On Legalizing Drugs

“Americans must confront the reality that we are the market,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this past Thursday. “We Americans must own this problem.”[1]

Meeting with his Mexican counterpart, Tillerson acknowledged the role of American drug consumption in the proliferation of violent Mexican drug cartels. Citing the enormous demand for heroin, cocaine, and marijuana by Americans eager to get high, he argued that “drug trafficking had to be addressed as a ‘business model,” attacking cash flow, gun procurement, production and distribution.’”

Oh, please. You’d think that an administration that promised new approaches would make some tiny effort to think outside the prohibition box. But never once in Tillerson’s comments or those of his colleague Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly did a new idea appear. Never once did they hint at any effort to consider the success of other nations where various types of legalization and regulation have greatly reduced drug problems.

Take, for example, the success of states like Colorado now in its fifth year of marijuana legalization. Sales of the legal herb generated tax revenues exceeding $150 million between January and October 2016, $50 million of which the state is using to pump up its school systems.[2] Significant shares of this revenue stream will support improved drug treatment, drug education programs, and various projects targeting at-risk populations.[3] All these expenditures help increase education, job skills, and opportunity for persons who might otherwise fall victim to substance abuse.

Yes, Americans are the market. But instead of devoting resources to learning more about why Americans are uniquely prone to drug use and abuse, outdated policies continue to treat Americans as children to be scolded and punished. This attitude helps foster voters’ disgust with government.

Punishment has become increasingly more severe as subsequent generations of policymakers have embraced the government-as-nanny model. Any incremental step away from prohibition has come wrapped in controversy, implemented only in states where the voice of reason has a chance to be heard. Now with the Trump Administration and its appointment of Jeff Sessions as head of the Justice Department, we face the prospect of a full-bore return to the good old failed policies of the past.

Why is there no discussion of legalization and regulation? A modest approach might be similar to that of Portugal, who years ago legalized all drugs. “Weed, cocaine, heroin, you name it – Portugal decided to treat possession and use of small quantities of these drugs as a public health issue, not a criminal one.”[4]

While our nation’s drug warriors lament that such an approach would lead to higher use rates among the young and greater ease of availability would increase use rates, the fact in Portugal is that youth aren’t using more, adults are using slightly less, the rates of HIV and Hep C infection are down, and – hear this – hardly anyone dies of overdose.

Compare that to the alarming rise in U. S. deaths from opiates which more than tripled between 2010 and 2015.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin.[5]

It’s way past time to face reality: people are going to use drugs. As far back as we can peer into human history, people have consumed everything from beer to cannabis to opium to hallucinogens. These practices are part of who we are, part of our religions, part of our ability to think outside or within ourselves.

Legitimate questions await answers about why various types of drug use throughout the millennia have transformed into today’s raging torrent of human suffering, but we’re not devoting any resources to answer those questions. Have the pressures of our fast-paced modern age forced us to seek refuge in intoxication? Is our multicultural society at fault in erasing old customs and rites of passage that could help us confront our existential crisis? Have the conveniences of our technological age created too much leisure time? What is the impact of a pharmaceutical industry’s marketing campaign flooding us with ads suggesting that the solution to every human ill is a drug?

We simply don’t know.

We should have learned a hundred years ago that criminalizing a popular intoxicant only creates bigger problems. Those who championed alcohol prohibition wanted to stamp out drunkenness. The blissful concept assumed that if alcohol were made illegal and its producers and users criminalized, everyone would simply stop drinking.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watching agents pour liquor into the … New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZ62-123257)

Far from it. For their trouble in passing the Eighteenth Amendment, the “dry” crusaders found their cities overrun by heavily armed criminals fighting over territory. People flaunted the law, patronizing highly popular speakeasies where drinking served as joyous rebellion against overweening authority.[6] No matter how many barrels of liquor were spilled into public gutters, ever more enterprising moonshiners set up shop in hidden hollows.

It took just over fourteen years for prohibition fervor to sour. Amendment Twenty reversed it in 1933.

As Lincoln famously said in 1840:

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”[8]

Sadly, it seems little of this lesson actually sank in. Prohibition policies continue to frame our national approach to substance use and abuse, siphoning money into hit squads of heavily armed urban police and burgeoning prisons instead of desperately needed research and treatment of addiction.

