibits fraud and abuse in fertility treatments. The bill ensures people performing fertility treatments are honest, ethical, and abide by principles of informed-consent. See how your state senator voted hereSee how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 562 / H.B. 1402 (Abortion-Inducing Drugs): This good bill by Rep. Sonia Barker (R – Smackover) and Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) updates Arkansas’ restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs like RU-486. It outlines requirements that abortionists must follow in administering abortion-inducing drugs, and it prohibits abortion drugs from being delivered by mail in Arkansas. It also updates current law to ensure doctors who perform chemical abortions are credentialed to handle abortion complications and can transfer the woman to a hospital if she experiences complications. The bill has passed the Arkansas House. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 561 / H.B. 1589 (Transactions With Abortionists): This good bill by Rep. Harlan Breaux (R – Holiday Island) and Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Ozark) prohibits government entities, including public schools, in Arkansas from engaging in transactions with abortion providers and affiliates of abortion providers. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

https://familycouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/IMG_2744-768x1024.jpgJerry Cox visits with Capitol Police officers ahead of a press conference in support of H.B. 1570, the SAFE Act.

Act 560 / H.B. 1572 (Informed-Consent to Chemical Abortion): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Scott Flippo (R – Mountain Home) outlines the informed-consent process for chemical abortion. Arkansas’ current informed-consent laws for abortion are geared primarily for surgical abortion procedures. H.B. 1572 will help ensure women get all the facts about chemical abortion — including its risks, consequences, and pro-life alternatives. This will help save many unborn children from abortion. The bill has passed the Arkansas House. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 461 / S.B. 354 (Fairness in Women’s Sports): This good bill by Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) and Rep. Sonia Barker (R -Smackover) would prevent male student athletes from competing against girls in women’s athletics. This would protect fairness for girls’ sports at school in Arkansas. See how your state senator voted hereSee how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 462 / S.B. 289 (Conscience): This good bill by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Brandt Smith (R – Jonesboro) protects healthcare workers’ rights of conscience. Arkansas’ current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people. S.B. 289 helps broaden these protections for healthcare workers. See how your state senator voted hereSee how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 498 / S.B. 85 (Abortion): This good bill by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) and Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) requires an abortionist to show an ultrasound image of the unborn baby to the pregnant woman before an abortion. Currently, Arkansas law says an abortionist must offer to let the woman see the ultrasound image. Research indicates that some women are less likely to have an abortion once they see an ultrasound image of their unborn child. That means pro-life bills like S.B. 85 can help further decrease the number of abortions in Arkansas. Arkansas Right to Life is the chief proponent of this bill, and we fully support their efforts. See how your state senator voted hereSee how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 309 / S.B. 6 (Prohibiting Abortion): This good law by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) prohibits abortion in Arkansas, except in cases when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Family Council worked closely with Sen. Rapert to pass this good bill that could save the lives of thousands of children and give the courts an opportunity to overturn decades of bad, pro-abortion rulings. See how your state senator voted hereSee how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 358 / H.B. 1408 (Abortion): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) helps prevent abortion providers and their affiliates in Arkansas from receiving Medicaid reimbursements from the state. The bill has passed the Arkansas House and Arkansas Senate. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 94 / H.B. 1211 (Religion is Essential): This good law by Representative Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) and Senator Kim Hammer (R – Benton) recognizes that religion and religious organizations are essential in Arkansas. H.B. 1211 will protect churches and religious groups without hampering the government’s ability to respond during a pandemic. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 90 / H.B. 1195 (Pro-Life): This good bill by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Ozark) enacts legislation ensuring that women are offered information, assistance, and resources that could help them choose an option besides abortion. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 226 / H.B. 1116 (Simon’s Law): This good bill by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Sen. Bart Hester (R – Cave Springs) is named in honor of an infant in Missouri who died after doctors put a Do Not Resuscitate order on his chart without his parent’s knowledge or permission. If passed, it would help protect children in Arkansas from being denied life support or having a DNR placed on their medical charts without parental consent. The bill has passed into law. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

Act 392 / H.B. 1544 (Pro-Life Cities Resolution): This good bill by Rep. Kendon Underwood (R – Cave Springs) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) affirms the right of municipalities in Arkansas to declare themselves pro-life. H.B. 1544 outlines some of the findings and language that cities can put in their pro-life resolution. The bill also clarifies that Pro-Life Cities can install signs or banners announcing that they are pro-life. The bill has passed the Arkansas House and the Senate City, County, and Local Affairs Committee. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead the Bill Here.

H.R. 1021 (Home School): This good resolution by Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) recognizes and celebrates 35 years of homeschooling in Arkansas. The resolution passed the Arkansas House on a voice vote. Read The Resolution

H.B. 1882 (Privacy): This good bill by Rep. Cindy Crawford (R – Fort Smith) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) protects physical privacy and safety of Arkansans in showers, locker rooms, changing facilities, and restrooms on government property. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 662 (Prayer): This good bill by Sen. Ricky Hill (R – Cabot) and Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) establishes a Day of Prayer for Arkansas Students annually on the last Wednesday of September. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 388 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R – Jonesboro), Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville), and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) requires any facility that performs abortions to be licensed by the Arkansas Department of Health as an abortion facility, and it prohibits abortions in hospitals except in cases of medical emergency. S.B. 388 will help ensure that every clinic that performs abortions follows all of Arkansas’ laws concerning abortion facilities. This has the potential to save many women and unborn children from abortion. See how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 527 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) requires abortion facilities to have transfer agreements with hospitals, and it fixes a flawed definition in a pro-life law passed in 2019. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 463 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) and Rep. Tony Furman (R – Benton) requires the State of Arkansas to report abortion data to the federal Centers for Disease Control. It also tightens Arkansas law concerning abortion facility inspections, and it requires abortionists to file certain documentation when the woman is a victim of rape or incest. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate. See how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1830 (Religious Freedom): H.B. 1830 by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) protects the right of public school students to express a religious viewpoint in class assignments the same way they could appropriately express a secular viewpoint in an assignment. See how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

S.J.R.14 (Religious Freedom): S.J.R. 14 by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It prevents the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The measure is similar to Arkansas’ state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Read The Bill Here.

H.J.R.1024 (Religious Freedom): H.J.R. 1024 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It prevents the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The measure is similar to Arkansas’ state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Read The Bill Here.

H.J.R.1025 (Life): H.J.R. 1025 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It says that the sanctity of life is paramount to all other rights protected by the constitution. It states that Arkansas citizens, acting as jurors, have the sole authority to determine the amount of compensation or civil penalty imposed because of injuries resulting in death or resulting from acts that create a significant risk to life. H.J.R. 1025 will help prevent the State of Arkansas from placing a price tag on human life. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment. Read The Bill Here.

H.J.R.1010 (Casino Gambling): H.J.R. 1010 by Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) amends the Arkansas Constitution to remove authorization of a casino in Pope County. This is a good amendment that will help curtail casino gambling in Arkansas. Family Council supports H.J.R. 1010. Read The Bill Here.

H.J.R.1011 (Casino Gambling): H.J.R. 1011 by Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It changes the casino amendment that authorizes casino gambling in Pope, Jefferson, Garland, and Crittenden counties. Under H.J.R. 1011, the Arkansas Racing Commission would not issue a casino license in Pope County unless the voters of the county approve conducting casino gaming at a local election. Family Council supports H.J.R. 1011. Read The Bill Here.

