Aramink

Engaged with the World

Tag: politics (page 1 of 2)

Patriotic Atheist American Heritage

Recently I posted some hate mail on Facebook that the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers received. This email said that atheists have no heritage in the United States, that we aren’t real patriots, and that we don’t have the courage to step up and play with those who are.

Carey Dove

 

Dear Carey Dove:

I’ve studied constitutional law, history, and my own genealogy. I know what my heritage is. Apparently, you don’t know me at all.

Carey Dove

So, let me give you a little introduction to me, my knowledge about the constitution, and whether or not I have any American heritage.

We’ll start with the constitutional lesson.

GeorgeMason-painting

George Mason (1725-1792), portrait by John Hesselius (1728-1778)

George Mason wrote the first bill of rights to be adopted in the Americas. His Virginia Declaration of Rights, written in the spring of 1776, influenced revolutions on two continents. The Declaration of Independence drew heavily from it. The Bill of Rights plagiarized it. The French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen tracked it. Its final provision was to grant religious freedom to Virginians.

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952). See the three men huddled off to the right, looking on disapprovingly as the Constitution is signed by the other delegates? They are George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph.

George Mason was a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when fifty-five men from twelve of the newly formed states argued about how to replace the unworkable Articles of Confederation. Mason dominated the discussions. Ultimately, he was one of three delegates who voted against it, primarily because it did not contain a bill of rights – there were no constitutional guarantees of personal liberty.

He would be vindicated four years later, when the bill of rights was adopted. The first of those rights was religious freedom.

BillOfRights-1024x673

So, now we have established that our constitution, and the history that preceded it, includes religious freedom. That means the freedom to dissent and to reject religion, because without the freedom to dissent and reject what we find to be wrong with religion, there can be no freedom in our practice of religion. And if we ultimately reject it all? That is the ultimate freedom.

So now I’ll embark on explaining the pedigree I have in this country.

A few years ago I was chosen to be on the Board of Regents that oversees the maintenance and operation of George Mason’s historic home in Virginia.

Gunston

Diorama of Gunston Hall

I was invited to sit on that board because of who my ancestors were. My European ancestors not only lived in colonial America, but they gave their time, talents, efforts, and money in public service to their colonies. They were politicians, military officers, doctors, judges, ministers, founders of schools, and founders of towns. They spoke out. They acted. They were patriots.

Who they were and what they did has shaped our country and its government. They shaped our states and our institutions. Their words and actions are this country’s heritage, and this country is their legacy.

On a very personal level, who they were and what they did has shaped who I am personally, and what I do. Their behavior, values, strengths, words, intelligence, and deeds are my heritage, and I am the culmination of their legacy.

anne21

Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643)

My favorite ancestor is my 11th great aunt, Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was a well-liked and respected mother of 15 children. She was brilliant, charismatic, and a passionate intellectual. She was also the polestar of a controversy that nearly shattered the religious experiment that was the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony.

john-cotton1

John Cotton (1585-1652)

Anne and her husband Will came to America in 1634 with a Puritan minister named John Cotton, who would eventually become the most preeminent theologian in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike the Puritan ministers already in Boston when he and the Hutchinsons arrived, John Cotton believed that a person had no control over his own salvation, but had to depend on God’s grace. This was Calvinist predestination in its purest sense, but it was contrary to what other Puritan ministers were teaching. They taught that the good works done by a person were the only ticket to salvation.

Boston 1634

Boston was a small town in 1634. Click to embiggen, and note that every single household is listed. Will & Anne Hutchinson and their large extended family stayed with friends and relatives while their own home was being built. The population of the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Plantations was about 5,000 people. (Map from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection at the Boston Public Library)

The Hutchinsons were wealthy in England, but even wealthier in the colony. They built one of the largest homes in Boston. After church services, Anne Hutchinson would invite other women to gather in her home to discuss the sermons and the Bible. Anne’s meetings were very popular with the women of Boston, and soon men joined in.

Anne-Hutchinson-preaching howard pyle

Anne Hutchinson Preaching at her House in Boston (Howard Pyle, 1901, from the Library of Congress)

Like her mentor John Cotton, Anne emphasized the importance of a state of grace over good works. People liked what she had to say. They were focused on feeding their families and running their businesses; they didn’t have time for unlimited acts of charity. As the number of people at her meetings escalated, Anne’s philosophy quickly leaked back to the Puritan clergy. Boston was a very small town in 1634.

The ministers claimed that Anne’s “unauthorized” religious gatherings “might confuse the faithful.” They argued the theological point of predestination – good works versus inherent grace – among themselves, and ultimately Anne was charged with heresy.

John Cotton, however, was not.

anne hutchinson trial

Anne Hutchinson on Trial (Edward Austin Abbey 1901)

Anne was a woman, so was not authorized to preach.

Left to her own devices, Anne Hutchinson, the first female defendant in any trial in America, defended herself at her heresy trial, which was prosecuted by John Winthrop, her neighbor and the governor of the colony. Governor Winthrop was most displeased with Anne’s religious dissent, because his wife, Margaret, was very fond of attending the meetings in the Hutchinson home, and brought home with her ideas he found unbecoming in a woman.

And like the Reverend Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, who was modeled after him, John Cotton essentially betrayed Anne to the powerful citizens who brought the charges against her. When he was called to testify, Cotton denied that he had incited any dissent in Anne, and smiled and shrugged, claiming he did not remember the substance of any of his conversations with her.

Atheist-A

It is no accident that this red A, the icon of the secular movement, evokes the scarlet letter Hester Prynne was required to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel.

Upon hearing his repudiation, Anne Hutchinson did something she had been forbidden to do: she began to teach the men. While her teaching had been in private before, here, now, at her trial for heresy, she took off the gloves and came out punching. “If you please to give me leave, I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.” Without waiting for permission, Anne continued speaking, explaining her own history, her dissatisfaction with the Church of England, her search for the truth she knew had to exist.

Governor Winthrop attempted to interrupt her. She ignored him and continued.

“God did discover unto me the unfaithfulness of the churches, and the danger of them, and that none of those ministers could preach the Lord aright.” Scripture fell from her lips as she brazened on, daring to teach, despite an exchange with Governor Winthrop earlier in her trial during which they had exchanged barbs about the ability of women to teach. (“What, now you would have me teach you what the Bible says?” she mockingly exclaimed to him.)

I don't know who painted this image of Anne and her persecutors. If someone else does, please notify me. I've found it in several places on the Internet,but never with attribution.

One of my favorite quotes from Anne is:
“How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?” Nevemind that, chronologically speaking, Abraham knew nothing about any commandments.

Governor John Winthrop was also, conveniently, one of the judges, so naturally Anne Hutchinson was convicted, and in November 1637, she was banished from Massachusetts.

Anne was 43 years old at the time of her trial. She was also pregnant, and during the trial she suffered a miscarriage. The superstitious Puritans allied against her saw the severely malformed fetus as proof that Anne had fallen from God’s grace.