Reality is that prohibition does nothing to reduce the market for drugs, but it does create a thriving underworld where dealers make huge profits. Stamp out every drug producer/dealer in the nation and tomorrow another crop will rise to the surface. Among the poor, especially those in marginal economies of Mexico and other Latin American countries, the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. Our inner city youth’s only hope of achieving the American dream seems to lie in the profitable drug trade. It’s about supply and demand.

The economics of prohibition can’t be overstated. Trade in illegal drugs generates so much profit that gangs can afford all the expensive weapons they might ever want. The spiraling up of urban warfare now involves military gear and tactics among the police and armor-piercing bullets in automatic weapons carried by adolescent criminals. The payoff comes in fancy cars, jewelry, and a lifestyle not achievable by legal means. Tax free.

A war on drugs is, after all, a war on our people, with rising collateral damage to our cities, institutions, and most of all, innocent bystanders.

Ironically, prohibition policies fail utterly to accomplish the goal of eradicating drug use/abuse. A smattering of evidence from states with legalized marijuana shows that teen use has dropped, suggesting that by removing the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect of the drug, rebellions teens may lose interest. Meanwhile on the black market, no ID is required for purchase, and studies have found that teenagers can obtain marijuana more easily than beer. [9]

We the people have to decide what we’re going to do about this, because our so-called ‘leaders’ won’t make the first move. We have to decide and then make our voices heard. Compare:

  • a militarized police force versus friendly neighborhood police to protect and serve.
  • urban warfare versus reclaimed neighborhoods and inner cities
  • illegal search and seizure and loss of property even you’re not convicted of a crime versus government butting out of private lives
  • an overwhelmed judicial system versus our Constitutionally-guaranteed due process
  • half of federal prisoners in jail for drugs and the fact that drug offenses comprise the most serious offense for 16% of state prisoners versus an enormous reduction of prison population
  • our ever-growing investment in prisons versus a renewed investment in schools, mental health care, and state-of-the-art addiction treatment centers.
  • taxpayers struggling under drug war costs versus a regulated, taxed drug industry ensuring purity, restricting sales to adults only, and producing substantial new revenue streams
  • American citizens treated as children by government deciding what they can do in their personal lives versus each person responsible for his/her welfare. Want to be homeless, die in a ditch? Go ahead. Ask for help, we’ll be there for you.
  • overdose of drugs like heroin often resulting from zero information about purity or strength versus a regulated market that includes labeling for purity and precautions about use.

There are no upsides to the drug war. By any tally, this approach has been an enormous policy fiasco partly responsible for the decline of inner cities and disrespect for government in general. Government has never bothered to assess the effectiveness of its policies. No one can cite data showing that getting tough on drug traders and users has reduced supply or demand.