S.J.R.16 (Boys and Girls Athletics): S.J.R. 16 by Sen. Alan Clark (R – Lonsdale) would amend the Arkansas Constitution to require public schools to designate their athletic teams as “male” or “female,” and require student athletes to compete according to their biological sex. This would prevent boys who claim to be girls from competing in girls’ sports at school — and vice versa. Family Council supports this measure. Read The Bill Here.

H.C.R. 1007 (Abortion): This good resolution by Rep. Jim Wooten (R – Beebe) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) recognizes January 22 — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision — as “The Day of Tears” in Arkansas. The resolution acknowledges the 61 million of unborn babies killed in abortion in America over the past five decades, and encourages Arkansans to lower their flags to half-staff on January 22 to mourn the innocent children who have lost their lives. Read The Resolution Here.

H.B. 1429 (Home School): This good bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) makes it easier for a student to withdraw from a public school to home school. The bill reduces the fourteen-day waiting period currently in Arkansas law for families wishing to transfer out of a public school. It also makes technical corrections to the home school law. Read The Bill Here.

[My note on Arkansas home schooling policies: There are no educational requirements for parents/guardians who provide a home school for their child(ren). The law does not give the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education or the school district the authority to review or monitor a home school student’s work. Home schools are not accredited by the state. There are no grades, credits, transcripts, or diplomas provided by the state, education service cooperative, or by the local school district for students enrolled in home school. Parents are not required to test their students.]

[Additional note: Home schooling allows parents to teach religious beliefs while leaving out those pesky topics like history, civics, and science.]

Bad Bills Filed So Far

S.B. 622 (Hate Crimes): This bad bill by Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R – Texarkana) and Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R – El Dorado), commonly being called a “hate crimes law,” outlines vague, protected classes in state law. This bill is so ambiguous that it’s impossible to know just how far-reaching this legislation may be. S.B. 622’s protections for religious liberty are not adequate. The bill does not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent cities and counties from enacting their own, more stringent hate crimes ordinances. It does not do enough to protect free speech or prevent thought-policing. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1685 (End-of-Life Care): This bad bill by Rep. Michelle Gray (R – Melbourne) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) guts the intent of the Arkansas Healthcare Decisions Act. It lets healthcare workers who are not physicians work through end-of-life decisions with patients and family members. It does not require healthcare workers making these decisions to have appropriate training in end-of-life care. It makes it easier to deny a dying person food or water. Family Council strongly opposes this bad bill. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1686 (End-of-Life Care): This bad bill by Rep. Michelle Gray (R – Melbourne) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) guts the intent of the Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment Act. It lets healthcare workers who are not physicians complete Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms. It removes an important provision in state law that says a POLST form is not intended to replace an advance directive. It inadvertently prevents consulting physicians — such as palliative care physicians — from completing POLST forms with patients. Family Council strongly opposes this bad bill. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 655 (Sex-Education): This bad bill by Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) and Rep. Megan Godfrey (D – Springdale) implements Planned Parenthood-style comprehensive sex-education in public schools in Arkansas. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1869 (Gambling): This bad bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Russellville) would legalize internet gambling and Keno under the Arkansas Lottery. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 3 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Sen. Jim Hendren (I – Gravette) and Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to H.B. 1020. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1020 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Jim Hendren (I – Gravette) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to S.B. 3. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.

H.J.R.1008 (Initiatives and Referenda): H.J.R. 1008 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R – Horatio) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It requires initiatives and referenda submitted to voters via petition drives to be approved by at least 60% of the votes cast on the measure in order to pass. However, it would not require constitutional amendments submitted by the General Assembly to be approved by 60% of the vote. Family Council opposes this measure. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1228 (Public Drinking): This bad bill by Rep. Lee Johnson (R – Greenwood) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) would let cities in dry counties approve public drinking in “entertainment districts” if the city contains a private club that serves alcohol. Under Arkansas’ “entertainment district” law, alcohol can be carried and consumed outdoors on city streets and sidewalks around bars and restaurants, if approved by the city council. The bill has passed the Arkansas House of Representatives, but has not been approved by the Arkansas Senate. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1066 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) would let microbrewery operators ship beer directly to private residences anywhere in the state of Arkansas or to residences in other states that allow direct shipment of alcohol. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1148 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Frances Cavenaugh (R – Walnut Ridge) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) overhauls Arkansas’ local option election law concerning alcohol. The bill reduces the threshold for taking a county wet or dry via a petition drive. Liquor stores in wet counties would be able to continue operating even if the county voted to go dry. The bill would make it easier for some cities or towns in a dry county to be wet while the rest of the county is dry. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 510 (LGBT Counseling): This bad bill by Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) and Rep. Tippi McCullough (D – Little Rock) would prohibit healthcare professionals from helping children overcome unwanted same-sex attraction and gender confusion. However, the bill would permit pro-LGBT counseling that encourages children embrace a different sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a bad bill that hurts healthcare professionals and endangers the welfare of children. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1697 (No-Fault Divorce): This bad bill by Rep. Ashley Hudson (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) permits no-fault divorce in Arkansas. Under current law, couples in Arkansas can divorces in cases such as infidelity, abuse, following a lengthy separation, and other circumstances. H.B. 1697 would permit divorce due to irreconcilable differences, discord, or conflict of personalities regardless of if the husband or wife is at fault. Read The Bill Here.

Other Legislation to Watch

H.B. 1069  (Contraceptives): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) lets pharmacists dispense oral contraceptives to women without a prescription from a doctor. Family Council previously opposed this bill. However, Rep. Pilkington has filed amendments to the bill. His amendments address objections Family Council raised against H.B. 1069. Family Council is neutral on this bill. Read The Bill Here.

S.B. 32 (Alcohol): This bill by Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) and Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) would let retail liquor permit holders — such as liquor stores — deliver alcoholic beverages to private residences in the county where the store is located. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas House. See how your senator voted hereSee how your state representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 76 (Alcohol): This bill by Sen. Lance Eads (R – Springdale) and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) lets “excursion trains” serve alcoholic beverages to passengers. It has passed the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas House. See how your senator voted hereSee how your representative voted hereRead The Bill Here.

H.B. 1341 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) and Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) permits on-premises consumption of alcohol on Christmas Day. Currently, Arkansas law generally prohibits bars and liquor stores from selling alcohol on Christmas. This bill would allow alcohol to be sold for on-premises consumption in bars and restaurants on Christmas. It would not let liquor stores sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. Read The Bill Here.

H.B. 1522 (Marijuana Transportation and Possession): This bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) prohibits a person from being under the influence of marijuana in public or at a marijuana dispensary or marijuana cultivation facility. It clarifies that it is unlawful for a person to use marijuana by inhalation in a place where marijuana is prohibited by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. It also imposes penalties for possessing more marijuana than Arkansas’ medical marijuana amendment allows. And it makes it a crime to transport medical marijuana into Arkansas from another state. See how your state representative voted hereSee how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.

S.B. 389 (Parental Review of Sex-Education): This bill by Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Ozark) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) requires public schools to notify parents about sex-education material and give parents the option of opting their students out of the class or activity. See how your state senator voted hereRead The Bill Here.