Anne’s youngest sister was my 10th great-grandmother, Catherine Marbury Scott. Catherine and her husband, a shoemaker named Richard Scott, came to America on the Griffin with the Hutchinsons and John Cotton in 1634. They left Boston with Anne, first joining Roger Williams at a place he called Providence, in the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations secured by Williams as a separate colony. Williams had himself been banished from Boston in 1635, the year after the Hutchinsons and Scotts had arrived, for preaching that one did not need a a church in which to worship.

richard-scott-signature-on-providence-charter

Richard Scott’s signature on the Providence Compact that chartered the town

In Providence, the Scotts, along with many other of Anne’s followers from Boston, created a new community. Richard Scott wrote the Providence Compact, which was then signed by each of the 39 heads of household to come to that place. They became Baptists for a while, then Quakers. Then, in 1660, Catherine returned to Boston to protest the punishment of two young Quaker men. For her efforts she was stripped to the waist and flogged in public. Even though Boston had been unspeakably cruel to her sister 23 years before, Catherine did not hesitate to speak out when she saw the government do something wrong-headed. She was a worthy bearer of her sister Anne’s torch.

Anne herself was afraid to stay in Providence, especially after her husband’s death. Massachusetts had rattled its saber at the Rhode Island settlers, claiming it had the right to govern them, so she fled with her children to Long Island. There, in 1643, she and all but one of her children were murdered by natives. How long might she have lived had she not been run out of Boston? How much more might she have contributed to the ideas of women’s rights and freedom of conscience had she remained in Boston?

Far from being dour, rigid Puritans, Anne and Catherine were firebrands.

anne hutchinson

Statue of Anne Hutchinson and her youngest child, Susannah, at the Massachusetts State House. Susannah was the only survivor of the family’s massacre by natives at their New Netherlands home in what is now Pelham Bay Park, NY.

Anne Hutchinson is a key figure in the development of religious freedom in the U.S., and in the history of women in ministry. She challenged authority, and she didn’t back down. A monument to her at the Massachusetts State House calls her a “courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.” She is easily the most famous – and infamous – Englishwoman in colonial American history.

Anne Hutchinson was a freethinker in the truest sense of the word: Dogmatic as she was in her own way, she seriously contemplated her religion, a deity, and the teachings of those who claimed to know, and then she drew conclusions for herself. The conclusion she reached was not the one that was favored in Boston in 1637. Nevertheless, she did not back down. She had the courage of her convictions, and today she is admired and even revered for her steadfastness.

I admire her enormously. Her courage in the face of adversity, her sustained intelligent wit, her sublime sarcasm – right to the face of the most powerful man in Massachusetts! This – this is a woman I can only hope to live up to as I exercise the courage of my own convictions.

600_183814952

Firebrand atheism: an in-home “revival,” with Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist, at my house in December 2012

When I speak up and speak out, when I hold meetings in my home, when I dissent from religion, when I give my time and my money and my talents to my community and to issues I care about, I am following the legacy of my heritage. I am doing exactly what my ancestors have done ever since they first came to this continent.

For the 392 years that we’ve been in America, it’s been my family’s tradition to speak up and speak out, and to act on our convictions.

And that, Carey Dove, is a very proud heritage, with full knowledge of where our religious freedoms came from, with full knowledge of when they did not exist here, and with full knowledge of what happens when dissent is not allowed – and why it most definitely and wholeheartedly is.

Nathan Warren: Free Man, Confectioner, Minister, Civil Rights Advocate

IMG_0211 resized

Student portraying Annie, Nathan Warren’s first wife, at 2013’s Tales of the Crypt at the historic Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock

The lot of a slave in the American South was not easy, no matter how well he or she was treated by well-intentioned owners. It is hard for many of us to imagine being born into bondage, not free to make our own decisions about where to live, whether to be educated, whom to marry, and whether we can even live with our own families. In the early 1800’s, though, for most black people living in the newly-formed United States of America, such a situation was their reality, and a well-intentioned slave owner was not the norm – certainly not when it came to the liberty of his slaves.

Some slaves overcame their stifling beginnings, though, and became laudable examples of the kind of men and women their entire race should always have been allowed to be. Nathan Warren was one of these great men. Born into slavery, Nathan “Nase” Warren was a successful businessman, a minister, a devoted husband and father, a community organizer, and a civil rights activist. He is buried in a lost grave at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas.

When Robert Crittenden came to Arkansas as the first Secretary of the newly-created Arkansas Territory in 1819, he brought with him a six year old slave called Nase. Some of Crittenden’s white descendants and some of Nathan’s black ones believe Crittenden, who was about 15 or 16 years older than his young slave, was the child’s father.

In 1834, when Nathan was about 21 or 22 years old, Robert Crittenden died nearly bankrupt. Crittenden was only 37 years old when he died, and his widow had difficulty even keeping a roof over her head. This meant turmoil for young Nase, whose ownership was transferred to Daniel Greathouse, the pioneer in Faulkner County, Arkansas, who at the time was living in Little Rock. But Greathouse filed an interesting document with the Pulaski County Clerk – after three and a half years of service, Nase was to be freed. Greathouse died before those three and a half years had expired, and Nase was indeed given his freedom just before Arkansas became the 25th state to be admitted to the Union.

Possibly because of his visibility in the Crittenden household, Nathan had made important contacts among other members of Arkansas’ territorial elite. Chester Ashley, one of the men who donated the land where the Mount Holly Cemetery sits to the City of Little Rock, was one of those contacts. Ashley hired Nathan as a carriage driver. Nathan and Anne, the quadroon daughter of the Ashley’s cook, married. They would have either nine or ten children together, and Nase would help to rear Anne’s older son, W.A. Rector.

Nase was much more than an ordinary carriage driver. When he took over a confectionery two blocks from the Ashley’s home, on the land where part of the Capital Hotel now stands, the people of Little Rock quickly learned that he had a true gift for his craft. His shop was so successful that the ladies of Little Rock would not consider having a party without treats from his store. They begged “Uncle Nase” for his secrets, but he refused, telling them that if he shared his recipes with white ladies, he would give away his trade.

His confectionery eventually moved to a larger storefront west of Main Street. He suffered a setback when his shop burned. Arson was suspected. He reopened, though, and business continued briskly.

Nathan was not the only member of his family to live free in the early 1800’s. One of his brothers who had remained with the Crittenden family in D.C. had also been freed, and together they purchased the freedom of a third brother from the Crittenden family in 1844.

When Nathan’s first wife died, he married another Ashley slave, Mary Elizabeth. He had two daughters with her, and eventually purchased their freedom. The children from his first marriage remained slaves in the Ashley family, though.