Indeed, judging by the rhetoric of our newest batch of politicos and the news flowing to our ears and eyes on a daily basis, we can say with certainty that drug prohibition continues to be an abysmal failure.

~~~

[1] http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-tillerson-puts-onus-of-drug-trafficking-1495131274-htmlstory.html

[2] http://fortune.com/2016/12/13/colorado-billion-legal-marijuana-sales/

[3] https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/15-10_distribution_of_marijuana_tax_revenue_issue_brief_1.pdf

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/05/why-hardly-anyone-dies-from-a-drug-overdose-in-portugal/

[5] http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States

[7] http://www.autofoundry.com/293/the-best-moonshine-cars-of-all-time/

[8] http://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44807229.pdf

[9] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/teens-pot-easier-to-buy-than-beer/

His Fight, Our Fight

According to the brief description that accompanied this photo that crossed my Facebook timeline the other day, the funeral of Pretty Boy Floyd drew the largest attendance of any such event in Oklahoma history. The image gives me goosebumps, almost puts a lump in my throat. It’s not the coffin—I can’t even discern where it is. It’s the people, backs straight, their attention focused entirely on the dead man.

On what he represented.

My dad sometimes talked about Pretty Boy Floyd although at the time of Floyd’s death, my dad was only seventeen. For him, like so many, Floyd stood as a heroic symbol to survival in their times. Dust bowl, economic depression, most of all the shift of worlds. From the independent farmer working alongside his wife and children to wrest of living from the land to the new reality of the need for money and consequently, jobs in town.

Giving up the farm and its creeks and horses and the smell of fresh cut hay. Learning to work for someone else. Breathing exhaust. Street lights burning the dark. Rigid hours to serve someone else’s profit. Dependent on the dollar instead of the land.

There were men who couldn’t make the change. Men who rebelled, who clung to the old ways. Men who’d rather die than portion out his life in the 9 to 5. They didn’t willingly give up the tradition of their fathers, but rather borrowed money on the hope of better times, more rain, abundant crops. The loans came due before better times arrived.

According to his biography in Wikipedia, “[Charles Arthur] Floyd was viewed positively by the general public. When he robbed banks he allegedly destroyed mortgage documents, but this has never been confirmed and may be myth. He was often protected by locals of Oklahoma, who referred to him as ‘Robin Hood of the Cookson Hills.’” He was thirty when he died.

Floyd’s robberies of banks made him a target for the fledgling FBI and the true manner of his death became one of the agency’s earliest cover-ups. After he was downed by rifle shot, another agent shot him with an automatic weapon at point blank range. Not widely known at the time, the unfairness of his killing nevertheless was understood at a visceral level by the common man.

Woody Guthrie, a native of Oklahoma, penned a song about it in 1939, five years after Floyd’s death. Called “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd,” the song has the form of a  Broadside “come-all-ye” ballad opening with the lines:

If you’ll gather ’round me, children, a story I will tell ‘Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an Outlaw, Oklahoma knew him well.

The lyrics recount Floyd’s supposed generosity to the poor and contain the famous lines comparing foreclosing bankers to outlaws:

As through this world you travel, you’ll meet some funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. And as through your life you travel, yes, as through your life you roam, You won’t never see an outlaw drive a family from their home.

Many other artists have recorded this song, among them Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and James Taylor as another generation’s anthem to the tragedy of corporate takeover.

It’s easy to see Floyd as a martyr. In his short life, he did what so many others wanted to do. Like the young Chinese man who dared to stand in the path of an oncoming tank, Floyd like similar ‘criminals’ of the early 20th century defied the banks and credit systems that threatened everything that mattered in rural American lives. They instinctively understood they were being swept into a capitalist system that had no sense of morality, no obligation to human circumstance. They fought back the only way they knew how.

The battle that cost Charles Floyd his life has not ended.

~~~

 

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Boy_Floyd

Today’s Big Lie

Topping today’s fake news is the Republican mantra that Obamacare is failing and whatever faults their replacement plan may have, nothing can save Obamacare. Cited as evidence is a decrease in the number of insurance companies serving certain states. Aside from the obvious option of the federal government providing coverage as it does in Medicare, which no one mentions, is the quiet Republican sabotage that brought about this situation.

For the last seven years since the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) came into law, Republicans have not only claimed they had a better plan (when they obviously didn’t),  they have worked behind the scenes to gut key elements of the ACA. Now, disingenuously, they act as though they had nothing to do with the problems they cite as evidence of its failure.

If these were decent people, they wouldn’t be able to face themselves in the mirror. But extremists have never let a little basic human decency get in the way of their agenda.

Back in 2015, as the ACA took effect and more people were for the first time able to gain desperately needed medical care, Republicans saw that they would never be able to tear this coverage out of the hands of sick and dying people without suffering political blow-back. So with their midterm election wins giving them legislative authority, they eagerly set about gutting key elements of the ACA in a strategy meant to guarantee its failure.

The law had made provisions for early insurance company losses described in the bill as a ‘risk corridor.’ Expected to decreasingly occur as the bill’s mandatory enrollment requirements gradually built up the number of healthy insured persons, the risk corridor would eventually die off. In the interim, companies were guaranteed government reimbursement to cover such losses.

So in 2015, Senator Marco Rubio led an effort to gut the risk corridor provision. Slipped into a massive spending law late that year, their meddling cut the payments to insurance companies from $2.9 billion to around $400 million. This left insurance companies no choice but to begin withdrawing from low income/high illness states.

Now we hear Rubio, Ryan, et al crowing about how the ACA failed as if they had no hand in that failure.

It’s not that these men want to really hurt their less fortunate brothers. It’s that they worship only two gods—money and so-called conservative values.

