War — What’s It Good For?

A lot of talk among those on the left focuses on ending war. I’ve heard plenty of Lefties say they didn’t vote for Hillary because she supported war. As if that had any bearing on reality, since so does Trump.

At any rate, I’m seeking input from anyone who can offer a thoughtful analysis on what the U.S. gains in war and why removing ourselves from those situations would be good or bad.

Why is this important? Consider this:

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs reports that by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. will have spent $5.9 trillion on military spending in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries, as well as veterans’ care, interest on debt payments, and related spending at the Homeland Security and State Departments.

It’s not just about the Middle East. We support military forces around the globe.

The 2015 U.S. Department of Defense Base Structure Report states that the DOD has property in 587 bases in 42 countries, the majority located in Germany (181 sites), Japan (122 sites), and South Korea (83 sites). The Department of Defense classifies 20 of the overseas bases as large, 16 as medium, 482 as small and 69 as “other sites.” (Now up to over 800.)

These smaller and “other sites” are called “lily pads” and are generally in remote locations and are either secret or tacitly acknowledged to avoid protests that might lead to restrictions on their use. They usually have a small number of military personnel and no families. They sometimes reply on private military contractors whose actions the U.S. government can deny. To maintain a low profile, the bases are hidden within host country bases or on the edge of civilian airports. (Citation)

So let’s take this region by region. Wikipedia gives details on our involvement in the Middle East where we are actively engaged in the following locations:

Afghanistan – the reason we went there was to retaliate for 9/11 and destroy the Islamic insurgents known as the Taliban. Not sure why we care what happens now in Afghanistan but I do hear there are important rare earth deposits we’d like to monopolize. Yes, of course the Taliban still exists but anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at Afghan history will know that no one ever wins in Afghanistan.

Iraq – the reason we invaded Iraq had to do with the false claim they had developed weapons of mass destruction. The only credible excuse I’ve heard is that Cheney had vested interests in the oil fields on behalf of his company Halliburton. Also, Halliburton was contracted for billions of dollars in field support during and after the ‘war.’ Pretty sure we can all see now that Bush’s ill-advised invasion created a crisis for most religions in Iraq which had previously been more or less protected by Hussein’s tolerance policies. The invasion also created an environment where the long-festering religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Islamists could flare into violence and spawn extremists like the Sunni Al-Qaida.

Yemen – we’re supplying arms and ‘advisors’ to Saudi Arabia (and of course money) for its support of the old regime of Yemen in the face of a rebel takeover. Supposed Iranian support for the rebels reportedly triggered Saudi involvement in this Yemeni conflict. So why does the U.S. think this is so important that we are supporting Saudi brutality and genocide in Yemen? Is it just about Iran? Or the shadow of Russia behind Iran?

Over 17 million Yemen people are currently at risk of starvation. https://www.albawaba.com/news/senate-vote-whether-end-us-involvement-yemen-war-1105240

Libya – we stuck our nose into Libya because we wanted to get rid of Kaddafi. Now there is chaos and devastation as dueling factions fight for control. What the hell was the strategic expectation in nations like this and Iraq where decades of strongman rule had carved out a relatively peaceful nation? Is our goal simply to create devastation and turmoil in the entire region in order to help Israel remain powerful?

Syria – U.S. ‘advisors’ on the ground in Syria are dependent on Kurdish fighters in this ongoing cluster f**k that began as an uprising by educated Syrians against their dictator Bashar al-Assad. (Evidently despite our partnership with the Kurds, we’re too afraid of retribution by Turkey to advocate for Kurds to have their own homeland.)

Early on, our involvement in the Syrian civil war had to do with atrocities Assad committed against his own people, but then things became more complicated with the rise of Al-Quida/ISIS/ISIL in the war zones. At this point, as far as I know, we’re only trying to get rid of ISIL and allowing Assad to perpetuate his genocide against Syrians who want him out of power.

Israel — Although we are not directly involved in military activities between Israel and Palestine (and other Arab nations who formerly controlled the area where Israel was given land), we’ve funneled trillions of dollars into the formation and sustenance of Israel. I have yet to understand this investment, other than a) sympathy for what Jews suffered during WWII; and b) the usefulness of a fierce U.S. ally in the region.

For the record, I’ll ask why anyone thinks a nation based on religion is a good idea. Catholics live all over the world. So do all other religions. Where is the State of Methodists?

Why take away land from people who have lived there for hundreds of years (Palestinians) and create an ongoing crisis just because Jews once claimed it as their homeland? That was back around 30 BC before the Romans took over. Since then, Jews were a minority in that region, only 10-15% of the population by 614 AD. Jews fared no better after the start of the Crusades when invading European Catholics installed Christianity. In 1517, the Muslim Ottoman Empire conquered the area and ruled until 1917 when the British took over.

So based on what existed 2,000 years ago, the Jews should once again have Israel? By that logic, should all other current nations be subject to occupation by the people who ‘owned’ the place 2,000 years ago? The mind boggles.

Is our involvement in the Jewish state mostly about U.S. Christians, Jews, and Biblical prophecies? Why is Israel important to the U.S., to the extent that Israel receives the following?