In the 1850’s, sentiments against free black people ran high in southern states, and Arkansas was no exception. In 1859, Governor Elias N. Conway signed the Free Negro Expulsion Act. Free black people, which meant anyone who had at least one black grandparent, were required to leave the state by January 1, 1860, or face sale into slavery for a period of one year. The continued freedom of about 700 people was directly jeopardized by this Act. Nathan was not among them, though. He was a very intelligent man, and when a similar measure had narrowly failed in the legislature in 1857, Nathan had seen the writing on the wall. He packed up Mary Eliza and their two free daughters and left for Xenia, Ohio, where he lived for several years. While he was in Ohio, he took the name Warren as a surname. At the time of the 1860 census, he lived in Xenia, Greene County, Ohio, with Mary Eliza, their daughters Ellen (8) and Ida (4), and two sons, William (2) and Edwin (7 months). As he had in Little Rock, Nathan worked as a baker.

A story in a newspaper article about Nathan claimed that an old friend encountered him in New York during his exile, and that Nathan was miserably unhappy and down on his luck. The friend, a Mr. Tucker, brought Nathan back to Arkansas even though the Act expelling free black people was still in effect. Family legends and the census locating Nathan’s family in Ohio for this time period dispute this version of events. Nathan’s descendants believe that Nathan and his free family returned to Little Rock about 1863, possibly with the help or sponsorship of the Ashley family. Since Nathan had left nine or ten of his still-enslaved children in Little Rock, one can only assume that he missed them and worried about them as the Civil War raged in and around Little Rock. Perhaps local people had their hands full with politics and the war, or perhaps “Uncle Nase” was so well-liked that the society ladies were grateful for his return and persuaded their husbands to leave him alone. At any rate, upon his return to Little Rock, Nathan Warren reestablished his confectionery and his popularity.

While living in Ohio, Nathan and the Warren family had been introduced to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The AME church had broken away from the Methodist Church in Pennsylvania because black congregants wanted their own place of worship, independent from the white church. Almost as soon as he returned from Ohio, Nathan started the Bethel AME Church in Little Rock and was ordained as a minister. The Bethel AME Church is still a vital part of the downtown community, although it has moved into a different building that takes up the block bordered by 16th Street and Wright Avenue between Izard and State Streets. It is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year.

The year Nathan Warren started Bethel AME Church was a turning point not just in his life, but in the lives of all American slaves in rebellious states. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued January 1 of that year, and Civil War raged across the country. Most of the battles fought in Arkansas occurred after January 1863, including the battles of Bayou Meto (also known as Reed’s Bridge) and Bayou Fourche, both of which were fought on the Union army’s approach to Little Rock.

With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the rest of Nathan Warren’s family soon became free. Most of the children from his first marriage were adults now, and many of those ten children had inherited Nathan’s musical talent. Nathan was a popular fiddler, and his children played other instruments and performed publicly as a group.

The end of the war brought other changes, too. The government’s efforts at reconstruction in the southern states meant that black people would be granted rights. Exactly how those rights would be realized, and exactly how the former slaves would support themselves, was uncertain. Nathan Warren was a Pulaski County delegate to the Convention of Colored Citizens held in Little Rock November 30 – December 2, 1865.  It was the first convention ever held by the black residents of Arkansas.

The language contained in the minutes of that convention is stirring. The convention

met for the purpose of conferring with each other, as to our best interest and future prosperity; also, to memorialize the State Legislature and Congress of the United States, to grant us equality before the law, and the right of suffrage, … we have earned it and, therefore, we deserve it; we have bought it with our blood, and, therefore, it is of priceless value to us.

Rev. Nathan Warren delivered the prayer at the closing session the final day of the convention. The final resolutions of the convention underscored the great hope that the newly emancipated black Arkansans had, while recognizing that a struggle still lay before them.

The persecutions of two and a half centuries have not been enabled to destroy our confidence in the eventual justice of the American people. We believe the time has come when wisdom again asserts her sway in the councils of the nation.

It would be another hundred years before the federal government would pass a civil rights act to ensure racial equality.

Through the Reconstruction era, Nathan Warren maintained his confectionery and his musically-gifted children continued performing. Their musical gifts would bring them tragedy, though. In early 1866, the Warren family performers were hired to perform for a private party aboard the steamboat Miami on a journey between Little Rock and Memphis. In the early morning hours of January 28, 1866, the Miami was on its return to Little Rock. As the Miami navigated waters near the then-thriving town of Napoleon in Desha County, where the Arkansas empties into the Mississippi, its boilers exploded. Three of Nathan’s sons, George, Frank and John, were among the 225 passengers killed, as was his son-in-law, Wash Phillips. Nathan’s son Isaiah and stepson W.A. Rector were on the boat, but survived the explosion.

The Miami was one of three such tragedies in just a few days on America’s central waterways. Two days after the Miami’s explosion, the Missouri exploded, and two days after that, the W.R. Carter blew up. Around 365 lives were lost in the three explosions. The causes of the explosions on the Missouri and the W.R. Carter were never explained, but according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer on February 6, 1866, inspectors investigating the incident blamed the Miami tragedy on its engineers, who apparently were aware that the boilers needed repairs, but failed to maintain them properly during the trip. The Atlantic and Mississippi Company, which owned all three of these steamboats as well as three others that had exploded in the preceding year, had no insurance coverage for its vessels. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the company’s managers had reasoned that it was cheaper to replace a boat now and then than it was to pay expensive insurance premiums on its entire fleet. A month to the day after the Miami tragedy, three more of the Atlantic & Mississippi’s steamboats were destroyed by fire near St. Louis. After losing nine steam boats – six within thirty days of each other – the company finally elected to insure its fleet. The Miami was lost during the most destructive four months in the history of America’s river navigation. It was one of twenty-nine steamboats destroyed by fire in the sixteen weeks between December 15, 1865 and April 12, 1866.

Despite this incredible personal tragedy, Nathan Warren continued to push for his own prosperity and for the prosperity of his race. Bethel AME Church grew exponentially, and Rev. Warren himself shepherded the flock there. On August 22, 1873, an article in the Arkansas Gazette described efforts to form an organization designed to test the limits of the newly-enacted Arkansas Civil Rights Law of 1873. Some believed the act was a sham and that the white people of Arkansas had no intention of granting rights to black people. Nevertheless, a coalition of black and white citizens met to devise ways in which the law’s purpose could be tested and fulfilled. Rev. Warren attended, and was elected to the group’s finance committee.

Rev. Warren’s name appears in minutes of other meetings during Reconstruction. He was a civic leader, a minister, a successful businessman, and a civil rights activist. Despite periods of great suffering, tragic setbacks, and loss, Nathan Warren persevered. His descendants have every reason to be very proud of their notable ancestor.