[1] Some bills pertaining to non-personal/privacy concerns are excluded from this article.

Raging Over Masks

For a segment of the American population, the idea of being required to wear a mask triggers outrage. Some of the outrage results in physical violence. Over a mask.

On the surface, such a reaction defies reason. But behind the curtain, there are insidious reasons, all of which are egged on by rightwing and foreign interests determined to sow chaos in this nation.

There’s the ‘freedom’ element, resistance to being ‘required’ to do anything. But why? Similar outrage is not apparent in instances of ‘required’ seat belts, or shoes and shirts in stores, or – for that matter – driving in the right lane.

There are news reports of people who claim they can’t breathe if they wear a mask, but that dog won’t hunt. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and hazmat teams wear masks every day for hours. None of them have dropped dead from oxygen starvation or carbon dioxide buildup. Yes, there may be a few with mental health issues or respiratory problems that a mask can complicate. But that’s a handful of people in the overall situation.

If we pull back the curtain further, we find massive evidence of Denial. It’s not just excuses for why a mask requirement allegedly violates someone’s freedom or that one can’t properly breathe in a mask. The denial is far more fundamental than that, and largely hidden.

Remember, for the contingent of Americans who believe in Trump, the virus started out as a Democratic hoax. It was nothing more than the flu and would disappear by April. News coverage of New York’s crisis with bodies stored in refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks or ICU beds lining hospital hallways wasn’t real, simply more of that Democratic hoax meant to scare people and mess up Trump’s chance at re-election.

Now five months in and as the infection rate soars and hospitals in several states are nearing 100% capacity, the hoax lunacy has expanded to include screaming mobs of anti-vaxxers whose sole mission is to protect all of us from a mandatory vaccine that carries microchips which will … well, that detail is rather elusive. Some claim the chips will be the ‘mark of the beast’ that prevents its carrier from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Others claim the chips will control our behavior and force us to accept the ‘New World Order’. Or most egregiously, it’s a Bill Gates plan to track everyone – because… ?

In a poll conducted May 20 and 21 by Yahoo/YouGov, 44% of Republicans said they believed the microchip conspiracy theory with Democrats checking in at 19%.[1]

A Christian Right broadcaster, Brannon Howse of “Worldview Watch,” warned that Gates and the “medical globalist deep state” were using the crisis to regulate people’s fertility depending on their worldview, through “procreation tickets” and microchips.[2]

So we have the ‘don’t tell me what to do’ mindset enhanced by the Democrats’ evil hoax and the microchip from Satan Gates himself. Some folks have even made the whole thing more concise by blaming Bill Gates for creating the virus so he could implant chips in the vaccine.

Elaborate thinking, perhaps – except it’s the result of not thinking at all.

Sadly, these conspiracy theories and rejections of facts have become fodder for political interests whose goal is to disrupt and divide the people of the United States. This has been the stated purpose of Russian disinformation campaigns for decades, but that too has become a conspiracy theory even when our best intelligence agencies confirm proof of such actions. The intelligence community is then swept into yet another conspiracy theory.

The more the far right learns (and can’t understand), the more it crafts yet another conspiracy theory. And experiences more rage.

Anger is often the result of fear, part of the adrenaline-stoked fight or flight response. Fear of the unknown, i.e. a virus or scientific process that is too hard to understand. Fear of being on the losing ‘side.’ Fear of being wrong for folks who need to feel ‘right’ in order to maintain mental stability.

With an invisible virus spreading through the population, anxiety sweeps in triggering fear. Those who are willing and able seek scientific information to help understand how the virus works, how it travels, what can prevent infection, and how he/she personally can best avoid the bug. These folks wear masks in public, stay home as much as possible, and social distance when they can’t.

But not everyone is equipped to seek out or understand scientific information and these people are more likely to be triggered into rage about wearing a mask. If these folks were capable or willing to investigate the virus instead of feeding on falsehoods promoted by Trump, they probably weren’t Trump voters to start with.

Trump voters are a strange amalgam of several sorts of people. At the core are those evangelicals who refuse to think beyond the boundaries of their religious beliefs, and those beliefs dictate saving the fetus above all else. That means a Republican vote no matter who the candidate, a constituency carefully cultivated and routinely fed hot-button rhetoric like the “Democrats want to kill babies after they’re born!”

There is no room in these minds for the rights of a woman to control her body, or the reality that abortions occurred millennia before Roe v Wade and will occur after it’s overturned, if it is. There is also no room in that lockstep for consideration of the horrific abuses perpetrated upon unwanted children, or immigrant children in cages, or children and pregnant women in places where our corporate war machines spread death and destruction on an industrial scale. Apparently ‘My Body, My Choice” slogans only apply to those who refuse to wear a mask.

Then there are those who hate government and rally behind the idea that Trump will dismantle the ‘deep state’ which describes, in their minds, a mysterious evil machinery behind all our nation’s ills. There is no room in these minds to understand how government works, no respect for people who devote entire careers to studying how chemicals in water or food affect our endocrine systems, or for people who spend every working day looking at data about our schools and whether students are learning, or the processes by which agencies can make choices about interest rates or surplus crops or weather forecasting – all of it in service to the people of our nation.

The mentalities involved in this willful ignorance and diminished reasoning capacity know somewhere deep inside they might be wrong. An internal crisis of anxiety and fear grows proportionately to the growing evidence of the possible error. When it reaches the point where their local supermarket won’t allow them through the doors without a mask, the evidence of their wrong blows up in their face.

Does that mean they suddenly realize that they were wrong? No. In defense of all the ignorance they hold dear, they rage.

Denial explains and justifies the rage. Denial that Trump is an idiot. Denial that the nation is not now nor ever was meant to be a ‘Christian’ nation, that the Republican mantra about fetuses and freedom of religion is nothing more than a political con meant to garner votes from people who are incapable of thinking for themselves. See, for example, the evangelical prediction that the world will literally end if Trump isn’t re-elected. (Footnote [3])

Other mask-ragers are people who fear losing the historical supremacy of white identity. People who still can’t admit the South justly lost the Civil War. People too lazy to pay attention to the facts, too busy or disconnected to read/watch the news from enough different sources to truly understand what is going on. These are people incapable of gathering relevant information regarding an issue, reasoning through that information, and reaching logical conclusions.

If we as a nation are going to survive the current chaos and move toward a more united, egalitarian future, each of these conditions among segments of the American population requires a focused examination of the cause and a concerted national effort to remediate the cause. These causes mean we are not equal. Without a long term determination to ‘cure’ these inequalities, they will destroy us. It’s not enough to have scientists discovering vaccines and advanced computing systems that can park cars for us. People have to understand how to apply rational processes and appreciate the logic of the scientific method.

Masks are a symbol of the truth of the virus, but they are also a symbol of the truth about Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Those who have embraced Trump deny they’ve been manipulated, misled, and used to further a political agenda that has – in reality – nothing to do with what they believe it to be. The agenda, in reality, is to further consolidate power and wealth in the hands of a few.

These folks have been played. Wearing a mask would require them to admit it.