P.L. 115-141, the FY2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, provides the following for Israel:

  • $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing, of which $815.3 million is for offshore procurement;
  • $705.8 million for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense projects, including $92 million for Iron Dome, $221.5 million for David’s Sling, $310 million for Arrow 3, and $82.3 million for Arrow 2;
  • $47.5 million for the U.S.-Israeli anti-tunnel cooperation program;
  • $7.5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance;
  • $4 million for the establishment of a U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in energy and water technologies;
  • $2 million for the Israel-U.S. Binational Research & Development Foundation (BIRD) Energy program; and
  • The reauthorization of War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I) program through fiscal year 2019.

For FY2019, the Trump Administration is requesting $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Israel and $500 million in missile defense aid to mark the first year of the new MOU. The Administration also is seeking $5.5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) funding for humanitarian migrants to Israel. (Citation)

Note: This problem will NEVER be solved as long as Israel continues to bully its way into more and more Palestinian land. The least we can do is withdraw from the drama and let them all kill each other.

Oh, and there’s this: The top five source countries of U.S. petroleum imports in 2017 were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. Hmm.

~~~

As for other places in the world where our troops are involved in local violence and imperialist ambitions, consider Africa where U.S. forces are stationed in over 20 locations.

When U.S. troops were ambushed in Niger last October (2017), the widespread reaction was surprise: The U.S. has military forces in Niger? What are they doing there?

Yet in many ways, the Niger operation typifies U.S. military missions underway in roughly 20 African countries, mostly in the northern half of the continent. The missions tend to be small, they are carried out largely below the radar, and most are focused on a specific aim: rolling back Islamist extremism. (Citation)

Might I humbly submit that Islamist extremism in Africa didn’t exist until American evangelists started messing with native African beliefs and European/American colonialists swept in to exploit the natural resources.

Or how about Asia where we have maintained a heavy military presence since BEFORE World War II.  A Wall Street Journal report from May 2017 states that “the Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships.”

In Central and South America, the U.S. has a long tradition of meddling with our neighbors’ affairs. Through our C.I.A. and black ops, we have assassinated, deposed, and otherwise destroyed Central and South American governments we didn’t like primarily for their socialist or communist leanings. U.S. policymakers evidently failed to consider the benefits of socialist policies in largely rural countries where most arable land has been taken over by multinational corporations for use as food crop plantations or grazing land for cattle production, or in some cases mining, oil production and other natural resources.

These practices have left the average native citizens without a place or occupation by which to support themselves, creating the need for governments to level the playing field. Instead, any government that has hinted it might take back land for its people has been ruthlessly eradicated.

… the U.S. military school initially called School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), [has fostered graduates] who have tortured and murdered citizens of their countries who opposed their governments’ oppressive policies-in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina. Some of the most notorious of these murderers that sought asylum in the United States in the 1980s are now being extradited back to their home countries, particularly to El Salvador… (Citation)

(Anyone still wondering why these migrants keep arriving at our southern border?)

Is it naïve to think that in a time of a mushrooming global digital community and escalating economic challenges due to climate change that we could start to look at new world order that’s beyond war?

What exactly does the U.S. stand to lose by stepping back from armed conflict?

Well, there’s the money. The combined arms sales of the top 100 largest arms-producing companies amounted to an estimated $395 billion in 2012. The five biggest exporters in 2010–2014 were the United States, Russia, China, Germany and France, and the five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. (Citation) In the top ten arms producers, eight are U.S. corporations. Among them, they provide 831,000 jobs, one of the primary justifications for perpetuating the industry of war.

Then there are military jobs. For FY2018, these were the following budget items:

  • Personnel costs: $141B
  • Family support: $10B
  • The VA: $178B

That’s a total of $329 Billion. For 1.4 million jobs. That’s $235,000 per job. Per year.

The total number of deaths and the amount of human suffering is incalculable.

To Christians who support war in support of Israel or otherwise, I’ll ask what Christ meant when he said to turn the other cheek. Etc.

Is violence ever justified? Is war ever moral? Is it really kill or be killed? Are migrants seeking refuge a threat requiring military action?

Have we come so far and still remain, at our core, savages?

~~~

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Beware the Religious

The woman named Asia had been held in solitary confinement for eight years. Finally, her case reached the highest court in the land. There, after reviewing the case, the judge ruled that she should be released because the charges against her could not be proven.

An immediate cry went up as mobs called for her execution. Angry demonstrators blocked major roads as the woman went into hiding. It’s expected she will have to seek asylum in a foreign country.

Her crime? She was “accused of blasphemy after she quarreled with two fellow female farmworkers who refused to drink from a container used by a Christian.”[1]

The two Muslim women who pressed charges against 55-year-old Asia Bibi, a Catholic, denied they quarreled with her, saying her outbursts were unprovoked despite the testimony of several other witnesses who recalled the dispute.

Any outrage we as Americans might feel about this situation is quickly tempered when we learn the episode took place in Pakistan. We proudly believe we’re not a nation where religious fanatics control the government, where any hint of blasphemy against the dominant religion is a capital offense. Unlike Muslim Pakistanis, we wouldn’t kill a governor because he defended the woman or murder a government official after he called for justice in the case.

But hold onto your sense of superiority. If the prevailing powers in our political sphere have anything to do with it, we will soon have a nation that no longer protects and accepts all religious belief systems. Or, especially, tolerates those who declare no religion. The current president, elected largely by agitated mobs of religious extremists, accepts and enables those who want to make the U.S. a “Christian” nation. His current position of power as the nation’s top elected official came about through the efforts of those who fully intend to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

They’ve started with the nation’s highest court, where through Kentucky’s Republican senator Mitch McConnell’s illegal refusal to hold hearings on a sitting president’s nominee for the court and with the placement of Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, a justice whose temperament, according to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, lacks the proper “temperament” to serve, the court comes to a conservative majority expected to amend or overturn Roe v Wade.