As noted in an excellent discussion of the Republican conundrum about health care, “Republicans will not increase the role of government [in health care] for political and ideological reasons” which is why they cannot now or ever develop a plan that is better and cheaper than the ACA.

The conservative agenda is clearly stated as limited government, a healthy culture, and a strong defense. I’ll refrain from ranting about their idea of a healthy culture, code words for “White” and “Christian.”  Sticking to the topic of this post, I’ll point out that “limited government” does not include mandating health care or providing for health care in any way. Worshiping at the feet of so-called ‘free markets,’ conservatives want the sick left to die. If relatives, neighbors or churches don’t help them and they haven’t managed to make enough money to help themselves, then it’s their fault and God’s will that they suffer.

Limited government is a loosely applied term, however. If it comes to invading private homes to rout out pot smokers, conservative lawmakers are all about it. Yet if it comes to corporate polluters lying about profitable chemicals that cause birth defects and cancer, it’s hands off. This means government is limited only when it comes to policing entities that are too big for any citizen or group of citizens to fight alone and unlimited when it comes to bringing the full police powers of the state against individuals who violate conservative cultural norms.

In one tiny example of the absurdity of the health care debate currently underway is the fact that over half of Medicaid recipients are children under the age of six who have developmental disabilities. I blogged about this last week. While seeking to reduce or eliminate Medicaid that serves such children, the Republicans simultaneously are eliminating government oversight of chemical pollution from which many such disabled children arise.

If legislators had the real interests of the American people at heart, they would throw out their replacement plan and the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare to the entire population. They would remove profiteering insurance companies from the mix. They would instill cost controls on drug companies and medical providers.

After all, if utilities are such a vital need that they deserve government price controls, surely health care is an even greater vital need.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that without insurance companies taking a healthy slice of every health care dollar, costs would go down. Or that there’s a screaming need for cost controls when pharmaceutical industry profits routinely equal the profits of banks at nearly 20%, some as high as 40%.

Drug companies are quick to cry how much they need all that money so they can develop new drugs. But reality is that despite investment in new drugs and abusive advertising campaigns, their profits exceed most other industries. With that kind of loose change, it’s no wonder that one of the heaviest contributors to political candidates are drug companies, coming in right after big banks and weapons manufacturers.

World’s largest pharmaceutical firms
Company Total revenue ($bn) R&D spend ($bn) Sales and marketing spend($bn) Profit ($bn) Profit margin (%)
Johnson & Johnson (US) 71.3 8.2 17.5 13.8 19
Novartis (Swiss) 58.8 9.9 14.6 9.2 16
Pfizer (US) 51.6 6.6 11.4 22.0 43
Hoffmann-La Roche (Swiss) 50.3 9.3 9.0 12.0 24
Sanofi (France) 44.4 6.3 9.1 8.5 11
Merck (US) 44.0 7.5 9.5 4.4 10
GSK (UK) 41.4 5.3 9.9 8.5 21
AstraZeneca (UK) 25.7 4.3 7.3 2.6 10
Eli Lilly (US) 23.1 5.5 5.7 4.7 20
AbbVie (US) 18.8 2.9 4.3 4.1 22
Source: GlobalData

In fact, if you take a look at the list of corporate donors to the 2016 campaign, you can pretty much determine the current legislative agenda: more military spending, Wall-Street friendly cabinet members, and no serious effort to provide for the health and well-being of the American people.

 

 

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

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Following 2015 charges against “19 Kids and Counting” star John Duggar for molesting his sisters and the rape of a young girl at the hands of a former employee of Rep. Justin Harris who had adopted the girl then ‘rehomed’ her to the man who would rape her, the latest moral scandal in Arkansas has to do with a scheme of kickbacks in exchange for funneling state tax dollars to a tiny religious college. Earlier this week, former Sen. Jon Woods, Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III, and a business consultant friend of the two, Randell G. Shelton, were named in federal indictments.

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Former Rep. Micah Neal

Previously indicted on several counts in the same scheme, former Rep. Micah Neal entered a plea of guilty to taking kickbacks. Other indictments may follow for additional persons, one of whom is referred to as “Businessman A” and for Ecclesia College, assumed to be “Entity A.”

The federal investigation has been ongoing for a couple of years and covers a period from 2013 to 2015. Until news of the investigation leaked out in the summer of 2016, Neal had been running for county judge. He dropped out of the race, citing residency concerns as his reason. News of his indictment came later.