 

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-video-microchip-coronavirus/false-claim-a-microchip-implant-will-come-with-coronavirus-vaccines-idUSKBN22R2GS

[2] https://www.typeinvestigations.org/investigation/2020/05/12/the-long-strange-history-of-bill-gates-population-control-conspiracy-theories/

[3] https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/07/evangelical-leaders-made-film-warn-world-will-literally-end-trump-isnt-reelected/

Want to Disarm Police? Legalize Drugs.

A lot of talk is going on right now about not needing the police, but it’s just not true. We need police. There will always be robberies, rape, assault, murder, crazy people with a gun, and other crime.

It’s true we don’t need police in areas of our lives where they have been unnecessarily and destructively assigned duty by lawmakers eager to appease public sentiment or to garner support for re-election. The drug war has been one of those areas.

But it’s also true that law enforcement in the United States has always been armed. Shoot-outs in dusty frontier towns of the Old West come to mind. Those encounters were minor compared to what happened when do-gooders decided the American people shouldn’t have alcoholic drink.

Organized crime got its first foothold in American life thanks to the lucrative black market in liquor. This was also the golden age of bank robbery with figures like Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger becoming folk heroes. The Thompson sub-machine gun and the Browning Automatic Rifle were increasingly used by these crime “stars.”

…the Prohibition Era saw domestic police departments using automatic weapons, armored vehicles, and ammo developed with the express purpose of being able to penetrate the early bulletproof vests worn by gangsters of the era.[1]

The first transfer of military weapons to civilian law enforcement occurred in the years immediately after World War II when surplus military supplies were made available to various civilian entities. With the rise of activism for African-American rights in the 1950s and 1960s, then the increasing public protests over the Vietnam War in the late ‘60s and early 1970s, police forces felt emboldened to use force.

…police militarization was escalated in the 1950s and 1960s, an era in which race riots and anti-war protests were common in many U.S. cities. Some believe that the seeming success of officers armed with military-style weapons and deployed to curtail the 1965 Watts riots, a six-day race riot sparked by conflicts with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) that killed 34 people, gave way to the trend of arming and equipping law enforcement officers with battlefield weapons.  Joy Rohde, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, has published research indicating that “militarization is a mindset … is a tendency to see the world through the lens of national security, a tendency to exaggerate existing threats.” Rohde traces “the origins of modern militarized policing” to the Cold War-era anti-communist paranoia, and the idea that domestic civil rights activists were similar to foreign enemies, as manifested in activities such as the CIA’s Operation CHAOS.

…The 1981 Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act allows the U.S. military to cooperate with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies. Operations in support of law enforcement include assistance in counter-drug operations, assistance for civil disturbances, special security operations, counter-terrorism, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), and similar activities. Constitutional and statutory restrictions and corresponding directives and regulations limit the type of support provided in this area. This allows the U.S. military to give law enforcement agencies access to its military bases and its military equipment. [Emphasis mine.] The legislation was promoted during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan in the context of the War on Drugs, and is considered a part of a general trend towards the militarization of police.[2]

The process becomes circular. Tougher drug laws under Reagan meant police were legally empowered to invade private residences, stop and search vehicles, and frisk people on the street. In response, civilians trafficking in drugs or only using drugs became more likely to arm themselves. Which in turn led police to seek more protection and greater fire power like SWAT which are essentially militarized police squads.

Begun in 1965 in Philadelphia, SWAT teams were conceived as a way to restrain urban unrest, deal with hostage situations, or handle barricaded marksmen. The number of SWAT raids in the US grew dramatically from about 3,000 in 1980, to a whopping 50,000 SWAT raids in 2014.[3]

Unfortunately, too much of a potentially good thing has meant that 62 percent of all SWAT deployments were for drug raids, 79 percent of these were done on private residences, and only 7 percent of all raids were done for situations SWAT was invented for—namely barricades or hostage situations.

The result has been an increasingly armed and embattled police at war with the population whether white right-wing fanatics or inner city drug gangs. One begets the other. It’s hard to imagine sending disarmed police officers out on calls and equally hard to contemplate any attempt to disarm the public. Communities of color have become disproportionately impact by the war on drugs not only because they are disproportionately impoverished and therefore seeking any means of income, but also and most importantly because ALL LAWS are policed selectively. Officers would rarely if ever stop a white well-dressed man driving a late model Lexus but would not hesitate to stop a black or Hispanic man with any profiling features like certain hairstyles, jewelry, clothing, shoes, or automobile.

We have get smart about this. Yes, communities and the nation as a whole must do a better job of intervening in the preconditions of ‘crime’ by improving all forms of social support: better early childhood education, far more generous funding for public schools, and intensive efforts to improve health care and nutritional support to impoverished communities. Better job opportunities will require dedicated effort. It’s a long list of what might help and a very short list of funding to enable those programs.

It also makes sense to look at what drives much of the police violence, and the drug war is first in line. Young men in impoverished neighborhoods earn money by selling drugs. With their profits and to protect themselves from theft, they buy weapons. Shoot-outs with police are inevitable.

We need to face reality as a nation and legalize all drugs. People who want drugs are getting them now, so it’s a fantasy to think that prohibition is succeeding in its stated goal. We only need to look at what occurred as a result of alcohol prohibition to see the parallel to our current situation. More violence, more crime, and no real impact on the use or abuse of alcohol.

The money we spend on enforcing drug laws and punishing drug law violators could easily supply the funds needed for the social reforms mentioned above. “Since 1971, the war on drugs has cost the United States an estimated $1 trillion. In 2015, the federal government spent an estimated $9.2 million every day to incarcerate people charged with drug-related offenses—that’s more than $3.3 billion annually.”[4]

The fact is that we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem and treatment alone is not the answer. As shown on the adjacent chart, funding for ‘prevention’ is a slim portion of the overall budget. What we need to get at is WHY people abuse drugs, and in order to make meaningful headway on that question, we must first accept the reality that drug USE is not the same as drug ABUSE. Just as a beer or two isn’t alcoholism, neither does casual smoking of marijuana or exploring LSD on a weekend adventure constitute substance abuse.

If drugs were legal, labeled for purity and potency, and taxed like alcohol, our tax dollars could be concentrated on the true sources of substance abuse problems including:

– Genetic predisposition to addiction or abuse

– History of mental illness and lack of access to mental health care

– Neglect, abuse, or other childhood trauma

– Poor social skills or lack of social support structure

– Poor health and lack of access to health care

Data collected over recent decades shows a consistent 8-10% of the population are predisposed to addiction, the greatest percentage of which are alcoholics. In 2011, of persons meeting criteria for substance abuse, “2.9 million were classified with a substance use disorder of both alcohol and illicit drugs. 4.2 million were classified with a substance use disorder for illicit drugs but not alcohol. 15.0 million were classified with a substance use disorder for alcohol but not illicit drugs.”[5]

Obviously neither military weaponry nor SWAT teams have any real impact on addiction. By now we as a society should recognize that drug prohibition has almost singlehandedly pushed our police forces into armed combat on our city streets and given birth to gang warfare. This is one specific target upon which concerned citizens can and must take action – educate our elected representatives on the facts, advocate in support of change, and never rest until this arena of community conflict has been removed.

