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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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

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.

The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/

 

Those Southern Baptists!

Behold the Southern Baptists! Meeting recently for their annual conference, they decided to extend the warm hand of evangelical brotherhood to Blacks and Native Americans. As one headline put it: “American Indians seen in need of evangelism.” Because, you know, those folks are struggling. Who better to help than the Baptists?

Surely this benevolence isn’t due to the continuing drop in the denomination’s membership. No, surely not. And with that drop, we might point out, tithes flowing to the denomination’s treasury also dropped.

Oh my God!

Okay, there are undoubtedly those within these ranks who honestly and sincerely want to help the downtrodden. But the group’s recent convention exposed a painful truth: on a personal level, racism is alive and well among the Southern Baptists.

There’s nothing new about the Southern Baptist’s narrow-minded view. While they’re courting membership from Blacks and Natives, they’re at the same time refusing to have anything to do with the LBGTQ community. Guess they don’t need membership that bad. Yet.

It’s only been 170 years since the Southern Baptist denomination sprang into existence to embrace racism. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic by Emma Green, she reviewed that year’s Southern Baptist convention, citing the founding rationale:

In 1860, a Southern Baptist pastor from Virginia, Thornton Stringfellow, defended the institution of forced enslavement of millions of African men and women in Cotton Is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments, with the full force of scripture: “Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command. … Under the gospel, [slavery] has brought within the range of gospel influence, millions of Ham’s descendant’s among ourselves, who but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin.”[1]

To the Southern Baptists (and many others), God’s chosen people are white, descended from God’s favored sons of Noah. That was not Ham. As the story goes, Noah got pretty deep into the wine and passed out naked. Ham saw this and told his two brothers Shem and Japheth. These two backed up to their father with a blanket between them so as to cover Noah without looking on his nakedness. So when ole Noah sobered up and learned what had happened, he cursed Ham as the progenitor of Canaan:

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

Multiple interpretations of this scripture lead pretty much anywhere you’d want to go. Noah was supposedly over 500 years old when this happened and pretty tight with God. Why God let him get away with cursing one of his sons for something he himself did remains an unanswered question. Some interpretations claim the event actually involved Ham giving his dad oral sex. Another says he castrated Noah. These quirky ideas are based on scholars’ erudite studies of Biblical text.[2]

This is why there are over 33,000 Protestant denominations, a number argued when the concerned parties take a breath from discussing what happened with Noah and Ham as well as countless other minutia preserved in religious writings. According to one Catholic observer, 33,000 is an inflated number.[3] Be that as it may, the point is that when modern-day beliefs, laws, and actions are based on materials passed down orally for centuries before ever gaining the permanence of writing, and then those written records are subjected to successive centuries of translation, revision, and interpretation, these beliefs might as well have been snatched out of midair.

Which is exactly what happens when people formalize their spiritual beliefs in a way that excludes, discriminates, and otherwise separates them from other groups of people. These aren’t spiritual teachings. They are an outward expression of the smallest darkest part of primitive humans, fearful and ready to do violence. The only legitimacy such beliefs can claim is that our animal instinct assesses threat from another human first by how they look. If they look like us and talk like us, then there’s less chance they’re going to harm us.

In the times of slavery, any spiritual belief system other than the Baptist belief was counter to God’s will. Any effort to see minorities as ‘equal’ came hard up against the reality of life circumstances of minorities, a self-fulfilling prophecy of a sort, that there they are, those ignorant Africans, not well educated, not able to even clearly speak English, living in poverty—how can you say we are equal?

Or the Natives, living like savages in shelters made of skins, painting their faces, hunting with spears. They’re not like us.

A rational analysis points out that as slaves, Blacks were purposefully kept from learning to read or write, denied the right of marriage, and not taught skills of any trade other than the manual labor for which they were kept. In their homelands of Africa, from which they were torn against their will, they enjoyed well-established social order. They had family structures, spoke their language fluently, and otherwise had achieved a culture that succeeded for millennia.

As whites, we’ve got a few more millennia to go before we can say the same.

The same level of prejudice supported violent racism against Native Americans. Aside from genocidal acts such as outright slaughter or distributing blankets contaminated with smallpox, white invaders of the North American continent mitigated their murderous inclinations with attempts to bestow a “relationship with Christ” upon the Natives.