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Former Senator Jon Woods

Woods announced in November 2015 he wouldn’t run for re-election, possibly due to knowledge of the investigation.

Here’s the set up. An Arkansas law allows leftover money from the General Improvement Fund to be allocated for pet projects in legislators’ home districts. If approved, grant requests disperse the money through economic development districts toward worthy nonprofits. It’s a system ripe for abuse.

Currently in session, the legislature is expected to take away this honey hole at the urging of our rather embarrassed governor, Asa Hutchinson, a former Congressman, head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and more recently, head of Homeland Security.

But the cash cow is already out of the barn, at least for this highly religious group. A total of thirteen indictments against former Senator Woods alleges he committed fraud and took a bribe of $40,000 plus “an undetermined amount of cash” in exchange for helping funnel more than $350,000 to Ecclesia College, purportedly for land on which to build student housing.

But there was no need for student housing. The grant request claimed that the college needed housing due to “rapid growth.” The college with an enrollment of less than 200 mostly off-campus students already owned 200 undeveloped acres. Records show that the GIF money paid for about fifty additional acres at an inflated price. To date, no building permits have been sought to build on any of this land, so evidently the ‘urgent’ need for housing wasn’t so urgent after all.

While indictments do not constitute a conviction, chances are good that plea deals will follow. The money was there and they wanted it and they had a handy nonprofit, namely Ecclesia College, by which to obtain it. According to the indictments, as early as January 2013 these three men “devised a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive the citizens of the honest services of a public official through bribery.”

A March 3 write-up in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reveals a tangle of people eager to get their sweaty hands on state tax dollars. Never mind that Woods and Neal, as elected officials, both swore to uphold the state’s constitution. Never mind that Paris served as president of a college presenting itself as a Christian institution. The elaborate diversions through which the money flowed portrays clear evidence these men knew they were doing something wrong.[1]

But it’s worse than that. It’s not just greed at work here. A text message from college president Paris to Woods is cited in the news article:

Good selling point to conservative legislators is that (Entity A) produces graduates that are conservative voters. All state and secular colleges produce [a] vast majority [of] liberal voters.”

Woods replied: “Agreed.”

This blatant agenda to brainwash students toward conservative views fits right in with the apparent right-wing philosophy that the ends justify the means. These men were leaders of their communities and their church. As such, the highest standard of ethical and moral behavior would be expected. Yet they apparently had no qualms about perverting the intent of GIF grants in order to enrich themselves as well as serve their ultimate goal, that of furthering the Christian agenda in taking over the nation’s political institutions.

I recently wrote that the right-wing effort to make the United States a “Christian nation” constitutes treason.  This latest incident is only a tiny glimpse of a pervasive delusion rampant in that group that whatever is done in the name of God is acceptable, even praiseworthy.  The text of Oren Paris III clearly states the intent to increase the number of conservative voters in order to bring the country closer to their ideal Christian Nation.

This type of thinking is no different from that of ISIS leaders who justify acts of terror by claiming that it pleases God. They know what Allah wants and the ends justify the means.

Aside from minor inconveniences like federal indictments, Wood, Neal, Paris et al may suffer little consequence among their peers. Shortly after the indictments hit the news, Ecclesia College board chairman Phil Brassfield posted a letter on the college’s Facebook page stating, in part:

While the allegations made against Oren [Paris] are to be taken seriously, we are confident once all the facts and the truth are made known, all will come to understand as we on the Board of Governance believe, that Oren has acted at all times with absolute integrity and always in the best interest of Ecclesia College. We are at peace in the knowledge that Oren is a godly leader, a loving husband and father, a vigilant shepherd and a faithful servant. It is in this confidence that we as a board remain loyal and steadfast with our brother in Christ.[2], [3]