Police only enforce the laws. Voters are in control of who make laws. Let the healing begin.

~~~

[1] https://fee.org/articles/the-militarization-of-americas-police-a-brief-history/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarization_of_police

[3] https://fee.org/articles/the-militarization-of-americas-police-a-brief-history/

[4] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/criminal-justice/reports/2018/06/27/452819/ending-war-drugs-numbers/#:~:text=Since%201971%2C%20the%20war%20on,more%20than%20%243.3%20billion%20annually.

[5] https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/statistics/

It’s Baack!

Looking for some perspective on today’s viral crisis? Considering humanity’s infinitely long track record with similar outbreaks, we surely aren’t surprised that it’s here again. In case you’re not up to speed on the history of mankind’s virus background, check out my last blog post.

There is evidently an ingrained memory of this threat to our lives. Instinctively, we know there are invisible killers lurking out there, and entertainment takes advantage of our interest. Not only have scientists made regular warnings to prepare for such eruptions, our literature and movies regularly focus on outbreak what-ifs.

Outbreak, 1995

Consider the list of 79 – yes, 79 – movies on the topic of epidemic/pandemic outbreaks. In fact, as long as movies have been made, viral contagions have been a favored subject. Here’s a great list.

If you prefer to curl up with a book, writers and historians have been exploring the desolate landscapes of plague-riddled civilizations since Greek and Roman times. Daniel Defoe was one of the first English writers to producing a book about devastating disease with his 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year, which chronicles the 1665 bubonic plague in London. Here are more books to consider.

1950

One might wonder why anyone would want to read about horrific diseases when we’re in the middle of our current crisis, but art reflects life in many important ways. Movies and literature about pandemics not only explore the physical effects of the disease but also the human response to collateral damage like quarantine, isolation, and economic hits. We can gain a greater understanding through this informing exploration, and that in itself is somehow comforting. It’s like, ok, we’ve been through this before and survived. We can do it again.

But most of all, such deep history about our relationship with diseases like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) provides critical information for those entrusted with leadership over us all whether elected officials, agencies, teachers, or scientists.  In our tragic case, our president failed to read history or listen to experts – or even his predecessor, President Obama, who had learned from Ebola and Zika that preparations must be made BEFORE an outbreak ever occurs. The sad result is the enormous death rate for a nation purportedly the most advanced.

The most malevolent viruses are fast and silent killers, moving through populations before we have time to prepare. There is no excuse for the current situation in the United States where we’re still not in possession of enough face masks or testing apparatus to get in front of this tidal wave of death.

1950

Perhaps most instructive about such movies and books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the inevitable reactions of people. There’s denial – it can’t happen here, it’s not that bad, it’s still safe to go shopping, I won’t wear a mask – that has become one of the most virulent aspects of SARS-CoV-2. It probably wouldn’t matter what the books and movies might say to the folks clogging state capitol steps with their guns and angry, unmasked faces. Their denial derives from lack of understanding of the science involved and a refusal to admit they might be lacking. It doesn’t help that their presidential hero praises their ignorance – because he too is lacking.

Mother Nature will keep throwing these things in our path. I predict another new viral crisis within the next two years. Meanwhile, we don’t yet know if a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will work – after all, vaccines depend on the idea that our bodies create effective antibodies once the vaccine is administered, and those antibodies will protect us from a new infection. But increasingly, reports filter in that persons are becoming sick for the second time, which means antibodies aren’t working. And we already know that to date, our best flu vaccines are only 50%-60% effective.

SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, folks. More of us will die. Grab the popcorn and watch a movie! And next time you vote, make sure your chosen candidate is going to protect you and your loved ones by preparing well in advance for the next outbreak.

Get Ready, ‘Cause Here It Comes

Scientists have no firm grip on the fatality rate for this coronavirus. That’s because no one knows who is infected and/or who has experienced the virus without significant reaction. Until testing for the virus and antibodies is widely accessed across the entire population, these answers will remain unknown.

Ask the president when widespread testing will be available and you might trigger a temper tantrum like the one he unleashed yesterday on a FOX reporter.[1]

Also, what anyone knows about the mortality rate depends on whether you’re talking about apples or oranges:

In the UK, as of 2 April, 2921 people had died out of 33,718 confirmed cases – a crude case fatality rate of around 9 per cent. For Italy, the figure is nearly 12 per cent and for Germany just 1 per cent. These figures don’t tell us what we really want to know, though: how many of those infected will die as a result, which is known as the infection fatality rate.[2]

Then there’s the vaccine. Several promising ideas are in the pipeline, including a DNA-based formulation under development by Inovio and supported by Bill Gates.[3] But by any and all accounts, a vaccine is still twelve to eighteen months away.

Bubonic Plague The Black Death caused about 50 million deaths across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th Century. It wiped out up to half of Europe’s population. Its last terrifying outbreak in London was the Great Plague of 1665, which killed about a fifth of the city’s inhabitants. Then there was a 19th Century pandemic in China and India, which killed more than 12 million. But the disease has not been consigned to the dustbin of history. It is endemic in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. What’s perhaps more surprising is that it is still killing people in the US.

So why is everyone talking about an ‘end’ to self-isolating by May or June? Nothing magical happens in June. The virus will still exist. Those of us who have avoided it so far will have no more immunity in June than we have now.

Well, there is the weather. Quite a few viruses have seasonal growth and decline, and this general knowledge apparently led President Trump to assert “that the virus will be gone by April.” He claimed that when temperatures rise, ‘the virus’ will ‘miraculously’ go away.’ The idea has triggered several studies of that effect in this particular outbreak. It’s not good news.

As summarized in a report by the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health,

The short answer is that while we may expect modest declines in the contagiousness of SARS-CoV-2 in warmer, wetter weather and perhaps with the closing of schools in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, it is not reasonable to expect these declines alone to slow transmission enough to make a big dent. [This report is worthy of a full read!] [4]

So no big break from warm weather and no vaccine until 2021. Do we self-isolate for the next year?

In reality, people simply can’t and won’t self-isolate for the next year. Many aren’t doing it now either because they hold an ‘essential services’ job or because they’re stupid. Plus the government can’t and won’t send out an endless supply of money to businesses to keep people on their payrolls or send money directly to the unemployed. Jobs are jobs because things need to get done – farming, transportation, shipping and dockworkers, manufacturing of a thousand things, millions of small businesses that involve everything from plumbing to roof repair to house cleaning, haircuts and dry cleaning, auto repair and lawn mowing. Then there are the big stores where people buy groceries, batteries, and underwear, essential in their own ways.

Yellow Fever — Since the 1980s, the number of cases of yellow fever has been increasing. This is believed to be due to fewer people being immune, more people living in cities, people moving frequently, and changing climate increasing the habitat for mosquitoes

And – if you’ll remember – those charts showed a high curve and longer, lower curve – that longer, lower curve means people are still getting infected months into the outbreak. The idea of self isolation was to spread out the incidence of infection so that medical facilities didn’t get overwhelmed all at once, not so that the mitigation ended the risk.

How do we plan for the future?

Some national leaders are telling it like it is:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday Canadians will need to stay at home and practice physical distancing for months as the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the country won’t end until the summer and Canada won’t return to normal until there is a vaccine — which could take a year and a half.[5]

None of this should be a surprise. Outbreaks like this have been on the rise for decades and show no sign of slacking. The World Health Organization notes that in just the last three months of 2019, there were documented cases of MERS/CoV, Yellow fever, Ebola, Measles, Dengue fever, Lassa fever, Zika virus, and Cholera in multiple locations from the Middle East to Congo to Pacific Islands and including Afghanistan, the Netherlands, and France.[6]

Scientists have been trying to prepare us for the next outbreak. A 2018 article on pandemic preparedness published in Nature Microbiology stated:

As recent outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Ebola and Nipah viruses, and pandemic influenza make clear, emergent infectious agents pose a continued and considerable threat to human health. However, our ability to detect and predict the initial emergence of a novel human pathogen (for example, the spillover of a virus from its animal reservoir to a human host), and our capacity to observe and forecast the transmission and spread of that pathogen within and among human populations, remains limited.[7]

Zika virus attacks fetal development resulting in severely reduced brain area.

Key words:  “Remains limited.”

Scientific consensus is that we are at greater risk of pandemics from both known and unknown disease vectors than in the past.

Evidence suggests that the likelihood of pandemics has increased over the past century because of increased global travel and integration, urbanization, changes in land use, and greater exploitation of the natural environment.[8]

This is why it was criminally short-sighted by President Trump to “reorganize” Obama’s Global Health Security and Biodefense unit responsible for pandemic preparedness. The unit resided under the National Security Council (NSC), a forum of White House personnel that advises the president on national security and foreign policy matters. Now merged into one “directorate” with arms control/ nonproliferation and weapons of mass destruction terrorism, the global health and biodefense team’s clout is apparently lost in the shuffle. Trump was advised as early as December that a new bio-threat was shaping up in China and again several times in subsequent weeks, yet he failed to grasp the seriousness until mid-March.

Whether that’s a failure of his leaderless and diluted biodefense team or his basic inability to grasp anything is unclear. “Responding to an epidemic requires cooperation across a variety of government agencies, but without a dedicated coordinator, none has the responsibility to solve the problem.”[9]

The hope for a vaccine within the next year seems to assume a vaccine will be developed. Surely it will–no guarantees. But even our best flu vaccines are only about 50% effective. That’s because these viruses mutate frequently, changing enough of their DNA to wriggle away from our efforts at prevention. So far scientists are optimistic that a vaccine might be more effective with COVID-19, known more formally as SARS-CoV-2.

Based on current data, it seems as though SARS-CoV-2 mutates much more slowly than the seasonal flu. Specifically, SARS-CoV-2 seems to have a mutation rate of less than 25 mutations per year, whereas the seasonal flu has a mutation rate of almost 50 mutations per year.[10]

Unless one lives in a remote location without human contact, chances are all of us are going to end up exposed, one way or the other. The sooner we face that existential reality and adjust our outlook accordingly, the sooner we can relax.

At the very least, the lessons of the current experience demand better federal oversight and a president who pays attention to his security briefings. We need national stockpiles that can immediately respond to the need in mass infections and a public educated in advance on social distancing and other mitigation steps. We need to bolster our institutional and personal preparation for such inevitable events.

It’s coming.

Mass graves in New York, April 9, 2020