He died in 1888 at about the age of 76. He was a member of the Mosaic Templars, and was accorded Masonic rites at his funeral. He was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Nathan Warren’s tragedies did not end with his death, however. The civil rights he wanted so much for himself and his family were to be tested in the fires of Jim Crow, and at some point during those terrible years of racial inequity, tombstones of the graves of a number of black residents at Mount Holly were vandalized and removed. The minutes of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association are incomplete for dozens of years in the first half of the 20th century, and no one now alive has any memory of exactly what happened to the obelisk that had been erected on Nathan Warren’s grave. Even the location of his grave has been lost to history.

Mount Holly’s surviving records show that the Reverend Nathan Warren was buried in the Chester Ashley family plot, and that an obelisk marked his grave. On November 9, 2013, a new monument, donated by Dr. Sybil Jordan-Hampton of Little Rock, was unveiled in the Ashley plot over the spot believed to hold Rev. Warren’s grave. Dr. Jordan-Hampton is a member of Bethel AME Church and a member of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, which maintains the cemetery. The monument is crowned with the Masonic symbol and reads:

NATHAN WARREN

UNCLE “NASE”

BORN INTO SLAVERY 1812

CAME TO AR WITH ROBERT CRITTENDEN IN 1819

OBTAINED FREEDOM IN FEBRUARY 1835, THEN WORKED

TO SECURE THE FREEDOM OF FAMILY MEMBERS

DIED JUNE 3, 1888 LITTLE ROCK, AR

LITTLE ROCK CONFECTIONER

FOUNDER BETHEL AME CHURCH LITTLE ROCK 1863

DEDICATED IN HONOR OF BETHEL AME CHURCH

SESQUICENTENNIAL 2013

IMG_0209 resized

Using Tax Money to Rebuild Churches

On July 10, two senators introduced Senate Bill 1274, which would add religious buildings to the list of nonprofit facilities eligible to receive federal disaster relief aid after catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The Senate bill and its House counterpart, H. R. 592, address aid to nonprofit facilities damaged in Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and afterward.

The Secular Coalition of America opposes the bill because tax dollars would directly fund the repair or replacement of damaged and destroyed churches, synagogues, and mosques, not to mention other nonprofit organizations.

SCA is encouraging a campaign to remind our Senators that one of the longest standing principles of our nation is that no citizen should be required to fund any religions with which they disagree, and not to permit  taxpayer money to be used to repair or rebuild churches destroyed in natural disasters.

I’m usually right on board with the Secular Coalition of America in anything it does, but this brought me up short.

No, I don’t want my tax dollars to build new churches, fund their missionary programs, or finance a church-supported school’s science-denying science curriculum. It makes me sick that religious institutions get a pass when April 15 rolls around. Frankly, I think all nonprofits ought to pay taxes. If their profits are reinvested for public benefit, or set aside in specific funds intended for that purpose, then that should be credited to them. But should churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues be treated differently than any other nonprofit when they are hit by a natural calamity?

I looked into the status quo, without the passage of this Senate bill.

FEMA’s current policy addressed aid to individuals and their households as well as to government facilities. It does not permit disaster assistance to nonprofits unless they provide “essential services to the general public customarily provided by the government.” Whether nonprofit or for-profit, facilities used primarily for religious, political, athletic, recreational, or vocational purposes don’t qualify for FEMA funds. Churches, the DNC headquarters, the Superdome, Disney World, and Joe’s Body Shop don’t get government money. They are expected to be adequately insured.

The new law would allow virtually any nonprofit organization to benefit, though, which may indeed be desirable when we consider that the gift shop at Hurricane River Cave in the Ozarks (one of the coolest caves I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit) might be taken out when the next big New Madrid quake hits, as might the collection of historical buildings at the Scott Plantation Settlement.

On the other hand, it would also, in this time of high budget deficits and sequestration, open the FEMA coffers to more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. It does this by removing the requirement that, in order to receive FEMA funds, the organization provide a service that would otherwise be an essential government service. Cool gift shop or not, amazing caverns, even if operated by nonprofit organizations, do not supply an essential governmental service. Nor do historic preserves of bygone eras.

Having a church building is definitely not an essential governmental service.

And, as the SCA points out in its letter to Senators, two-thirds of the American population doesn’t use churches. Nonbelievers and the nonreligious constitute 20% of the American population, and that number is growing. And by expanding FEMA’s coverage in this era of sequestration, 2.3 million nonprofit organizations would immediately become eligible for FEMA funds in the event of a natural disaster. (Only 1.6 million are registered with the IRS. The others haven’t filed their forms to obtain official approval of their nonprofit status.)

“While the services of these nonprofits may provide great benefit to the general public, federal funds should not be diverted away from essential governmental programs toward nonprofits with access to a charitable and generous base of donors nationwide and around the globe,” says the SCA. Being on the boards of a few nonprofits that are always struggling for money, I kind of take issue with the “generous base” description, but I can’t help but acknowledge the definite difference between “great benefit” and “essential service.”

Currently, FEMA funds can go to any

private nonprofit educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitational, and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities (including those for the aged and disabled) and facilities on Indian reservations…

[as well as any] [p]rivate nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public, (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature)…

Language proposed by the Senate bill and the House resolution would add community centers and houses of worship to the list.

To be fair, the bill contains a restriction for religious facilities that does not apply to the other nonprofits. Taxpayer-funded disaster relief would be allowed to religious institutions only for the actual buildings damaged. Its language is pretty specific:

In spaces used primarily for religious worship services, contributions…shall only be used to cover the costs of purchasing or replacing, without limitation, the building structure, building enclosure components, building envelope, vertical and horizontal circulation, physical plant support spaces, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems (including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and fire and life safety systems), and related site improvements.

The SCA sent a letter to all Senators about this bill. It cited two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Tilton v. Richardson and Hunt v. McNair, to support its position.

A three-prong test has to be passed in order for government funds to be used by religious institutions, including religious educational institutions:

  1. The funds must be used for a secular purpose that does not promote religion;
  2. The effect of using the funds must not promote religion; and
  3. Enforcement of the secular purpose should not unnecessarily entangle church and state.

In the Tilton case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that grants for non-religious school facilities did not violate the Establishment Clause because the purpose and effect of the Act that authorized the grants was not to aid religious institutions but to aid education generally. The students affected by the act were secondary students, who the Court determined to be less susceptible to religious indoctrination that elementary school students. Significantly, though, the decision in the Tilton case did not address whether granting schools affiliated with a particular religious sect would enable those schools to further their religious instruction. It did, however, determine that taxpayers were not themselves harmed if their ability to practice their own religion remained untouched.

The Hunt case came out of South Carolina, and addressed whether revenue bonds intended for capital improvements at institutions of higher education could be used by sectarian colleges. Because higher education is a secular purpose, and constructing buildings to house educational facilities does not promote religion, and because at the college level, religious indoctrination is not as significant as it is in elementary schools.

It would seem that an actual church is not a school, though, and its primary purpose is to promote religion. While Tilton and Hunt both seem to say that FEMA funds can be used to rebuild the local Catholic High School, there does not seem to be any justification, based on the Supreme Court’s three-prong test, to use taxpayer funds to rebuild a church, even if the rebuilding is limited to the facility alone and not to providing the pews within it.