Clearly, right-wing Christian Republican hypocrisy stretches from the lowest levels of government all the way to the top where–at this very moment–perjury, lies, and dissembling of every order permeate the executive and legislative branches. In the name of God. Because the ends justify the means.

~~~

[1] See also a write-up in the Arkansas Times.

[2] In the Arkansas Times article cited above, a testimonial written by Oren Paris’ wife regarding his meeting with then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz, states, in part: “At one of the meetings Oren was able to attend Senator Cruz and his wife Heidi shared how the Lord led them to run for the Presidential Office. I remember Oren sharing with me how the love of Jesus shone through Heidi as she told of her prayer to God whether she should do this for Ted (leave her job and dive into a campaign) or not. The Lord spoke to her and said, “No you should not do it for Ted. You should do it for Me, for my glory.” That meeting lasted more than 7 hours and was filled with Senator Cruz and Heidi (daughter and granddaughter of missionaries) sharing their hearts, answering questions, and joining in prayer for revival in our nation.”

[3] In unanimous agreement, the board confirmed Paris’ continuing role as college president. The letter was signed by board members including the newly elected Washington County judge, Joseph Wood. When former Rep. Micah Neal suddenly dropped out of the county judge race in the summer of 2016, for reasons later revealed to be his federal indictments, Joseph Wood stepped into the candidacy despite concerns about whether such a move was legal. His questionable activities since taking office, including breaking several regulations about appointees, remain under scrutiny. For more, check this article at the Arkansas Times.

 

Treason In The Name of God Is Still Treason

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

What are these people thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there are the Catholic priests and little boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shall We Pray?

A-Prayer-For-You

On any given day, my Facebook feed usually includes one or two prayer requests for sick or injured people. Or for a ridiculously premature infant. Or for someone on his death bed.

I can mostly ignore these random posts. But big events like the tornadoes and flooding of the past weekend bring on an avalanche of prayer requests. These in turn provoke me to rant. Hence, the following.

“Pray for Garland/Rowlett, Texas,” one post says. Pray for what? For God to wave a magic wand and restore everything to its condition before that big funnel cloud did its work? For all those newly homeless people to feel better about being homeless?

Everyone wants prayer, but exactly what the prayer is supposed to accomplish remains obscure.

Survivors of disasters often say God is good. It’s a blessing, they say. It could have been worse. Invariably there’s a wild-haired lady on the TV news saying “Praise God” even though her house is now a mile-long debris pile. None of this makes sense.

One must question the logic of thinking that the same God who invented cancer would somehow change His Mind and heal someone’s cancer because of prayer. If God has any power to answer prayers, God also has power to keep bad stuff from happening in the first place. What kind of ‘merciful’ God sits back, watches a tornado do its damage, then ‘hears’ prayers and decides what He’ll do to make it all better?

The common belief among the prayerful is that God watches over everything and when bad shit starts to happen, He picks and chooses who will die, who will be maimed for life, and whose house will be destroyed. One wonders about God’s criteria—are the ones who die bad people who need to be punished? If you’re not quite so bad, you only lose your house and, in a true miracle of God’s kindness, find that family photo in the mud?

If you’re so good that God spares you from harm, do you pray to thank Him for sparing you while smugly noting (privately) that you were spared when those folks next door got what they had coming?

Of course Satan comes into the picture. Satan makes all the bad stuff happen. God chases around after Satan trying to fix the damage. People who believe stuff like this actually operate vehicles on our highways. Many of them, against all odds, use computers.

You would think that with the advancement of science, we would no longer cling to such prehistoric beliefs. After all, we know that the mixing of cold and warm air, not Satan, causes tornadoes. We know our bodies are the result of genetics. We carry around devices that allow us to speak with anyone in the world and which convey visual and auditory media of any and all kind. We travel in jets, automobiles, and rocket ships. We explore the sea floor, transplant hearts, livers, and corneas, and watch brain parts light up on MRI screens.

We not only expect to use the latest gadget and demand ever higher Internet speed but require access to the latest in medical technology in order to enhance our erections and save our lives. We want what science (that godless extension of Satan himself ) can give us as long as it makes our work easier and our life expectancy longer. Advanced technology suffers no dependence on God, thank God, yet at the same time John Doe is about to undergo open heart surgery, Nancy Doe is asking all her friends for prayers.

Hedge the bet, then.