The issue of abortion has been the rallying cry of conservatives since the 1980s when Republicans figured out this one issue could be a highly useful political tool. Nothing else mattered as much as saving the fetus—not the murder of thousands in secret campaigns ordered by Reagan to foment revolution in Central and South America (Iran-Contra), not the encroaching monopolies of financial institutions  (savings and loan crisis), not Reagan’s crushing of labor unions.

…when he threatened to fire nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers unless they called off an illegal strike, Ronald Reagan not only transformed his presidency, but also shaped the world of the modern workplace. …Reagan’s confrontation with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or Patco, undermined the bargaining power of American workers and their labor unions. It also polarized our politics in ways that prevent us from addressing the root of our economic troubles: the continuing stagnation of incomes despite rising corporate profits and worker productivity.[2]

In hindsight, it’s not hard to see that Reagan’s genial manner served as an effective smoke screen to hide the brutal gutting of so many American ideals and freedoms. In an increasing number of places around the country, we no longer have the right to join with our fellow workers to demand safer working conditions or better pay.

We’ve learned we can no longer trust the federal government to conduct our foreign affairs in an open and just manner, and today face thousands of refugees fleeing their Central American homelands as a direct result of Reagan’s policies.

We’ve learned that our government is largely owned and operated by financial institutions that operate by an elite set of rules which protects their rapacious maneuverings, not the same codes of fairness that we must individually embrace in our daily affairs.

Reagan’s henchman in Congress, Newt Gingrich, operated by his own code in private, pursuing an adulterous affair while his wife lay in a hospital bed fighting cancer.

Gingrich went to Battley’s room with a yellow legal pad on which he had written a list of items related to the handling of the divorce. …Gingrich’s former press secretary reported that: “He wanted her to sign [the list]. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it.”[3]

This set the model in which thirty years later our current president could brag about his ability to “grab women by the pussy” and get away with it, be accused by at least seventeen women of sexual assault, and conduct multiple adulterous affairs and still be the champion of religious extremists in a blatant tit-for-tat where they put him in power because he will give them what they want.

We need to pay attention to what they want.

It’s important to listen to voices such as the man whose recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette letter to the editor stated that God’s law overrules any laws crafted by men. He’s not the only one.

What happens when the extremists succeed in terminating a woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body? What religious edict will become the hue and cry of the extremists then? What will be the tool of hypnotic control exerted by Republicans to continue driving their “base” to the polls?

Will the new cudgel become our public schools, increasingly gutted of adequate funding so that religious schools can enjoy the benefit of our taxes? Will parental rights to educate their children as they see fit become the next altar upon which our nation’s laws and the advance of science are sacrificed in the name of God?

Will rabid rightwing terrorists continue to run rampant in our streets, killing those they perceive as enemies of their chosen leader and/or their belief system?

“Thousands of supporters of the [popular religious leader] took to the streets in protest, demanding Bibi’s public execution. Hundreds blocked the road linking the city with the capital, and protests were held in other cities…Three judges upheld the blasphemy law, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam’s holy book…”[4]

Will extremists in our nation succeed in their increasing effort to limit who votes?

The current president certainly thinks so. Yesterday he crowed to a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network about how much he’s done for the religious right and, in return, how much they will continue to support him and the Republican Party.

Trump suggested this support stems from how his administration has “nullified” the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that forbids faith groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates…

He also referred to his expansion of the Mexico City policy, which withholds U.S. aid from foreign nongovernmental health organizations that offer women advice about abortion. In practice, the new policy has placed tighter restrictions on a wide swath of health organizations and applies to about 15 times the amount of foreign aid previously affected.[5]

Or consider the words of Trump’s doppleganger, Steve Bannon, who was quoted by journalist Joshua Green in his recent book Devil’s Bargain that:

“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history,” Green quoted Bannon as saying. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

Bannon is far from the first to acknowledge the rise of women to positions of power and authority over the last one hundred years. In 2013, for example, Forbes reviewed Hanna Rosin’s “The End Of Men” which postulates “That the success of feminism, the decline of the patriarchy, has more to do with economic changes than anything else.”

If there is a hero in Rosin’s story, it is not women or men or progressive politics: it is the new service economy, which doesn’t care about physical strength but instead apparently favors “social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus” — things that “are, at a minimum, not predominantly the province of men” and “seem to come easily to women.” And so, “for the first time in history, the global economy is becoming a place where women are finding more success than men.”

I’ve blogged before about the struggle of men to make a place for themselves in a time when a greater skill set is required than manhandling mules, plowing, hunting, and crafting shelter. The angry white men comprising the bulk of rightwing politics and extremism haven’t been able to successfully adapt. Perhaps, for many of them, recognizing the true basis of their rage is beyond their reach. Instead, projecting their fear and anger onto the Other—minorities, immigrants, non-Christians—successfully disguises their instinctual terror that Women will gain the upper hand.