An ordinary nonprofit organization exists for the public benefit, and the public does indeed benefit from its existence. These facilities all provide valuable community services. But it can be argued that churches do, too. They are community centers, even though they serve a much smaller slice of the population. Then again, rehabilitation centers and senior citizen centers only serve a portion of the community, too.

While we as secularists may disagree vehemently with the mission of religions in general, are we really any differently situated than, say, someone who believes zoos to be cruel? The argument feels somewhat like saying that if our trashy neighbors’ home got washed away during the flood or flattened by a tornado, they be denied emergency relief to rebuild just because we don’t like them.

I hate feeling mean-spirited. It puts me in a bad mood.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit to do away with the favored tax status of churches, and to have them treated like all other nonprofits. If churches want to be nonprofit organizations, they should have to file the expensive tax form that goes along with being awarded that status. If they want to endorse specific candidates or political parties, they should lose their 501(c)(3) and have to satisfy themselves with 501(c)(4), which has stricter reporting requirements. I firmly stand with FFRF on this, as, I suspect, do many readers of this post.

But should a church be treated differently when it comes to disaster relief just because it is a church?

As long as the damaged church isn’t violating its tax-free status by politicking, do you see a problem with treating it like any other nonprofit, and allowing the use of taxpayer funds for it to rebuild after a disaster?

And what about extending FEMA coverage to all nonprofits? It is a noble intent, for sure. But is it practical, given our current economic issues? Why should nonprofits be treated differently than Joe’s Body Shop when it comes to disaster relief? I would think that helping businesses recover from disaster would be a pretty noble investment, too.

I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say, and whether you feel strongly enough about this issue to contact your Senator.

 

Because Raped Women are a Series of Tubes…

One of the pleasures of living in a world where anti-intellectualism rules a major political party is that it’s fairly easy to spot the political leanings of the shockingly ignorant.

Image courtesy of Matt Katzenberger (source)

These are the people who consistently vote against their best interest, and are completely immune to the cognitive dissonance that rational people encounter when they attempt to hold diametrically opposed opinions in the same brain.  They want to repeal Obamacare because socialized medicine is bad, while protecting Medicare because socialized medicine is good. They want the incredibly rich to get ever larger tax breaks, even though the very rich pay proportionately less than they – the working and middle class – do. They actually believe the obvious bullshit of the ultra-rich Romneys and Koch brothers of the world, who promise they would be creating oodles of jobs (Really!) if not for the unduly burdensome 13% or less that they now pay in taxes. They are the same people who are completely in favor of the death penalty, but anti-abortion no matter what the reason.

They support defunding government grants for poor students, since only snobs want their kids to be educated. The budget proposal put forth by Paul Ryan, the new star of Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket, would not only reduce the size of Pell grants and even eliminate access to them for tens of thousands of students, but would have cut the Head Start program to ribbons, too. Education? Our kids don’t need no stinkin’ education! We can compete with the educated workforce of countries like Sweden, Japan and Germany without all that schooling. It doesn’t take education to know stuff.

Just ask U.S. Senate candidate, and current U.S. Congressman, Todd Akin (R-Mo).  He knows stuff. Akin is the guy who has been all over the news in the last couple of days because of his cocksure knowledge that “legitimate rape” doesn’t result in pregnancy. He knows this because “doctors” told him. In his interview with Charles Jaco on a St. Louis television broadcast, Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole [conception] thing down.” (If you want the full context, watch the full interview. The abortion comments are in the second video, and start at 1:54.)

There are about 32,000 women in America who are now relieved to know that the rape by which they were impregnated last year wasn’t “legitimate” rape. They can now conclude that despite the non-consensual nature of that sexual congress, they actually enjoyed it. And that’s good news for this year’s approximately 32,000 impregnated victims of non-consensual sex, too. Thank you, Congressman Akin, for your words of comfort. All those women can stop going to therapy now that they realize that they weren’t really traumatized at all. That’ll save a bundle on their health care costs, seeing as how your party would prefer not to insure these women’s health, either.

To be fair, Akin did say that he misspoke. He meant to say “forcible” rape, not “legitimate” rape.  Because non-consensual sex with a drunk college student isn’t really rape, whether or not she’s cognizant of what’s happening. And it’s totally not rape if the parties are married, even if they happen to be going through a divorce. It’s not rape if one partner is under the age of consent, because children who have sex know what they are getting into and are making an intelligent, informed decisions about it. Especially children who have had abstinence-only sex education.

A woman's body can totally tell if this is rape or not.

Roulette determines the lucky winner. (Source)

 

Life starts at conception, according to Akin. (It’s right there on his website, so it must be true.) Or maybe it starts two weeks before conception, like Arizona recently legislated, which means that women are in a perpetual state of “pregnancy” because conception could happen two weeks in the future at any time. Akin must be right, because he knows this stuff. He sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and pregnancy is sciencey, right?

Oops. No. I’m wrong. It’s God stuff, not science stuff. Totally my bad. Sorry.

 

Where better to look than to God for guidance on, well, everything? Now, God doesn’t speak out loud, or even very clearly, but fortunately he wrote his completely unclear directions down for us. Reading the Bible for instruction on life is tantamount to reading the instructions from Ikea, except that once you’re done with the Ikea instructions you have a piece of furniture that either wobbles, or doesn’t.  Reading the Bible is tougher, so fortunately we have crowds of really, really smart preachers to tell us exactly what God actually meant when he dictated those mystifying instructions. Now, a disturbing number of those really, really smart preachers, especially the fundamentalist ones, haven’t been to college, much less seminary, but they can read Elizabethan English and understand it just fine because they’re touched by God. Yes, we’re back to the refrain of “We don’t need no education.” Thank you, Pink Floyd.

Yes, I said they are touched. Touched in their various God Spots.  (image source)

The Bible is crystal clear about when life begins, if by “crystal” you mean “obsidian.” If you don’t believe me, check out the Open Bible site, which has all the references its author deems relevant gathered carefully in one place. You can even vote for which verses make things clearest for you. Of the 40 or so verses excerpted from various English translations of the Bible (we know God meant the Bible to be in English), I found two that were absolutely on point and helpful. Oddly, they were the same verse, just in slightly different translation: Exodus 21:22-24, which says that if a bunch of men get together and hit a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, then they either get fined as the husband sees fit, or they get punished to the same extent that the woman was injured. Go ahead and click the link on that verse. Read it in multiple English translations. If you know other languages, read the translation in other languages, too. Now you tell me which one is the best translation, given your expertise in ancient Hebrew.

Now, just for funsies, look at the rest of Chapter 21 of Exodus. It’s all relevant and pertinent to life today, isn’t it? So it makes perfect sense to use it as our go-by.