At least most of us no longer find it useful to cut the throat of a white goat before the races begin in order to ensure our horse wins. Or gut pigs to examine their entrails before we decide whether to take a vacation. And presumably no one is tossing virgins into bottomless pits so that the world will continue turning. Prayer and the occasional genuflect evidently now suffice in place of all those older more difficult methods of getting God to do what we want.

Prayer is the answer to everything. Football games. Our meals. The start of Congress or the school day. We’re infected with an irrational idea that prayer matters.

How long this nonsensical prehistoric behavior might continue, no one can say. After all, we have no method of disproving the possible intervention of a supernatural being. Whatever It is, It might actually be present on the fifty-yard line. That Mighty Hand might guide a hail-Mary pass, which is, not so coincidentally, a reference to prayer.

Unfortunately, historical evidence suggests otherwise.

This is the same God who, according to His own literature, killed off every single living soul on the planet except Noah’s family. The same God who sat back as blood-soaked centuries scrolled by while the Crusades, Inquisition, and the decimation of millions of indigenous people were carried out in His holy name.

But set all that aside because, well, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Why is it so incomprehensible to so many people that God does not and cannot possibly monitor the thoughts, acts, and prayers of all seven billion of us? Oh, sure, it was fine when there were thirty five of us in our tribal encampment. God could hear us then. But now? This is why we must align ourselves with a particular group who finds particular favor in God’s eyes.

Religion, for example. If we belong to the right religion instead of all those other ‘wrong’ religions, God will reward us with hearing our prayers and bestowing a glorious afterlife. Nanner-nanner to all those other infidels.

If this life sucks, well, we’ve been warned about the vale of tears as per Job’s experience in the Old Testament. All that suffering is our punishment for what happened thousands of years ago when Eve learned things God didn’t want her to learn. Why God put the apple there in front of her is just another one of His little tricksy secrets.

To get in good with God, a person must also choose the correct political party. If we’re Republican, we’re much closer to having God grant our prayerful wishes because God knows that Democrats are all lewd, blasphemous commies. And so forth.

Even within the religious Republican ranks, however, one must choose the right candidates and belong to the right branch of the Christian faith. Which one is right depends on who you ask. For those in the Church of Christ, for example, no one but their fellow adherents will see Heaven. Ask any Protestant and you’ll likely find out that all Catholics are going straight to hell. Likewise, ask any Catholic and you’ll find out that anyone not a Catholic is going to hell.

Not to mention what Christians think of Muslims. Or what Muslims think of everyone who doesn’t follow Islam. I admit I’m not clear on the Jewish belief about other faiths, but I suspect it tends toward the same narrow beliefs. Which explains why Israel continues to grab ever more Palestinian lands—“God gave that land to me.”

All of which ignores Buddhists, Confucionists, and Zoroastrianists, to name just three of the multitudinous non-Abrahamist religions.

So what does God think of all this? God only knows. But one thing I’m fairly sure of is that God doesn’t look down from Mount Olympus and tweak the weather to suit His agenda. He doesn’t decide that because gays marry, Texas should be plagued with floods. He doesn’t send his Almighty Wrath to incinerate the American West because Miley Cyrus twerks.

He doesn’t have millions of angels listening to all those prayers wafting up from this planet and prioritizing which ones to ignore. He, if He exists, can’t be a He. He can’t even be a physical entity that might have gender. He would be Unimaginable.

I think the power of prayer, if any, lies solely in its ability to focus the prayerful person’s attention on one thought and within that moment, assure the praying person that he/she has done all he/she could toward a problem over which he/she has no control. Group prayer, like meditation, perhaps has the potential to direct psychic energy toward a particular thought or idea. Which is yet another reason why sending prayers to Unimaginable simply detours any possible useful result of the effort.

Now, on the other hand, if the person is standing there praying for God to solve a problem over which he/she does have control, then God should smite him/her on the spot. Or at least send a tornado their way.

Creating ISIS

warrior

 

Some Facebook posts circulating since the Paris tragedy voice outrage that the U.S. and its allies failed to stop ISIS at its inception.

To those I ask what, pray tell, was the beginning?

Was it during the three hundred years of Crusades when Western European Christians invaded the Middle East to drive out Islam?

Was it after WWI when the Western powers reorganized the colonized Middle East, shifting borders to suit the desires of various Western nations regardless of existing ethnic, tribal, or religious boundaries?

Was it after WWII when Western powers again reorganized Arab lands, shoving the Palestinians aside to carve out a homeland for the Jews? Couldn’t we have predicted that Arabs would resist? Perhaps that would have been the best time to nuke the whole region.

Was it when we armed the Afghan Mujaheddin in the 1980s to help them overthrow Soviet occupation? Couldn’t we have predicted that once the Cold War ended, we would abandon Afghanistan and leave tribal leaders like Osama bin Laden to take what he’d been taught to organize his devastated homeland.

Was it when we marched into Iraq, toppling the strong man government of Saddam Hussein and unleashing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias?

Was it when the 2011 Arab spring spread from Egypt through other Middle Eastern nations and Syria’s President Assad fought back against his nation’s rebellion? The U.S. and allies hurried into Syria with support and secret ‘advisors’ to assist the rebels, bringing in sophisticated arms and other supplies that are now in the hands of ISIS. Gee, how could we have guessed?

The claim that the U. S. could have inflicted a fatal incisive strike against ISIS at any point along this tortured path shows ignorance and a single-minded obsession to heap criticism on President Obama. ISIS has never existed as a discrete target. Any attack on ISIS would result in massive collateral damage.

The entire mess points to one overarching conclusion: the more we intervene in the Middle East, the worse things get.

We’re good at meddling in other people’s affairs. At what point do we have an honest national dialogue centered on the question: Why are we in the Middle East at all?

I can tell you. It’s because of money, oil and religion. And money. Did I say money?[i]

According to a 2013 report, “over the last six decades, the U.S. has invested $299 billion in military and economic aid for Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries currently in turmoil. Egypt tops a list of ten nations, receiving $114 billion since the end of World War II. Iraq comes in second, getting nearly $60 billion from the U.S. (over and above war costs). Far outpacing those ten countries is Israel, an ally that received another $185 billion in U.S. aid in the same period.”[ii]

Why not just hand all that arms money over to the arms dealers and let them keep the weapons?

Are we getting what we paid for? If the objective is to keep the region destabilized so that we can maintain a level of control over the oil, yes. If the objective is to undermine Arab strength in order to further prop up Israel, yes.

We continue to send billions of dollars of foreign aid to the region, larding the already excessive oil profits lining the pockets of the region’s leaders. With all that money, leaders so inclined can invest in distant terrorists or add to their nation’s arsenal by purchasing arms and equipment manufactured in Western nations.

Supporters of Israel dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is religious. People concerned about U. S. energy profits dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is oil. Both groups fail to recognize the larger agenda behind their pet projects: money.

According to a 2013 report, “Each year, around $45-60 billion worth of arms sales are agreed. Most of these sales (something like 75%) are to developing countries. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), together with Germany and Italy account for around 85% of the arms sold between 2004 and 2011.[iii]

Nearly twenty years ago, an incisive review of our foreign aid pointed to this folly:

“An examination of $13.6 billion in U.S. foreign aid activity for Fiscal Year 1997 reveals that almost half of the aid is military in nature. This assistance, in conjunction with large-scale arms exports, may actually be working counter to many stated U.S. foreign policy objectives such as promoting sustainable development, protecting human health and fostering economic growth.”[iv]

George Washington famously cautioned against the quagmire in which we’re now floundering:

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”[v]

Just six days ago, the columnist citing this wisdom called for an end to all but humanitarian aid to foreign nations. He’s not alone.

Opponents of a hands-off approach will cite the potential for increasing interference in the region from nations like Russia and China. In theory, our presence at the arms trade table balances their influence. But we have to ask ourselves, who was there first? I can tell you. It was us.[vi]

If we want the violence to stop, we’ll have to

  • stop giving our tax dollars to nations who spend it on arms,
  • eliminate any and all subsidies to arms dealers and manufacturers,
  • remove our forces entirely from the region and let them sort it out themselves, and
  • rescind and renegotiate any treaties with other nations so that any and all foreign aid is in the form of food, educational materials, medical supplies, and other humanitarian assistance.

Why not? It’s the only thing we haven’t tried.

 

[i] For an excellent overview of the money problem, see http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a39727/paris-attacks-middle-eastern-oligarchies/

[ii] A graph showing money received by various nations: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/06/us-aid-middle-east_n_3223151.html

[iii] http://www.globalissues.org/issue/73/arms-trade-a-major-cause-of-suffering

[iv] http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/usdefense/whelan0798.html

[v] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/9/bruce-fein-end-mideast-arms-sales-nonhumanitarian-/?page=all

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Middle_East