Of course there are female rightwing extremists. And there are plenty of evolved men who embrace women’s rights as akin to their own. But, as stated in a quote attributed to Margaret Mead, we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”

Many exhausted progressive activists have embraced the comment to bolster their efforts in causes ranging from reproductive rights to environment. But the quote works both ways. It applies to rightwing extremists, too, those who won’t rest until we are as crippled by religion as Pakistan.

~~~

[1] Pakistani court acquits Christian woman…” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Nov 1, 2018. 6A

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/opinion/reagan-vs-patco-the-strike-that-busted-unions.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aspects-of-gingrich-divorce-story-distorted/2011/11/17/gIQA8iY4YN_story.html?utm_term=.ee17cf62bc0f

[4] “Pakistani court” article

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-claims-no-one-has-done-more-for-religion_us_5bdb1316e4b019a7ab5aeb8d?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063&utm_campaign=hp_fb_pages&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=main_fb&fbclid=IwAR2St6FrAd2j5cr14i4MBG6ToeGflsLGSd7eAzAAMEUEn8aTXbXPYZGi2tY

The Long Road

I’m firmly convinced that protesting the Senate’s confirmation vote to place Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court is a waste of time. Many of us saw this exact development looming back in 2016 with the election of Trump to the presidency. Putting conservative judges on the high court has been the primary goal of the far right for decades.

All manner of maneuvering has gone into saving the fetus, that pre-human internal development unique to women. The interests of corporate wealth have long since learned how to use this hot-button issue to inflame the religious right, driving voters to the polls. The result has been the increasing power of the One-Percenters to influence politics for their own gain. Thus we have Trump, a One-Percenter, appointing conservative justices who fulfill this fetus-obsessed promise.

One wonders what issue the One-Percenters will use to control the right when Roe v Wade is overturned.

The movement toward tamping down women’s rights didn’t start with the protest against Roe v Wade. It has been ongoing since well before women won the right to vote in 1920. Conservative men and women opposed voting rights for women based on strongly held beliefs which continue to echo through conservative views today.

There were several concerns that drove the anti-suffrage argument. Anti-suffragists felt that giving women the right to vote would threaten the family institution …that women’s highest duties were motherhood and its responsibilities. Some saw women’s suffrage as in opposition to God’s will.  [Many opponents] shared a religiously based criticism of suffrage and believed women should be only involved with children, kitchen and church. Some anti-suffragists didn’t want the vote because they felt it violated traditional gender norms.

There were also those who thought that women could not handle the responsibility of voting because they lacked knowledge of that beyond the domestic sphere and they feared government would be weakened by introducing this ill-informed electorate…

… Anti-suffragists claimed that they represented the “silent majority” of America who did not want to enter the public sphere by gaining the right to vote…

[After 1917], the anti-suffrage movement focused less on the issue of suffrage and began to spread fear of radical ideas and to use “conspiratorial paranoia.” Suffragists were accused of subversion of the government and treason. They were also accused of being socialists, “Bolsheviks” or “unpatriotic German sympathizers.”

Anti-suffrage movements in the American South included an appeal to conservatism and white supremacy. In Virginia, the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage chapter even linked race riots to women’s suffrage.[1]

The idea of women as flawed humans in need of male control rests at the foundation of Abrahamic religions and most early world cultures, so it’s not surprising that women’s suffrage and subsequent gains of women’s rights are painted by the same brush. It all goes back to mythological Eve and her temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden which caused God to banish the couple to the mortal world where man would labor by the sweat of his brow and women would suffer the agonies of childbirth; “a view that women are considered as bearers of Eve’s guilt and that the woman’s conduct in the fall is the primary reason for her universal, timeless subordinate relationship to the man.”[2]

We can’t examine prehistory to unveil the root causes of such ideas about women, though many have tried. Were early tribal cultures primarily matriarchal along the same lines as other mammalian species? In this theory, subjugation of women occurred when men serving as warriors in early civilizations conquered their rulers, holding women under their control thereafter as a result of superior physical strength.[3] Possibly evolution has played a role by the forced attrition of women who rebelled against their larger, stronger male overlords and either died at men’s hands or suffered rape, abuse, and the loss of offspring in situations where the woman alone could not feed herself or her children. Thus the genetics of originally-dominant women dwindled.

Arguably, in the modern first world where men and women are educated equally and have gained, at least in theory, the right to equal treatment under the law, whatever happened in the past can be set aside in favor of a new view of all humans. Thus the fervent belief of many modern women that the U.S. Senate would hear the truth of Christine Blasey Ford in her testimony about her ill treatment at the hands of fellow high school student Brett Kavanaugh.

But such a belief would be incredibly naïve and ignores the growing rush to homeschooling and private schools where religion determines the curriculum, now encouraged by Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos. We haven’t come that far, not when it’s been only 100 years since women gained the right to vote and less than fifty years since women gained the legal right to determine what happens inside her own body.

Not when 4,000-plus years of civilization record the systematic suppression of women in all avenues of life, owned by men for the purpose of bearing children and keeping the home fires burning.

Not when so many women want to be owned and reject the idea of being independent.

Conservatives, by nature, want to hold onto the past. In times changing as rapidly as the 20th and now the 21st centuries – from horse and buggy and subsistence farming to cell phones, bionic limbs, and worldwide Internet – a sincere fear grows deep in the hearts of those who only want to maintain the existing order of things. It’s no surprise that something as fundamental as the subordination of women would serve as one of the guideposts of modern conservatism. It follows then that the primary outrage over women’s rise to equality would nestle in her womb, formerly the property and future of male power.

So it’s not about Kavanaugh. It’s not about Christine Blasey Ford. It’s about the last institution of the United States government that must be converted to a conservative view in order to put the genie back in the bottle. That this conversion violates the fundamental premise of the judicial branch of government flies past in the rear view mirror in this increasingly frantic need to cling to the past. Any corruption of the Founding Fathers’ intent is justified.

The problem isn’t that Ford’s testimony was brushed aside in the rush to fulfill the Republican objective. Despite the heartfelt (45-minute) justification by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) for her vote to confirm Kavanaugh, the day will come when Kavanaugh and other conservative justices will face a case challenging Roe v Wade. Whether Collins’ belief in Kavanaugh’s statement that Roe is “established law” is proven justified remains to be seen. Of greater import will be the decisions of conservative justices, all men, in answering the question of how far women have really come.

Are women still lesser than men, unequal and incapable of making the right decision about their bodies and the potential offspring their bodies might produce? Is the reasoning of the 1973 decision still reasonable, that “criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).”[4]