Take, for example, the ripping away of Native American children from their parents and forcing them into residency at schools where they were forbidden use of their native language. The schools intended to teach them to live like white men. In all ways—clothing, language, and worship—Native children were cut off from their ancient heritage and forced into a social construct for which they had no foundation or kinship.[4]

Like taking Africans from their successful societies and forcing them to labor at white’s man pursuit of wealth, ripping Natives from their ancient traditions and cramming them into reservations under the supervision of white law destroyed their foundations of belief and self-worth. They held value only by the metric of white civilization. In that, they hardly reached the scales.

Which makes it all the more outrageous that now, in 2017, as Southern Baptist membership continues to plummet, the conference decides to target reservations because “American Indians are 510% more likely to die of alcoholism and 62% more likely to commit suicide in comparison with the rest of the U. S. population.”[5]

Gee, can they possible be more ridiculous?

It’s not that the Southern Baptists don’t understand that their predecessors were wrong in declaring slavery the will of God or in trampling the ancient traditions of the Natives. They do. Some even claim to pray for forgiveness for their previous ignorance and the misdeeds committed against these minorities.

It’s that no matter what they do, these and other religionists seem to always conclude that their current decision is righteous and unerring and God’s will. They embrace their decision with fervor, rushing out to force the rest of the world to follow.

This is the hubris that created the Southern Baptists in the first place, and all the other evangelical denominations, and arguably every single religion that has plagued the world since such organized activities began. With the force of God’s blessing behind them, they have mounted wars and inquisitions and executions, overthrown governments and imprisoned the wayward, and marched across the globe leaving devastation in their path.

~~~

Recently with the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, Arkansas’ own Southern Baptist Pastor Ronnie Floyd opined that this level of violence against the Trump Administration is a new and abominable level of hatred.

In my life, I have never seen a more volatile political environment. Hyperbolized speech, wild accusations and blatant character assassinations have taken stage front and center … as a society we must be able to recognize that celebrating an ideology that says violence, especially against our elected officials, affects the way we think. Words have power. As the ancient biblical proverb says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

Floyd never once blinked in the face of the hypocrisy of his remarks despite living through eight years of outrages perpetrated against former-President Barack Obama that included effigies of Obama being lynched and burned, his daughters and wife smeared in every possible way, and the conservative Christian stance embodied in a Republican Party that obstructed every effort of Obama’s rightful governance.[6]

This year’s Southern Baptist conference heard a resolution put forth by Dwight McKissic, a black pastor from Texas, that would have affirmed the denomination’s opposition to white supremacy and the so-called ‘alt-right.’ At first, the committee in charge of resolutions refused to advance McKissic’s contribution to the full assembly. After all, they had resolutions about Planned Parenthood and gambling that needed consideration.

The next day, McKissic attempted to present it on the floor. According to one observer, “Chaos reigned.”

Once more attendees realized what had happened (and the glaring hypocrisy of their actions), “a number of leaders started lobbying to get the motion reconsidered.” After emotional debate on both sides of the issue and another twenty-four hours to confront the situation, leaders brought an amended version of the resolution to a vote.[7] Newly-elected leader Steve Gaines announced the results: “The affirmative has it. Praise the living God.”[8]

Oh yeah, membership.

~~~

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/southern-baptists-wrestle-with-the-sin-of-racism/389808/

[2] Wikipedia article on Ham: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ham_(son_of_Noah)

[3] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/scottericalt/we-need-to-stop-saying-that-there-are-33000-protestant-denominations

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

[5] Quoting the National Congress of American Indians, from an article by Francisca Jones, “American Indians seen in need of evangelism,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Pages 1 and 4.

[6] http://www.christianpost.com/news/america-dont-forget-words-have-power-188393/

[7] Amended resolution may be found at https://static.coreapps.net/sbc-am2017/documents/f618b2f02b1fc085697b4f5d147cb58e.pdf

[8] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/14/532998287/southern-baptist-convention-votes-to-condemn-white-supremacy

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

Oh, my brother!

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There are people I love who are planning to vote for Trump. This hurts me in ways I can’t fully express. Both of my brothers, for example. These are men with master’s degrees, men who endeavor to do good in this world. How can they vote for Donald Trump?

They tell me it’s because they’re Republicans. Because they don’t embrace the ‘liberal’ agenda. They’ve fallen hook line and sinker for the hate-hillary propaganda that she’s a liar, that she’s committed countless crimes and has only escaped proper justice by pulling strings in the power structure she is part of.

They’re also fervent Christians. I say, surely you don’t think Trump is a Christian. They say they’re not voting for a pope.

They tell me Trump is just a flawed man like the rest of us and he cares about this country. They say he knows business and that’s what we need. Somebody who knows what it means to sign paychecks. As if running a nation is the same as running a business.