The homepage of Akin’s campaign website opens with a religious statement that puts the cart before the horse:

First, I want to give thanks to God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory. Through the months we have seen frequent instances of His blessing and are reminded that with Him all things are possible!

Evidently he credits prayer and divine intervention with his success in the Republican primary rather than the hard work of his supporters. I suppose that makes sense, seeing as how his list of endorsers lean heavily toward leaders of conservative Christian religious institutions. (Surely there’s no impermissible politicking going on in the churches those endorsers represent. Surely. Because that would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of those churches.)

This situation with Rep. Akin demonstrates exactly why I have a huge problem with politicians using an inconsistently translated collection of  Bronze Age “wisdom” to guide modern government policy. This situation, among others, is why I advocate, agitate, and get politically active – not to mention write passionate blog posts – when elected officials decide it’s okay to blur the lines between church and state. It’s also why I get cheesed off when people want to base their lives on a book of superstitious tales and ancient customs we no longer observe.

When we allow our leaders to cherry-pick verses of this collection of ancient manuscripts, we set ourselves up to go back to that time. Me, I’d rather live in a world of universal health care than a world of leper colonies and plagues. And if that makes me a socialist, then I am a proud socialist.

Furthermore, when a page of platitudes masquerades as “clearly the Bible says life starts at conception,” then I think it’s way beyond time our elementary schools taught critical thinking and logic to children – because if their parents buy the crap on that page as “proof” of anything, they won’t teach their kids to think at home or anywhere else.

Apparently what makes a human different from other living creatures is that we have a soul. How religious people can tell whether we have a soul, and how they know animals do not, remains an insurmountable mystery. Science cannot say when the soul comes into existence, since there is no evidence that such a thing as a “soul” even exists. But ignoramuses like Todd Akin want to legislate matters pertaining to women’s health based on their Bronze Age “wisdom” without any proof whatsoever. If we permit this to happen, we will get the same draconian laws as places like the Dominican Republic, where pregnant teenagers are denied chemotherapy because the life-saving treatment might harm a 13-week old fetus. Yeah, that happened.

The problem is ignorance,  lack of education, and reliance on “facts” gleaned from questionable translations of Bronze Age texts.

The problem is that people with no more background in science that this Akin clown sit on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Presumably he would know something about science if he’s sitting on a major legislative committee devoted to it. Of course, his Bible-based philosophies are contravened by science, so he cannot possibly wrap his head around them. Like that other ignorant politician who attempted to speak about a subject he knew nothing about, Akin apparently believes that women are a series of tubes, tubes that can easily be rerouted just by the nature of forced intercourse, to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

What complete jackassery.

 

 

I Politic

ALEC Rock
Produced by Mark Fiore (http://www.markfiore.com), The ALEC Exposed Project (http://www.alecexposed.org) and Alliance for a Better Utah (http://betterutah.org)

Zionist Fallout and an Independent Press

http://mondoweiss.net/2009/11/the-situation-in-a-nutshell.html

Anna Baltzer, author, and Haithem El-Zabri, founder of the Palestine Online Store. Austin, TX, November 2008. (Photographer unknown.)

I found this photo on Mondoweiss.net, a site devoted to US policy in the Middle East. Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss, whose articles frequently appear in The Nation and Huffington Post among others, maintain the blog as a project of The Nation Institute.

The people in the photo are Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American author and champion of the rights of Palestinians in their home lands, and Haithem El-Zabri, a Palestinian-American. This isn’t the kind of photo we would expect to see in the mainstream national media.

Given the blatant horrors of Israel’s treatment and subjugation of Palestinians in Israel, the American press should be astounded at our Israeli foreign policy. Instead, Zionism reigns supreme, no matter the fact that natives of the regions are imprisoned, starved, refused work, refused permission to reunite with their families, and then attacked by Israel’s army for complaining about it.  Granted, Palestinians have complained with shells and mortars, but if Americans were denied these basic human rights, would we sit complacently in our ghettos without fighting back? I think not. I saw Red Dawn, and I approved. (May Patrick Swayze’s soul rest in peace.)

Some of my friends have asked where to find independent news sources. The Nation is a good place to start, and has been around for a long time – 145 years – and its mission of unbiased, non-hysterical reporting of news should be the custom of all journalists, not just an ideal or aspiration.

The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.

— from The Nation’s founding prospectus, July 6, 1865

The Nation Institute was founded about 100 years after the weekly news magazine. Its website says that “[t]he Institute places particular importance on strengthening the independent press in the face of America’s increasingly corporate-controlled flow of information, and through its programs the Institute promotes progressive values on a variety of media platforms. The Institute sponsors conferences, investigative research, seminars, televised town-hall meetings, original web content, book publishing, film production, fellowships, internships, and awards for truth-telling and social activism.”

I cannot conceive of higher ideals in journalism.

Some of my more conservative friends may claim that The Nation is a left-leaning rag that spends its time bashing Sarah Palin and wringing its hands about mythical global warming. It isn’t. Yes, it supports logical, reasoned debate and yes, it reports scientific conclusions.

Frankly, I do not understand the logic for supporting Palin’s self-professed ignorance of current events (I can assure you, The Nation is not among the news sources she regularly reads) or for dismissing the empirical data provided by science on the issue of climate change, so I don’t have a problem with that. I blast illogical, histrionic, and patently silly pretenders to political thrones whenever I get the opportunity. I revel in exposing foolish denial of scientific proof because it presents an inconvenience to something the denier holds dear, be it the existence of dinosaurs or the depletion of fossil fuels.

We owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves.

Breaking Up


It’s all the talk.

At cocktail parties and in the small talk before business meetings, we’re all talking about that certain Russian prediction of the breakup of the American union and the new countries that will take its place.

With Governor Perry in Texas talking secession, and Japanese having bought up Hawaii, and the Northwest’s own secessionist movement, maybe professor Igor Panarin’s prediction isn’t all that far fetched.

In case you haven’t heard, the Wall Street Journal ran an article in late December 2008 in which Professor Panarin was quoted as saying that there was about a fifty percent chance that the United States of America would break up by July of 2010.  That’s fourteen months from now.

According to him, we won’t be able to hold together as a nation until the end of the world – or the new era – predicted by the Maya. Brash and impulsive, we’ll disintegrate into six different countries, each under the influence of a different foreign power.  The economy and unimpeded immigration will be major causes of our downfall.  Being Russian, Panarin also attributes the coming civil war to our “moral degradation.”

But those two words, “moral degradation,” are awfully subjective.  Our morals, which the Soviets never thought we had in the first place, have actually gotten worse?  This is the result of the rabidly conservative administration we had until January? George Bush’s administration was closer to Putin’s than any other administration in history – yet our morals are fatally degraded?

I’m just glad that Putin’s Evil Twin is no longer in the highest office in the land. That man scared me.  He left us with a constitution in tatters and a reputation sullied worldwide.  He left us with an economic disaster of pestilential proportions. Under his watch an unnecessary war was started and a war that maybe should have been over by now may never be.  We are indeed following in the footsteps of the Soviets in Afghanistan. There’s a reason that country cannot stay conquered.