I believe Collins ignored the subtext in Kavanaugh’s statements to her about his stance on Roe being “settled law.” He made it clear there were exceptions to established law, that being “rare circumstances where a decision is ‘grievously wrong’ or ‘deeply inconsistent with the law.”[5] It doesn’t take a genius to see the enormous loophole here for Kavanaugh to vote against Roe by citing laws against “murder,” as abortion has been framed, thus seeing legal abortion as “grievously wrong.”

I take comfort in statistics about the ideology of justices which seem to show a moderating effect on initial stances resulting from experience on the high court. This parallels the experience of journalists who, as a result of working on the front lines of social upheaval, become more “liberal” in their viewpoint. Liberal, Progressive — “favoring or implementing social reform,” “moving forward or onward : advancing.” We can only hope.

And vote. Like our lives depend on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-suffragism

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

[3] See for example https://www.abctales.com/story/lailoken/rise-and-fall-goddess-and-descent-woman

[4] https://www.britannica.com/event/Roe-v-Wade

[5] https://www.collins.senate.gov/newsroom/senator-collins-announces-she-will-vote-confirm-judge-kavanaugh

Religious Zealots Strike Again

A recent letter to the editor here in Arkansas perfectly portrays the bizarre mindset of certain Christians. The author wrote not about morally-bankrupt Trump, nor about people dying from chemical warfare and barrel bombs, nor about the continuing horror of mass shootings in our gun-mad country. No, that wasn’t the source of this woman’s righteous indignation.

She’s upset about a comic strip.

I wanted to express my outrage at the blasphemy and sacrilege in this cartoon [Wumo]. This disgusting disregard of Christianity expresses all the evils in troubles in our world today… A holy family, Christians, as [a previous letter writer] said, is fair game for those who want to bully and disparage those with whom they do not agree. (Satan is working overtime.)

People should be very careful when targeting others, especially those of us who will indeed make a stand for our God and his precious son, our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and our love for spiritual and heavenly knowledge and healing far supersedes anyone or anything this world (earthly) has to offer.[1]

The letter writer, a woman from Marion, Arkansas, goes on to demand the comic strip be removed from the newspaper. She concludes: “Christians are offended.”

Oh, my. Where to begin?

Might one suggest that she and others of her ilk SIMPLY NOT READ WUMO?

I mean, does that not seem the logical choice here? I go to the comic pages pretty much every day, but I only read four. Those are the only ones I enjoy. Perhaps this Christian extremist doesn’t understand the concept of enjoyment but rather flogs herself through a daily exercise of holy suffering by reading comics that enrage her.

This would be highly amusing to the rest of us if it weren’t for the awful reality that such people have no idea how ridiculous they are. They are convinced that the world must operate by their rules and anything that draws their personal censure is surely Wrong.

A long list of human tragedy unfolds from this viewpoint. The Inquisition springs to mind, an endeavor of the Catholic Church beginning around 1100 AD and continuing in various forms for the next 600 years. Any form of “blasphemy and sacrilege” could result in church leaders taking offense similar to our letter writer.

Sometimes it was difficult to guess, as any of the following were considered serious crimes: changing bedding on a Friday, not eating pork, dressing in certain ways, wearing earrings, speaking in foreign languages, owning foreign books, casual swearing, criticizing a priest, or failing to show due reverence to the Inquisition… People were executed for failing to fast during Lent, for homosexuality, fornication, explaining scientific discoveries, and even for professional acting..[2]

Or, in our case, publishing a cartoon.

Leg crusher

Generously, inquisitors utilized various forms of torture to provide the greatest possible opportunity for the accused to confess his or her sins. Serious effort went into the invention and construction of torture devices including the infamous ‘rack’ and various other gleeful methods of inflicting pain.

When a suspect was convicted of unrepentant heresy, the inquisitorial tribunal was required by law to hand the person over to the secular authorities for final sentencing, at which point a magistrate would determine the penalty, which was usually burning at the stake although the penalty varied based on local law.[3]

Historically, other than the necessary torture required to bring a confession from those blasphemers in order to declare them guilty and then burn them at the stake, religious extremists have demonstrated a fervent interest in killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view. Is this what the letter-writer threatens in her statement that: “People should be very careful when targeting others, especially those of us who will indeed make a stand for our God.”

What exactly is she suggesting? Would her “stand for God” include Inquisition-style discipline on the newspaper publishers or the creator of the Wumo comic strip?

Sadly, we don’t have to look far, even today, to find exactly that kind of violence bestowed upon those who draw the critical attention of religious authorities. Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat dared to make fun of certain leaders in his cartoons. Assailants hunted him down and used clubs to break his hands.[4] Chinese censors called for a “severe punishment” for a star TV anchor over jokes he made at a dinner party mocking the People’s Republic of China’s founding father, Mao Zedong.[5] Then there was the Islamist terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo which resulted in the deaths of twelve people.[6] Their justification? Charlie Hebdo made fun of Allah.

There’s a reason we Americans treasure our right to free speech. We can criticize our leaders, laugh at Saturday Night live skits, and even poke fun at entrenched religious views, all without fear of having our hands broken or being burned at the stake. Somehow in all her years of life, this letter writer missed out on all but the first part of First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

All this brings to mind the question of why certain religious types find it imperative to force their point of view on everyone else. Is that they are so insecure in their beliefs that they’re comfortable only if they’re certain everyone around them believes the same thing? Isn’t faith the foundation of religious practice, the assurance that no matter what happens, God’s got your back? Wouldn’t that pretty much cover being the only Christian in a sea of infidels? Why so insecure?

Is it that they see it as their duty to convert the rest of the world to their belief system? This certainly seems to be the case, a duty not only to police the statewide newspaper’s comics section for blasphemy but also to righteously demand enforcement of their judgement against a comic deemed offensive. After all, “Christians are offended!”

Do these folks not understand that this exact attitude is responsible for most of the world’s suffering? Most of the wars? Most of the violence currently taking place in the Middle East?

Education is a wonderful thing. But in a state where parents merely need to sign a form to withhold their kids from public schools and then indoctrinate them with whatever folderol fits their world view, people like this benighted letter-writer proliferate, aided and abetted by fundamentalist preachers who don’t hesitate to cast judgement despite the Biblical edict against judging.

Matthew 7: 1-3

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

National educational standards exist for a reason. They put us all on a more-or-less level playing field where we all understand the basics of our rule of law, our history as a Western culture, and yes, even the good bad and ugly of religious traditions. Public schools also help us learn to exist in a multicultural, multiracial world where even cartoonists like the creator of Wumo possess as much right to their opinions and creative efforts as the person who goes to church every time the door opens.

It’s a sad testament to the modern evangelical movement that such intolerance is not only accepted but encouraged. This letter writer seems oblivious to the irony in her remark about being “fair game for those who want to bully and disparage those with whom they do not agree…” That would be a thought to reflect on.