They say they’d never vote for Hillary because she’s pro-abortion. I say she’s not pro-abortion, she’s pro-choice. Meaning that in a free society that respects individual rights, government can never force women to carry pregnancies that might kill them, that might produce a severely impaired child, that will bring undue hardship to her or her already existing children.

They say homosexuality and transgender is an abomination of God’s will, that they’d never vote for the gay agenda that Hillary supports. I say, what is a gay agenda? That two people who love each other possess legal rights as next of kin, as property owners, as parents? That everyone deserves to be treated with respect?

I’ve tried to make them understand. They’re not listening.

They’ve latched onto the Benghazi rhetoric. They believe Clinton will flood the U. S. with unvetted refugees and bring a holocaust of terrorism to our front steps. They believe every single hateful lie that has been broadcast about her not just in the last year, but over the last three decades.

Yet they say Trump is just a flawed man who cares about this country. God will guide him. They believe in him. I say, so God won’t guide Hillary? She doesn’t care about this country?

I’ve asked them, what if Hillary was the one who’d been a serial adulterer? What if she’d been sued 3,500 times? What if her companies had filed bankruptcy multiple times?

What if Hillary had refused to release her taxes? Or her health records? Taken money from her charitable foundations for personal use? Not contributed to her charitable foundations with a dime of personal money for the last eight years?

Of course they’d be outraged.

I don’t even try to point out the inherent sexism in their lives that may undergird their instinctual rejection of Clinton. They both have subservient wives. They both enjoy the full measure of white male privilege. For them, God is unquestionably male and all else flows from that. They’re seeking a strong authoritative male as leader and can’t tell the difference between a patriarch like God and a bully like Trump.

It’s not that my brothers don’t have the capacity of reason to examine the facts about each candidate. It’s that their minds are already made up. Why should they ‘waste’ their time reading about Hillary or hearing criticism of Trump?

Which—in an otherwise normal election cycle—might be enough said. After all, we all have the right to be just as stupid and obstinate as the next guy. It’s a free country.

But this is not a normal election. Trump is not normal. Trump doesn’t have policies or plans. Trump has bluster, braggadocio, and unbridled ego. His base instincts feed on anger and fear. He incites and revels in violence, loves to see fury in the eyes of his audience.

Yes, he’s a flawed man, flawed in the worst possible ways for someone who would be granted unlimited access to our nation’s most important secrets, to hold the reins of our military, to direct the future course of our educational systems, to oversee the protection of our air, water, and wildlife. To become the leader of the free world. His flaws go beyond his stated positions on immigration or national defense, beyond his inability to grasp basic human rights or due process of law.

His flaws threaten everything we as Americans hold dear.

To believe, as my brothers do, that Trump can tend to the myriad duties and responsibilities of the presidency is simply to ignore what’s right in front of their faces. Trump is not a reasonable or educated or sane man. He’s ignorant of basic facts. He does not have the equanimity or the patience to negotiate with Congress. He does things by fiat because that’s what you do when you’re the tyrant at the top of a corporate empire.

But government is very much NOT a business. It’s a delicate balancing act of hearing all sides even if you don’t agree with them. It’s a patient practice of enforcing what the Founders set down in the Constitution whether it fits your personal agenda or not. Trump is not capable of reasoning the finer points of anything. It’s his way or the highway. It’s ‘You’re fired.’

What my brothers don’t understand – or refuse to see – is that electing Trump isn’t just a matter of whether he’s anti-abortion or has signed a paycheck. It’s not that he (theoretically) will carry forth the traditional Republican agenda of smaller government and traditional values. Electing Trump goes beyond issues.

Electing Trump is about putting a mentally ill man in the White House. About giving unfettered authority to a man without basic human decency. About expecting leadership from a man who can’t order his own thoughts.

It’s about the future of the world, about everything we’ve gained in thousands of years of human progress. It’s about what can happen in one raged-fueled moment with an undisciplined man who would become more powerful than he’d ever imagined and sees it as his right and his responsibility to punish whoever enraged him.

Martial law? Stop and frisk anyone who might be suspicious.

Mass deportation? The enemy is anyone without white skin.

Genocide? He’s said it—not only ISIS leaders but their families.

Nuclear? Sure. He’s already touted it as an option.

I’m sick with worry, not so much about Trump actually winning the presidency. I have too much faith in a majority of American voters to think he might actually win.

I’m sick with worry that I’m losing all respect for my brothers. Not just in their choice to vote for Trump, but what’s behind that choice—intellectual laziness, a narrow-minded focus on a few social issues, their choice of religion over country.

I’m losing respect over their refusal to evolve.