Russia’s economy tanked – a solitary tank, by the way, and not as part of a worldwide economic downturn – because communism, while perhaps a lofty ideal, is just an ideal.  In practice it can never work because of the avarice of humans and the specialization of society.  Like it or not, capitalism started with the rise of the medieval merchant class, and capitalism is here to stay. China’s gradual embrace of capitalism is much better than the free-for-all Russia and its satellites endured, but that embrace is tantamount to an admission that as much as we might all like to be equal, some will always be more equal than others.

I don’t see the US breaking up.  I see a future in which some secessionist movements might succeed. Perhaps in the Northwest, where politics and civil rights are far more liberal than in, say, Arkansas, a new country could rise. I don’t see it becoming part of Russia or Japan or China.  The cultures are just too different, and the survivalists are just too adamant. Instead of this secessionist entity clinging to the coast like in Panarin’s notion, Montana will allow it to flex its muscle eastward.

Now, Texas has been an independent country before and, as a former resident of the only state with a school in the Southwest Conference that wasn’t located in Texas, I say let ’em be again.  (My ex-husband never mentions the University of Texas at Austin without an exaggerated spit of disgust.)  We don’t need Texas. If we built a fence around its borders, it might help a great deal with the illegal immigration issue. In fact, give Texas New Mexico and Arizona, too.

The South, as they have always said, will rise again.  The Southern economy, lifestyle, and outlook just doesn’t quite mesh with that of those folks up East. Atlanta can be our capital, or New Orleans, at least until it washes away again.  Now, despite Panarin’s model, I just don’t see West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Carolinas joining some urban Atlantic nation-state. We’ll keep them in the South, as well as the Southern two-thirds of Virginia. Washington D.C. is not a Southern city, and Maryland, despite its location south of the Mason-Dixon line, just doesn’t feel Southern. The damn Yankees can have them both.  The South will also take the Florida panhandle, because we need our “Redneck Riviera.” Disney can have the rest of the state and no one will miss it.

That city that stretches from the Chesapeake to Boston Harbor will become a country unto itself.  To give it arable farmland we’ll donate western Pennsylvania and Ohio to its holdings. It’ll eventually sort of have that “Escape From New York” feel to it.  With any luck it’ll turn into “I am Legend” and we can build a fence around it, too, to keep the zombies corralled.

New England will revert to its colonial status, with the exception of Western Massachusetts, which is part of that Atlantic city-state. Its capitol will be Hanover, New Hampshire, that venerable seat of learning that is crowned by Dartmouth University.

The twin capitals of the landlocked Midwest will be Chicago and port city of St. Louis. With the fall of the Atlantic city-state to zombies, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan will become the industrial hub of the continent.

Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Minnesota will join Canada.  People there sound like Canadians already, so the cultural assimilation won’t be difficult for them.  Likewise Alaska will become Canadian, just because Canada needs more tundra.  Although, come to think of it, with global warming, that tundra will turn into bog by the next century.

That takes care of every place except Hawaii.  Since Japan already owns Hawaii, we won’t be able to do much with it.  Vulcanism will render the Hawaii question moot in another few thousand years, anyway.

So, I guess I can see the US breaking up, but not the way that Russian Panarin conceives of it. I have to take the cultural inclinations into consideration, whereas he just looked at state lines.  And other than those northern states that defect to Canada, Japanese Hawaii, and maybe a Cuban or Bahamian Florida, I just don’t see any other country taking control of the nations that result.

And now that I have frittered away a couple of otherwise billable hours on these mental gymnastics, I really should get back to work.

Gridlock: The American Way

Often as not, politicians and pundits decry gridlock as something negative.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as an OpEd piece in the Wall Street Journal points out today.

In my opinion, political parties are designed to create “gridlock.”  This is actually a good thing, and the framers of the U.S. Constitution hoped that checks and balances among the three branches of government would prevent silly laws.

Far too much legislation gets passed even when there is gridlock.  Just to gather additional votes, lawmakers append pork to bills completely unrelated to the primary subject of the bill.  The long-winded, convoluted language of most bills (yes, a lawyer is saying this!) obfuscates the intent of the drafters.

With a majority of the president’s party in both the Senate and the House, a dangerous atmosphere builds into a tempest that takes far too long to stuff back into its metaphorical teapot.

The point of having a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches is so that over-reaching legislation doesn’t get passed and signed into law.  With one party effectively running these two branches, we should expect abuses of power.  It matters not which party is in power.  Both parties – as well as any hypothetical third party in such a position – would be unable to resist the temptation to press their agendas unchecked by other points of view.

The problem with our current tax-subsidized two-party system is that a single party can indeed obtain a majority relatively easily.  Legislation can get passed, and then a supermajority isn’t as much of a hurdle when there is a veto. Politicians will tell us that this is a good thing, because “things get done.”

But is majority rule really a fair way to go about things?  Fifty one percent to pass a bill means that 49% are effectively disenfranchised. A simple majority does not constitute a mandate, no matter what certain politicians may tell us.  A simple majority means simply that there are a few more for something than against it.

And “getting things done” isn’t always the best thing, either.  Think about how fast the USAPatriot Act was passed in the hysteria following 9/11.  Think about how fast the economic bailout was passed despite the fact that its details remain poorly understood by “Joe the Plumber” as well as “Joe Six-Pack,” and – dare I suggest? – by the rank and file in Congress as well.  Bad laws get passed for good reasons.  Generally, getting rid of bad laws is much harder than passing a good one to begin with.

Clueless

Not only is he likely to die by the end of his first term in office (see the actuarial tables if you think I’m kidding), he’s clueless.

Yes, the wars in central Asia are a problem.  But even bigger and more worrisome is our country’s fiscal well-being.  To quote James Carville’s “war room” reminder from 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Sixteen years later, it’s the economy again.  And that’s stupid.
As if it wasn’t bad enough before, the past two weeks have seen our economy positively reeling from blows repeatedly delivered to it over the past several years.

First, September 7 it was announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were insolvent and had to be taken over by the government.  These two publicly owned companies either own or guarantee fully half of the mortgages in America. That’s right: of the twelve trillion dollars – that’s 12 followed by a dozen zeroes, for those of you who don’t know –  in money borrowed to finance the American Dream, $6 trillion of it was, in one form or another, the ultimate responsibility of these two companies.

Fannie and Freddie are, according to Fortune’s listing of the “Global 500,” the 161st and 162nd largest companies in the world respectively. The ranking is based on their annual revenue, which for each company is a little over $43 billion. Their profits, however, are in the negatives.  Fannie Mae reports losses of $2.05 billion and Freddie Mac, even worse, reports losses of $3.094 billion. And together they were on the hook for six trillion dollars in debt, over one percent of which was delinquent. That’s a recipe for bankruptcy in anyone’s pocketbook.