~~~

 

[1] Letters to the Editor, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Saturday March 31, 2018. 7B

[2] http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/gbg_inquisition.htm

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

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/arab-cartoonists-walk-a-fine-dangerous-line/a-18184330

[5] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/chinese-tv-host-mao-jokes-814168

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

Greetings from Utopia Park — A Review

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Chaire Hoffman

If you plan to read this book, be warned there are spoilers ahead.

This book was hard to read in places, not because of poor writing. If the writing had been less skillful, I wouldn’t have been able to read it at all. It was hard to read because I kept having an intellectual argument about how people could be so stupid.

The transcendental meditation movement, in particular the cult following of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, never made sense to me. I had carefully extricated myself from another cult, that of the Church of Christ so fully embraced by my parents, so I never remotely entertained the idea of allowing another rigid structure to sit on my head and eat the days of my life.

I get that some people want to run and hide inside concepts like this, like someone has figured shit out and if you just listen to them and do what they say, you’ll see the light. Sorry, but it really doesn’t work that way. You can’t find nirvana on someone else’s path.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the entire problem with all religions. Somebody has an epiphany and tells others about this amazing understanding. They they decide to start spreading the word — what the person was doing/eating/wearing when the epiphany occurred, what he thinks the epiphany means, and then creating a set of rules on how to live and what to believe in order to duplicate that epiphany.

What you get that way is a life of servitude to someone else’s explanation of what they saw/heard/believe all while guaranteeing that you will not ever experience an epiphany of your own.

Anyway.

So this story of a woman’s growing up years with an alcoholic father and a mother who took refuge in TM rubbed me completely the wrong way. Even more upsetting was the author’s failure, after living through this and theoretically reaching adulthood able to think for herself, to ultimately call BS on the whole process.

Yes, maybe meditation is a useful practice. I choose not to waste my time that way, but if it works to bring relaxation and peace of mind to some, that’s fine. It’s your life. But nowhere in this book does the author really come out and say that TM under the Maharishi was a bucket of warm spit engineered with his personal satisfaction and enrichment as the goal. She doesn’t say that her mom, herself, and all the other people she knew were suckered into feeding this weasel’s grandiose scheme.

She does manage to accurately report the ultimate scandal resulting from media exposure of his scheme and share with readers the timeline of his rise and fall. That’s valuable. And it’s valuable that she acknowledges the time and effort it took for her to distance herself from the cult aspect of his teachings.

What disappointed me so greatly was her inability to disavow TM and its impact on her life. She never criticized her mother for being a gullible slave to the Maharishi and for dragging her children through the poverty and deprivation of a cult family. There’s still a lot of introspection due this author which, hopefully, might lead to a later work with more anger about what was inflicted on her.

For me, the book was an eye opener, yet another one, on the subject of how deluded people can be about issues of religion and spirit. Very depressing.

Incessant Self-Righteous Ignorance

Thursday afternoon I got a phone call. I had forgotten it was the day before the anniversary of Roe v Wade, immersed as I was in my current writing project. Usually I hang up as soon as the pause-click-click tells me it’s a solicitor.

The woman said her name was Grace. This time I said “Hi, Grace.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m calling on behalf of the Right to Life. We need to stop the killing of unborn babies.”

“Oh,” I said, instantly furious. “Well, you can stop right there. I’m Pro-Choice.”

I hung up.

Then I spent the rest of the evening thinking of what I should have said.

  • Oh really, Grace? Are you referring to an embryo or a fetus? Do know what an embryo looks like or that 67% of abortions occur before eight weeks? So in this image of a human embryo, is this the chicken or egg phase? When you have eggs for breakfast, are you eating a chicken?
  • So are you in favor of government forcing women to have children? Is that part of your ‘smaller government’ plan? Smaller except the part where the Fetus Police want to control what’s going on INSIDE YOUR BODY?
  • Gee, Grace, how exactly would you suggest the government keep women from terminating unwanted pregnancies—should they require them to check in monthly for a pregnancy test? Then if they’re pregnant, the government can keep them in a Safe-For-The-Unborn-Baby Compound until the baby is born, thereby preventing any ‘home remedy’ abortions. Women wouldn’t be allowed to leave, so taking care of other children in the home or providing meals/laundry service for their husbands would have to stop, not to mention finishing school or keeping a job.
  • So you’re in favor of forcing women to produce children they don’t want? Tell me, Grace—do you think those women will be good mothers to those children? Did you know that 70% of abortions are performed on women making 200% or less than the federal poverty line of $11,670? Did you know that this same group of women, without health insurance, are far less likely to have access to birth control? Did you know that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose income exceeded $30,000? Did you know these children were almost 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured? Did you know that childhood poverty is closely related to the later incidence of crime? Think of prisons, Grace, more and more prisons built to hide away children forced on poor families by the lack of access to birth control.
  • So Grace, since I’ve got you on the phone, maybe you can explain to me how you plan to stop abortion. Ending unwanted pregnancies has been going on for thousands of years. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe you thought that it was only after the passage of Roe v Wade that women started having abortions. Maybe you didn’t know that throughout the ages, women have decided who will be born—not men, not governments, not churches. Women are the ones responsible for selecting future generations. I bet everyone alive today came from a woman sometime in the past who terminated other pregnancies. Even you, Grace, probably have a grandmother back in the mists of time who decided to limit the number of children so she could take proper care of the ones she already had.

I’ve got some abortion statistics for you, Grace, showing women’s reasons for obtaining an abortion.

    • 74% felt “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (which includes interrupting education, interfering with job and career, and/or concern over other children or dependents)
    • 73% felt they “can’t afford a baby now” (due to various reasons such as being unmarried, being a student, inability to afford childcare or basic needs of life, etc.)
    • 48% “don’t want to be a single mother or [were] having relationship problem[s]”
    • 38% “have completed [their] childbearing”
    • 32% were “not ready for a(nother) child”
    • 25% “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant”
    • 22% “don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child”
    • 14% felt their “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”
    • 13% said there were “possible problems affecting the health of the fetus”
    • 12% said there were “physical problems with my health”
    • 6% felt their “parents want me to have an abortion”
    • 1% said they were “a victim of rape”
    • <0.5% “became pregnant as a result of incest”[1]

Shall we discuss some of this data? You’ll notice that almost all the reasons for abortion have to do with lack of birth control. What is your position regarding birth control? Do you agree that birth control and all related information regarding human reproduction should be taught by middle school level? Do you agree that birth control should be freely dispensed at middle school level to any student who requests it? How about churches dispensing free birth control so there aren’t so many precious Unborn Children being aborted?

Did you know that only 1.3% of pregnancies are aborted after 21 weeks and generally only for medical reasons?

≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks 13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
37.2% 16.9% 12.8% 8.3% 5.5% 4.5% 3.5% 2.7% 3.3% 2.0% 1.9% 1.3%

Grace, did you know that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandated that all employers were required to provide 100% coverage for all birth control methods? The only exception came after religious groups refused to provide such coverage and took their argument to court where they won the right not to provide coverage.

Maybe you can explain that for me, Grace. If the horror is abortion, why is there such outrage about preventing unwanted pregnancies? Because that really doesn’t make sense.

I mean, yeah, I get it. I know the unspoken thought. People aren’t supposed to have sex unless they want a child because sex isn’t for enjoyment. Sex is a duty to produce another generation—period. Because the only reason we’re on earth is make more of us. So if you’re having sex for fun, to feel good, then you’re doing it wrong and God will smite you.

It’s true that in all this, it’s the woman who suffers. I’m guessing that has to do with eating a forbidden apple. That’s on Eve. So she’s the one who has to suffer, all part of God’s loving plan to make people do what He wants them to do, which is, evidently, to keep having babies.

By the way, Grace, I don’t know how old you are, but if you were around in 1987, that’s the year the world population reached five billion. Now picture where you were and what you were doing in 1987 and imagine twice as many people. Because that’s where we’ll be in another thirty years. Twice as many cars, twice as many houses or twice as many people living in one house, twice as many big cities. Twice as many people grabbing that last loaf of bread.

It’s true that much of that population growth won’t be in the U.S. or Europe. The growth will mostly occur in Africa, you know, that “shithole” place where people already born are starving and killing each other. And Asia, of course. Those are the places where humanitarian agencies bring in food and provide medical care, including birth control. So the moral stance of this ‘Christian’ administration is to cut off financial support for any humanitarian health care group that offers abortion counseling along with birth control. So if a woman wants to obtain birth control, she can’t get it because someone in that same facility is answering questions about or providing an abortion.

That’s so perfect. So genius. So in keeping with the goal of stopping abortion.

~~~

[1] Finer, Lawrence B. and Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann F. Moore. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitiative Perspectives.”Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Guttmacher.org, September 2005.
White, Angela. “Cost of Giving Birth at the Hospital or at Home.” Blisstree.com, 21 September 2008.
“Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education.” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, retrieved 19 May 2009.

 

A Presidential Stain

Just like in every other aspect of his privileged yet miserable life, Donald Trump can see only the surface. His “shithole” description of nations like Haiti or those in Africa is apt if you only see the poverty and political chaos. A thoughtful educated person would see beyond that surface to the culpability for all that of white Europeans.

African tribes lived fruitful happy lives in their native state, just as did the natives of the Americas. But their natural progress was interrupted by those from more developed cultures who took them as slaves and exploited the resources indigenous to their lands. Since emerging from the dark ages, European countries have sailed around the world trying to enforce their religious beliefs while at the same time seeking slaves and resources to enrich their nations.

That’s how Haiti became a predominantly black society. When Spanish explorers arrived in 1492, they found a widespread population of the Taino people, a Native American tribe. Disease and genocide pretty well eradicated the Taino by 1625 when Spain’s grip on the island loosened in the face of French, English, and Dutch incursions. France seized control of Haiti and by 1700, France had established plantations for tobacco and cotton and imported African slaves to work the fields. Within the next century, the agricultural focus turned to sugar cane.[1]

Intimidating slaves with unimaginable brutalities didn’t require many whites. Accounts of horrific tortures are preserved in Haitian histories. The island’s populations suffered not only the brutalities of enslavement but also the irregular devastation of earthquakes and tidal waves. The current status of Haiti resulted from the most recent earthquake eight years ago with “a death toll estimated by the Haitian government at over 300,000, and by non-Haitian sources from 50,000 to 220,000.” The quake destroyed the country’s capital city and in the intervening years, hundreds of thousands have died of starvation.

Clone this story of Haiti into a long list of other “shithole” countries referenced by our Moron-in-Chief, with a few tweaks and details thrown in. No one in Africa asked for Europeans to come into their midst to enslave their people and steal their natural resources. Just as Native American tribes had enjoyed a sustainable lifestyle in the lands now called the United States,  African tribes maintained long-held religious practices and lived in stable communities.

Facts about the exploitation of places now referred to as “Third World” are available to anyone with a modicum of curiosity and reason. In a world before Trump, knowledge of these facts by a person elected president would have been taken for granted. Such knowledge would inform attitudes as well as foreign policy, most especially our immigration policies as, allegedly, the most advanced nation on earth.

Slavery became common within much of Europe during the Dark Ages and it continued into the Middle Ages. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. David P. Forsythe wrote: “The fact remained that at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.”[2]

The conquest of African nations occurred for two reasons: Christian zealotry convinced of its supremacy and the acquisition of wealth. Christian and Muslim missionaries still plague Africa, preaching sin and redemption to people who originally possessed sophisticated spiritual beliefs that had served them well for millennia. Social disruption and war resulted—my religion is the true one and infidels must die. Much of the warfare in Africa today is based on conflicts between Christians, Muslims, and tribal traditions. This serves several objectives—it keeps the local people at a disadvantage so they’re more easily exploited and it sells weapons of war, fattening the wallets of First World industrialists.

As for the direct acquisition of wealth, in the ages before modern machinery, slaves were the machines who tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested the crops. Crops for food, crops for textiles like cotton, and crops for rope and other industrial materials enriched farmers. More slaves equaled more money. If advancing social conscience hadn’t eliminated slavery, likely the advance of the machines would have accomplished much of the same thing. (Or, arguably, the elimination of slavery helped push the development of machines.)

But slaves weren’t the only wealth captured from these “shithole” countries and exploited by European conquerors.[3] “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources, including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits.”[4] Once European nations discovered these resources, they couldn’t keep their hands off. Using primarily enslaved indigenous people to perform the labor in mining these resources, European nations built their wealth on the backs of African people and their native wealth.

This smash-and-grab mentality continues today. Much of the chaos of Central and South American countries is a result of American agricultural interests controlling the vast majority of suitable cropland. Here in these winter-free zones, crops can grow year round and keep the supermarket shelves full even in January. The story of American exploitation and criminal interference among our neighbors to the south portends a timebomb waiting to go off in our faces.

Under previous presidents and as the United States has tried to become more than an imperialist power in the world, programs to help improve conditions in “shithole” countries have been an important objective. Unlike our current president, previous holders of that formerly-prestigious office have supported programs to help improve conditions for native peoples. Education, health care, and social reforms have been part of an outreach that included a proportioned immigration quota.

The denigration of nations and even an entire continent by racist labeling shows nothing about those places or their people compared to what it shows about the person uttering the denigration. What Trump’s profanity reveals is a man totally bereft of curiosity, respect, and knowledge about the world around him, a man whose only goal in life is self-aggrandizement. That his petulant narrow vision should spread such shame over our entire nation is a horror that can end none too soon.

~~~

This post is dedicated to Martin Luther King, a man who rose to the pinnacle of human achievement, unlike the man current soiling the White House.

 

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

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

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

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