~~~

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in4QIDfxUzo&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR3dF7eYBMh6xN-WW-SrnOx03qXLvAjaTqUovegp7mQnFdAGtgeowF41Ssk

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2239497-why-we-still-dont-know-what-the-death-rate-is-for-covid-19/#ixzz6J1kWgI1O

[3] https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/06/a-second-potential-covid-19-vaccine-backed-by-bill-and-melinda-gates-is-entering-human-testing/

[4] https://ccdd.hsph.harvard.edu/will-covid-19-go-away-on-its-own-in-warmer-weather/

[5] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/canada-unlikely-to-return-to-normal-until-there-is-a-covid-19-vaccine

[6] https://www.who.int/csr/don/archive/year/2019/en/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7097585/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525302/

[9] https://qz.com/1823253/here-are-the-disease-fighting-jobs-trump-did-and-didnt-nix/

[10] https://theconversation.com/heres-how-scientists-are-tracking-the-genetic-evolution-of-covid-19-134201

Why We Should Be Afraid of Bernie

My Berner friends may become incensed with what I’m about to say, but I have to say it. It’s not that I don’t like almost everything Bernie promises. It’s that I’ve learned in my 72 years to be suspicious of someone who offers everything I might want, especially when it’s free. What’s the catch?

I believe he promises far more than he can deliver. Obama managed to get the Affordable Care Act passed but with massive compromises even though Democrats held majorities in the House and Senate. Yet to hear Bernie tell it, he’ll wave his magic wand and give us Medicare for All.

Same thing with his talk about taxing the 1% to pay for all his promises. It sounds great to hear him talk of free college, free childcare, ending fossil fuels, etc. but – as my grandmother used to say – “It’s too much sugar for a dime.”

Immigration policy changes advocated by Sanders are extensive. Good ideas include his commitment to “ensure customs and immigration agencies have the funding and personnel necessary to eliminate the backlog of pending applications and cut wait times for immigration applications and to work with Congress to provide funding to swiftly unify families stuck in pending backlogs.”

But I’ve seen little if any analysis of the social, financial, and security costs to allow unlimited immigration. Just his Medicare for All policy for immigrants raises red flags for a lot of voters — that he would “provide comprehensive care to everyone in America, regardless of immigration status” and his plan to “provide year-round, free universal school meals; breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks through our school meals programs to all students regardless of immigration status.[1]

And how much is enough? One million immigrants? Five million? We already know that climate change will marginalize increasing areas of the planet. Is it our plan to let them all move here until we’re as crowded as China?

Bernie’s embrace of the Green New Deal includes statements like “Save American families money with investments in weatherization, public transportation, modern infrastructure and high-speed broadband.” And “Invest in conservation and public lands to heal our soils, forests, and prairie lands.”

Who is investing?

Short answer: the government. “Directly invest an historic $16.3 trillion public investment toward these efforts, in line with the mobilization of resources made during the New Deal and WWII, but with an explicit choice to include black, indigenous and other minority communities who were systematically excluded in the past.” And he goes on to promise “We will guarantee five years of a worker’s current salary, housing assistance, job training, health care, pension support, and priority job placement for any displaced worker, as well as early retirement support for those who choose it or can no longer work.”

Sanders vows to make “the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies” yet doesn’t hint at what this would do to fuel prices. He promises to “End the greed of the fossil fuel industry and hold them accountable,” what every environmentalist has wanted for 50 years. But how do you end greed?[2]

His plan to end right to work laws alone will roil through state governments—where such laws are passed—and spark enormous resistance. Program after proposed program relies on taxing the 1% — but Sanders provides no numbers of how much tax the 1% and many others earning above $29,000 per year will actually be expected to pay.

Believe absolutely that Republicans will make those calculations and blanket the campaign with them.

These proposed policies and much more are outlined at Sanders’ campaign website and are worth a read by voters before charging off to put him into the running against Trump. To me, much of Bernie’s platform is pie in the sky without any acknowledgment of the role of Congress in passing legislation or the overall impact on American lives.

There’s a strong sense of individualism among Americans. We believe in hard work and earning what we have. It’s not going to sit well among many voters for the government to take what is earned and give it to someone else. It’s one thing to send a contribution to a request for money by someone we know or to a legitimate charity and quite another to set up massive programs where everyone can get freebies even if they’re slackers. We already have plenty of evidence that people will believe the worst about welfare recipients, some of which is well proven.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully support higher taxes on the super-rich. We might hope that some of these changes could be enacted soon, no matter who the president or members of Congress. But each member of Congress has to answer to their constituents including local businesses and people who worry about having to pay even more taxes. Waving your arms and making promises doesn’t end the human desire to earn more money (i.e. greed) or the very real limits on what we can have.

Promises unfulfilled leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters who might naively elect someone who says all the right things and then can’t deliver. Sanders could set up Democrats for losses far into the future, not only of the White House but Congress and state races as well.

To the more pressing point, if we don’t get Donald Trump and his coterie of criminals out of power, we will have a majority of right wing nuts on the supreme court (much as we love her, Ginsberg can’t live forever), continued degradation of our ethical and social standards, and the risk of losing our entire democracy. Why should Democrats take the chance that Sanders with his wild promises might go down in flames and leave Trump in office another four years? Can’t we recognize the risk and choose a less extreme candidate?

I believe if Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee for president, the Republicans will mop the floor with him and his massive tax plan.

Yes, Republicans will attack any Democratic nominee. That’s what campaigns do. But Bernie is a grenade waiting to go off in our hands. I want change. I’ve been a progressive all my life and have worked hard on issues from women’s rights to the environment. I’d like to believe that Sanders can win the presidency and deliver on his promises. But I don’t believe.

Bernie scares me. He should scare you too.

~~~

[1] https://berniesanders.com/issues/welcoming-and-safe-america-all/

[2] https://berniesanders.com/issues/green-new-deal/

How to spot a troll…

Yesterday I had an interesting experience. A Facebook friend I’ll call Barbara posted a meme promoting a moveon.org petition calling for Nancy Pelosi to be removed from office. This was the morning after Pelosi famously ripped up the print copy of Trump’s State of the Union address.

The petition’s stated cause: “By ignoring the Title of Nobility Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution), ignoring the attacks on freedom of the Press, ignoring blatant obstruction of justice and abuse of pardons, proves Nancy Pelosi is incapable of keeping this country free of a potential dictatorship and must relinquish her position of Speaker of the House.”

Absurd, and later declaimed by MoveOn, the piece didn’t shock me as much as the fact that Barbara posted it. She is an extreme liberal. But she and I have argued before about her quick acceptance of propaganda and her entrenched hatred of Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton as a result of the 2016 campaign. Barbara is a fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders.

I commented on her post, questioning why on earth she would fall for such a vitriolic attack on Pelosi when she alone has done more for the progressive cause during the reign of Trump than any other single figure. Our discussion was quickly interrupted by a Facebook ‘friend’ of hers named Paul F. Delargy, Jr.  Paul posted a string of memes showing Pelosi cartooned as a villain in various settings. One was of Trump and Pelosi standing side by side, half dressed in revealing clothes with exaggerated bodily features like Pelosi’s eyes and Trump’s belly. The meme’s text stated they were the same.

Amid the memes, Paul had little response to my questions. Barbara responded, immediately blaming the DNC for the app failure in Iowa as justification for her post of the anti-Pelosi meme. Several commenters pointed out the fallacies in her line of thought, to which her response was “and I keep getting accused of not facing reality… Keep defending the ones that you defend, the ones who keep the ones who could lead us into a better future from having power to change the party and see what happens. Primary the progressives into the ground.”

Okay, she and I have argued many times about the doubt I have that most of Sander’s promises would ever become reality in a situation where, as president, he would still have to get the proposed change through Congress. But more important in my view, Sanders has a lot of negatives that his supporters dismiss but which would be a field day for Republicans. But that’s beside the point of my topic here.

At one point, I visited Paul’s FB page, curious about him as a person. There was a generic flowery field as the header image. The inset photo of Paul showed a grizzled older man with a knit hat, holding a dog. There was no personal history and very few posts. Rushing off to errands in town, I mulled over my gut instinct that Paul was a troll. So when I returned home, I went back to Barbara’s post to further examine all of Paul’s posted memes denigrating Pelosi, the Democrats, and equating Democrats with Republicans.

I wasn’t completely shocked to discover that Paul’s memes and comments had vanished. Paul had vanished. I did a Google search on his name and found there was a real Paul F. Delargy Jr. living in a state near Barbara, age 80+, as found on whitepages.com. Another record gave his age as 91.

I don’t question the reality of Paul’s existence. I do question his presence on Facebook as an 80 or 91 year old man living with relatives. I question the photo I saw and I question his acuity with Facebook in accessing and posting so many memes on the specific issue of Pelosi. I especially question Mr. Delargy’s quick exit from Facebook after I visited his page.

This stinks of trolling with the intent of dividing Democratic Party supporters. Wednesday morning on the heels of Trump’s SOTU address was a moment for progressives to cling to any good news they could find. Pelosi’s actions at the end of his speech was one such bit of good news, reminding us that Trump isn’t yet king and we still have an election to win. It makes perfect sense that trolls working for Trump would try to pull her down. But it makes no sense that they would post a disgusting image of Trump equating him with Pelosi.

I’m left with the conclusion that Facebook Paul was a Russian troll, doing what they do best—assuming a false identity to spread mistrust and disinformation among Americans in order to damage our democracy. As stated in an intelligence report on the 2016 election and many other sources,

Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.[1], [2]

Barbara is a perfect target for trollers like Facebook Paul. She posts up to 80 times a day on topics as widely varied as the purported innocence of Julian Assange, puppies up for adoption, and personal bits about her garden or family business. But her primary focus is political. She’s not particularly astute about technical aspects of social media and seems rather confused about where her allegiance lies. She’s concerned, she wants to help, and yet can’t seem to sort out the absurd or harmful from the helpful materials that cross her newsfeed, which is fed by over 1,400 ‘friends.’ Her habit of prolific Facebook posting and lack of critical analysis of the information she receives makes her ideal as a vehicle for troll posts.

So what might help protect Barbara and the rest of us from trolls like Facebook Paul?

First, when someone asks to be your ‘friend,’ don’t just be flattered. Check them out. Look at the person’s Facebook page for background information, photos, etc. How many friends do you have in common and do you personally know any of those friends? If the person doesn’t have a long record of Facebook posts and most of the photos are the person alone, chances are this person is not real.

Do a Google search.

Be suspicious.

We weren’t always under siege by trolls, so it might be helpful to go back through your friend list to check those you don’t know personally.

Always be on guard against any posts—memes or comments—that don’t quite pass the smell test. Before you share a questionable post, check the source. Do a Google search on a key phrase or section of the post, see what turns up. Ask your FB friends if they’ve seen this post before and what they think of it.

The most important thing we can do for the future of this nation is to not be part of any effort to muddy facts and raise a hue and cry when you find misinformation. It’s up to us.

~~~

Further reading: The Atlantic,  The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President: How new technologies and techniques pioneered by dictators will shape the 2020 election”

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_interference_in_the_2016_United_States_elections

[2] https://www.wired.com/story/russia-ira-propaganda-senate-report/

Trump — It’s About Jesus

Make no mistake. The whitewash of Trump’s many sins is not just about Republican power madness or foreign influence or money. It is those things, but mostly this is about Jesus. Finally the evangelical voter bloc can fulfill its forty-year wish list to do away with all liberal advances. No more abortion, no more gay rights, no more talk about climate change or pollution. No more mingling of the races or giving those colored folks a place at the table. No more helping hungry people with a handout they don’t deserve or helping sick people pay their medical bills.

Evangelicals — a term that today refers to people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, that the Bible is the word of God, that every believer has a “born again” or salvation moment, and that the good news of Jesus should be widely disseminated — make up as much as a quarter of the country, or close to 80 million people. Around 60 percent vote, more than any other demographic, and among white evangelical voters, more than three-quarters tend to go to Republicans, thanks to wedge issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights.[1]

During the last days of Trump’s 2016 campaign, he met with “Robert Jeffress, the head of 14,000-member megachurch First Baptist Dallas, a contributor to Fox News, and one of the earliest evangelical leaders to support Trump, presided over the meeting.

“I usually stand when he [Trump] comes in the room as a way of showing respect — he doesn’t ask that, but that’s just something that I’ve normally done,” Jeffress explained to the assembled, who included Wayne Grudem, a well-known theologian and co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Eric Metaxas, a bestselling Christian author and radio host; Ryan Anderson, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and Jay Richards, a philosopher and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that campaigns against teaching evolution in school.”

At this meeting, Trump, no doubt coached by his Republican handlers, promised to fulfill the evangelical agenda: He would end the contraception mandate of Obamacare; select only anti-choice judges; do away with the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt entities from endorsing politicians; support prayer in school; oppose any bill that pulled funding from Christian schools that were charged with discrimination; keep transgender people from using the “wrong” bathrooms and locker rooms; and protect Israel.

It’s been a long time coming, ever since the incestuous relationship between Republicans and Christian extremists joined forces under the benevolent guidance of Ronald Reagan. The power brokers behind the Republican Party figured out that if they could gain a voting block as widespread and fervent as evangelicals, they could turn back the tide of progressive change. They’d been slammed on all sides – the ‘60s generation had turned its back on the corporate agenda, passed laws forcing dirty manufacturing to clean up its messes, and was working hard to put women and minorities on an equal status with white men.

Casualty of the U.S. abandonment of Syrian Kurds, 2019.

This unholy coalition of conservatives, evangelicals, and racists developed a strategy that finally paid off with the election of Donald Trump. Now they had the whole government in their control. They quickly began reversing rules and laws and appointing federal judges who would abide by the coalition’s view of the world:

  • eliminating voting rights for blacks and the poor
  • packing the courts with extreme conservatives
  • allowing unlimited gerrymandering of voting districts
  • barricading U.S. borders against refugees (but only those who aren’t white)
  • reversing pollution controls in order to ‘ease’ the regulatory burden on corporations
  • promoting any and all efforts to reverse Roe v Wade
  • chewing off vital parts of the Affordable Care Act until they can shoot the entire act in the head
  • destroying the U.S.’s standing on the world stage, betraying allies, and doubling down on military force as the only viable foreign policy
  • accepting murderers as friends (such as Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who in absentia murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and war criminal former U.S. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher)
  • ignoring the public health crisis while ending school lunch programs that sought to reduce the nation’s childhood obesity problem

And much more, most of which serves the corporate agenda more than the evangelical. But who’s counting?

The ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ mindset of the unholy Republican coalition demonstrated its determination to push its agenda at any cost by its election of Trump despite (or because of) his racism, his corruption, his sexism, and his utter disregard for standards of personal honor or morality. The idea that Trump was God’s chosen messenger despite his history of multiple sins appealed to the evangelicals. After all, who among them had not sinned? Their entire religious outlook is based on the idea that God will forgive sin. Lo and behold, God had forgiven Trump, made him King (er, uh president), in order for him to work God’s will on the wayward United States of America.

Trump, on the other hand, knows he’s not forgiven nor has he ‘gone forth and sinned no more.’ Trump hungers for power and adoration, and he’ll say and do anything to keep that juice coming. Honest public servants who attempted to serve in his administration held onto their posts despite Trump’s tantrums and verbal abuse out of a sense of duty to the nation. The landscape is littered with their empty desks.

An overcrowded fenced area holding families at a Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center is seen in a still image from video in McAllen, Texas, U.S. on June 11, 2019 and released as part of a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on July 2, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/border-facilities/593239/

Trump has no conscience, no agenda, and no principles. He does what he’s told by advisers who put up with his out-of-control behavior because they have their own agendas. For Stephen Miller, the agenda is making America white again. There’s Jarrod Kushner, a Jew, who quietly works as ‘strategic planner’ to advance Israel at the expense of Palestine and of U.S. security in the Middle East. There’s Trump’s daughter Ivanka, possibly the only person who can actually exert some small amount of control over her father, acting as a so-called adviser for women’s issues while in reality maximizing profits for her family’s financial interests.

For Mitch McConnell and other elected lackeys, the agenda is to hang onto their elected seat in districts where the majority of voters are either evangelical, racist, or otherwise drinking the Kool-Aid so freely dispensed by the party. Going against such constituents is simply too big of a risk to take even though the 2018 congressional elections should have warned them their hold on power had become tenuous.

The Republicans cling to their long-game strategy in the belief that evangelicals will continue to sleep with the morally corrupt. Evangelicals rush along in their cognitive dissonance to embrace the idea of end times, eager to do what they can to trigger the promised apocalypse which will bring Jesus back. In this mindset, they alone will be ‘saved’ while the rest of those libtards burn in hell. So why should they listen to anything progressives might say?

Science, as always, is not to be trusted even though every day evangelicals depend on the advances science has brought to modern society. Antibiotics, x-rays, MRIs, organ transplants—nothing is too ‘modern’ to ignore when an evangelical is fighting disease and death. Cell phones, DVRs, GPS, air conditioning—nothing is off the table when it comes to comfort and entertainment even if those terrible atheist scientists might have invented it. But when the science doesn’t fit into their religious view, forget about it. God is the only one who can change the weather. God assigns gender and never intended same sex love. God favors white people—that’s the reason He blessed the United States and gave whites dominion over those red-skinned heathens who were here first.

What evangelicals fail to see through their rapturous haze is that once Trump and his enabling Republicans have broken the Constitution in order to fulfill their agenda, they and their agenda will no longer matter. With the failure of the Republican-controlled Senate to hold Trump accountable, the executive branch of the government is without limits. What that might mean for the future of our nation is too terrible to contemplate.

The unholy alliance of religion and politics has been the source of the world’s worst evils since the beginning of time. That reality was fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers. That misguided zealots now work to overturn that understanding and the protections written into our Constitution cries out for correction. It remains to be seen whether the correction will come in the 2020 election or if it will come only with another civil war.

 

~~~

Further reading: “Trump is an anathema to everything I was taught to love about Jesus, everything I was taught about how to live out my faith. His disdain for decency, disrespect toward basic tenets of right and wrong and complete disregard for the most vulnerable among us could not be more fundamentally un-Christian. To vote for him because he sees the political expediency of supporting restrictions on abortion is a Faustian deal with the devil that is ultimately more likely to exact greater cost than reward.” https://time.com/5775440/donald-trump-evangelical-opposition/

[1] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/christian-right-worships-donald-trump-915381/