Are these companies even the biggest losers on the scale of gargantuan companies posting gargantuan losses?  No.  General Motors (yes, another cornerstone of the American economy and a major employer worldwide) boasts that honor.  With revenues of more than $182 billion, GM is posting a loss of $38.732 billion.   Ford Motor Company isn’t quite as desperate.  It comes in at #10 on the list of losers at a loss of $1.8 billion.  A loss like that seems manageable in comparison to GM’s, doesn’t  it?

Another US company, Sprint/Nextel, which is the third largest among the telecom giants, is posting losses exceeding $26 trillion this year.  Staggering losses like these do more than cause a company to go bankrupt.  Companies vaporize due to losses like these.  Then there’s the domino effect of the fallout: lost jobs, unpaid debts to other companies, and a gap in the economy that no amount of politicking can fill.

Will the government rescue GM like it rescued the Chrysler Corporation in the 1970’s? Our automakers employ an awful lot of people.  It will be very hard for the United States, competing with Indian and Chinese workers who charge pennies to the dollars charged by American workers for their time, to fill a manufacturing hole of that size.

It’s a big jump from these staggering losses to the next bracket of the biggest losers on Fortune’s list.  A German bank, in the red because it helped bail out a German competitor that had tanked because it had invested heavily in American subprime mortgages, is next in line with losses of $8.4 billion, but then, when we look to the next giant losers, we’re back on American soil.

Merrill Lynch is the fourth biggest money loser worldwide right now. Merrill Lynch was in the news this weekend because Bank of America became its white knight, dashing in to rescue the failing investment giant, whose offices fill all 34 floors of the Four World Financial Center Building in Manhattan’s famous financial district.  We might note here that the same subprime lending crisis has led to the failure of this icon of investing.  We might also note that Merrill Lynch is one of the relative handful of investment companies that survived the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  News of its failure is ominous, indeed.

Four of the top five money losers in the world are American, and the one that isn’t had losses caused entirely by the American subprime crisis. And get this: one of the top five losers is an agency of the American government!  Did that sentence get your attention? It should have.  Yes, the United States Postal Service is number five on the list of losers.

Now, I could wax lyrical about the mismanagement of the postal service here, but I’ll save my rant for another time.  Maybe I’ll mention something in the comments to this blog about how much freaking money the USPS spends to advertise its monopoly. But for now I’ll pass.  There’s a lot of complex analysis that goes into that discussion, and I’m talking about the economy in general, here.  I’m talking about a certain presidential candidate’s understanding of the economy in particular.

You see, despite Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite the subprime and credit crises, despite the failure of Merrill Lynch and AIG, which the Federal Reserve decided to help yesterday with an $85 billion bailout loan, despite the bankruptcy filing this weekend of Lehman Brothers, another huge investment firm, John McCain believes our economy is fundamentally sound.

Now, keep in mind that we have a federal budget deficit of $9 trillion that has grown by well over $400 billion a year since the current administration has been in control. We’re fighting two wars in central Asia at an annual cost of $200 billion, which we have borrowed from China – China! – to finance. The Federal Reserve just lent AIG $85 billion, and that money has to come from somewhere.  Internationally, our currency is weak.

When the wars started, President Bush expanded the government in an unprecedented move by creating a Department of Homeland Security.  (Excuse me, but wasn’t that what the already-existing National Security Agency for?  Wasn’t Homeland Security redundant?  I feel another rant coming on.  I’ll stop here.)

The biggest financial  losers globally are either American companies or driven to their staggering losses by American economic policies and practices, and John McCain thinks that the economy is fundamentally sound.

John McCain thinks that America’s big employers and investors can sustain staggering losses and the economy is still fundamentally sound.

Something in that jungle prison over there did more than make him unable to comprehend how to send an email.  Something in that jungle prison over there robbed him of his ability to see what is obviously an unfolding financial disaster on a scale with the Great Depression.

John McCain thinks the economy is fundamentally sound. He said so on Monday, the same day Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.

The emperor is wearing no clothes, and his consort is a redneck rodeo queen.

Tens of thousands of jobs on Wall Street are at risk, as are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the automotive industry.  Monday was the worst day for the stock market since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The dollar is weak against foreign currencies. We’re fighting two wars. Oil, which we depend upon as much as we depend upon water, is three times as costly as it ought to be. Worker productivity has increased, but wages have not.

Our government isn’t financially sound.  It has debt it can’t possibly repay and it has pushed a pro-credit, pro-housing agenda among the populace until consumers no longer can pay for what they buy. Unemployment is rising, and job creation is ridiculously low, a dangerous situation when we look at the potential for both white collar and blue collar job losses.

McCain thinks the government is fundamentally sound? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Gun Control

In the last couple of years I’ve changed my stance on gun control.

I don’t like guns.  They scare the hell out of me, and I see nothing “sporting” about attacking unarmed animals with them in the woods. I don’t own one and I’ve never been comfortable with the notion of having one in my house, despite the fact that my ex-husband had a hunting rifle and a boyfriend had a pistol.

I’ve represented kids with criminal charges involving guns.  I’ve seen bullet holes in children’s bedroom walls from drive-by shootings. I’ve represented women who were threatened with guns by their husbands, boyfriends, and even their sons. I’ve been to funerals of people killed by guns.  I’ve held and hugged a weeping grandmother when a stray bullet in a gang shooting left her favorite grandson, a good boy with an “A” average and college-bound, dead on a dark street in a small town in southeast Arkansas.

I don’t like the attitude of the NRA. It comes across as arrogant, shrill, and combative – not the kind of attitude a responsible gun owner/handler should display, especially around guns.

This is going to sound stupid, probably, but one of the things that tipped the scales for me against gun control was a movie.  It wasn’t just any movie.  It was a movie based on a comic book. Bear with me.  I’ve watched V for Vendetta, a film by the incomparable Wachowski Brothers, multiple times, and I find no fault with its future history philosophy.

Perhaps the helium in my brain is showing, but the point that disarming a populace oppresses the citizens makes sense to me.

One of the very best quotes from the movie is, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”  Why?  Because the power to change government, to oversee government, and to demand that government be accountable lies with the people.

There is a poignant scene in this movie in which thousands of unarmed citizens in Guy Fawkes masks confront the well-armed military. As they pour into the open areas on this auspicious night, the astonished military doesn’t open fire. Perhaps it is the sheer numbers of people; perhaps it is the eerie, surreal fact that they are costumed like that seditionist of the past, but for whatever reason, the armed forces of the government holds its fire and allows itself to be overrun. Perhaps it is because the members of the armed forces are citizens, too, and the whole point of the movie is that citizens must require and compel change in the government.

And then there’s this quote, the source of which I’m desperately seeking:

“An armed society is a polite society.
An unarmed society is a police state.
A disarmed society is a tyranny.”

Older posts

© 2017 Aramink

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: