Talk of War

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Jan 102020

Now again in early January 2080 we hear the talk of war: threats, grievances, incidents, mobilizings, bombings, murders, and always the justifications.

With all this from today’s news in mind, I was listening to “The Green Fields of France” by the Celtic Thunder. I decided to share. I suggest you listen to the music first, then review the words below.


Oh how do you do, young Willy McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside,
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen,
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
Well I hope you died quick,
And I hope you died clean,
Oh Willy McBride, was is it slow and obscene.
Did they beat the drums slowly,
Did the play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down,
Did the band play the last post and chorus,
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest.
And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind,
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined,
And though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart you’re forever nineteen.
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some old glass pane,
In an old photograph torn, tattered, and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.
Did they beat the drums slowly,
Did the play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down,
Did the band play the last post and chorus,
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest.
The sun shining down on these green fields of France,
The warm wind blows gently and the red poppies dance,
The trenches have vanished long under the plow,
No gas, no barbed wire, no guns firing down.
But here in this graveyard that’s still no mans land,
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand,
Till’ man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation were butchered and damned.
Did they beat the drums slowly,
Did the play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down,
Did the band play the last post and chorus,
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest.
And I can’t help but wonder oh Willy McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died,
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause,
Did you really believe that this war would end wars.
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing and dying it was all done in vain,
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again,
and again, and again, and again, and again.
Did they beat the drums slowly,
Did the play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down,
Did the band play the last post and chorus,
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest.

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Sep 052018

There are those who live their lives with no moral struggles. To them, nothing is right or wrong. Things are simply desirable, or they aren’t. Self interest makes the choices. The laws of man or God may get in the way, but only as barriers to get around. 

Most of us aren’t able to live that way. Most of us have a nagging conscience raising questions of right and wrong. This can be a burden or a blessing . . .  depending. Most of us struggle to develop our standards of right and wrong, and struggle even more to follow them.

I was reminded of this at a dairy farm in Pennsylvania. A wonderfully clean and healthy place. A great place to live if you’re a cow or calf or human child. A place where Amish buggies come driving in to buy milk and eggs, delivering children to enjoy ice cream and animals.

The folks who run this farm work hard, love one another, live modestly, help their neighbors, study their Bibles, and go to church on Sundays. And like most of us, they consider the rightness or wrongness of their words and deeds. So as I read the polite request bullet-pointed in a list on the wall, I smiled but did not scorn it. It said:

To many, such a sign will seem quaint and belonging to an earlier time. When I first read it, I had that reaction. But then, the very next day, I read about the funeral of Aretha Franklin in Detroit. There was much discussion of the mini-skirt worn by one of the singers, and whether it was appropriate for a funeral or not. Many considered it “immodest attire.” And former president Bill Clinton was accused of gazing at the singer in an inappropriate manner by a Fox News panel. They called it “leering.” So the sign I read in rural Pennsylvania is more current than it appeared.

I grew up in a small town in east Tennessee. Most people were either Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians. Most went to church on Sunday. Local ministers took turns preaching in our schools. Revival meetings were common, and you could listen to preachers preaching on the radio almost non-stop. They preached against a variety of sins including drinking and dancing and women wearing shorts. Kids were forbidden to play sports on Sunday afternoons because it was “the Lord’s Day.” On the campus of my own “Christian college,” couples were forbidden from holding hands while walking together. I can say this for sure because I was once caught doing it.

In my lifetime, norms have gone from this to now having a President whose third wife used to pose for nude photographs, who has spoken on television of grabbing women by the genitals, and who has paid hush money to silence women about alleged affairs. We now have explicit photos and video free-for-all on the Internet, explicit how-to articles on sex available in women’s magazines at grocery checkout counters, and all sorts of revealing dress and language on television and in public places. One cannot but admire the fortitude of religious communities that have maintained their norms against such times.

But it all seems so arbitrary, so relative, so ambiguous. How short must shorts be to qualify as “short shorts?” How low must a neckline dip down to be an “inappropriate low neckline?” I can hear teenage girls asking these questions, and mothers having a hard time explaining. Then there are the other religions that insist on covering their women from head to toe, even the eyes. For them this is necessary to “maintain pure thoughts and actions.” For them, the Amish country norms are far too liberal.

Just where did the conscience of human beings come from? The religions think God gave us our conscience, all built in and set up. But if this were so, how come the definitions of right and wrong vary so greatly? And why do they vary so much from age to age, person to person, and religion to religion? Some people have a taste for broccoli, and others don’t. Are views of right and wrong like that? Are they that variable and individual? Are there things that are universally good or evil, and if so, what are those things?

The religions usually speak of their sacred writings as defining what is right and wrong. For example, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is Moses and his ten commandments, given by God on a mountain and carved into tablets of stone. One of the ten says very simply, “thou shalt not kill.” But what do we make of that? What have Jews and Christians made of it? In its plainest, simplest meaning, it forbids the taking of another life. But over the years many exceptions have been proposed and carried out. These include euthanasia, capital punishment, assisted suicide, killing in self defense, killing under “stand your ground,” targeted killings by remotely operated drones, defensive wars, aggressive wars, and “pre-emptive wars,” a new term which seems a euphemism for wars of aggression.

Think of all the things that have been debated over the years from a moral standpoint: gay marriage, gay sex, premarital sex, breast feeding in public, contraception, masturbation, genital mutilation, pornography, inter-racial marriage, inter-faith marriage, human slavery, capital punishment, racial segregation, abortion, public nudity, private nude beaches, bull fighting, the torture of prisoners, the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, chemical weapons, and, of course, war itself.

Many of these discussions are far away from Amish country around New Holland, Pennsylvania. But it’s all part of the same. We’re all trying to figure out the right and wrong of things in life, and hope it matters.

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Jan 302017

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 29: Demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue during a protest on January 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. Protestors in Washington and around the country gathered to protest President Donald Trump's executive order barring the citizens of Muslim-majority countries Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from traveling to the United States.

He is banning members of the Muslim religion from our country, but I am not of that religion.

He is building a wall to keep out Mexicans, but I am not a Mexican.

He will not allow us to shelter the suffering, homeless, and dying refugees of war, but I am not a refugee.

He intends to torture prisoners, but I will not be one of those tortured.

He may cancel the health insurance of 20 million people, but I have other health insurance.

He will do away with protections for the environment, but I do not have so many years left to live, and future generations will pay for this, not me.

He is moving to further restrict the voting rights of minorities and others who oppose him, but I am a white man from Tennessee and I will still be able to vote.

He will degrade public education, on which most families depend, while funding private education for the well-off. But I already have my education.

He intends to deport some 12 million immigrants, including many who were born and grew up here. But I am not one of those to be deported.

He will reverse the civil rights gains made by lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons, but I am not one of these persons.

He wants to make abortions illegal and even criminal, but I will not be needing an abortion.

He will reduce government benefits for the poor and vulnerable to benefit the wealthy and powerful, like himself. But I am not among the poor and vulnerable.

He wants more people in more places armed with more guns, so the “good guys” can kill the “bad guys.” This will increase our national murder rate even more than it already is. But I live a quiet life and am not likely to be among those murdered.

So, other than a terrible sadness for the plight of others, will he do me no harm?

Well, no harm unless . . .

Unless he is able to take away our freedom of speech, and of the press, and of religion, or from religion if we choose. Unless he can take our rights of travel and free association with others, and of voting and debating public issues, and of equal treatment under just laws. Unless we are left sold out and oppressed, with no truthful information on what is happening, to us and others in the world.

Unless he so divides and abuses and insults and provokes others who are not me, that some equivalent of a second American Civil War occurs. A conflict in which the military forces he now commands will be unleashed against citizens who oppose him, as in Assad’s Syria and Saddam’s Iraq and Franco’s Spain and Amin’s Uganda and Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany.

Unless his constant and unpredictable anger, and belligerence toward other peoples and nations, leads us into nuclear destruction. Which now does not seem all that unlikely.

His view of our America is a dark and gloomy one, a view that sees threats on every side and emergencies he must address where none exist. And now that he has gained this power he sought, my own view has turned dark and gloomy as well. 

If I were a man of power and prominence in the country, and he read these words, I would doubtless be marked for suppression or retribution.

But I am not a man of power or prominence. Just a very worried citizen.

Listen to a reading of this story:

[Thoughts and comments are welcome. Related articles may be found under the categories of “commentary,” “environment,” “guns,” and “religion.” To receive an email notification when new articles are posted here, click “Subscribe” in the menu bar above and enter your email address.]

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Apr 032016

Guest Editorial by R. Edward Smith

(Roger makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina. He is an authority on the life and works of Truman Capote and is currently working to complete a new book about the author. Roger is a friend, and also a cousin on my father's side of our family.)

Roger E. Smith picture

R. Edward Smith

Senator Bernard Sander’s speech in Phoenix on the evening of March 15, 2016, was so clear in its deliverance, so “American” in its voice and in the populist values that were articulated to protest the “rigged economy” his campaign platform opposes that the political orthodoxy of the Washington elites seems offensive and even foreign to the civic sensibilities of citizens who appreciate or support the presidential candidate from Vermont. But what might not seem so clear to the electorate, at large, is that the present economic mind-set of Wall Street, or of the soulless operatives who defend the oudated precepts that dominate America's financial destiny, goes far back in time, to the republic’s past and the early decades of the Industrial Revolution that preceded the disastrous War Between the States; to a time when growing opportunities for the rich and the well-heeled Northern Industrialists resulted in wild speculations fueled by an ever-increasing thirst for wealth and control. Over time, these so-called “Captains of Industry” who profited from the Civil War morphed into the “Robber Barons of the East." These powerful financial players, and the professional army of specialists hired to aid in a “rigged economy” system of enterprises headquartered at Wall Street, had gambled on mining, rail and shipping interests, and other ventures that hungered for natural and agricultural products–and especially for the Southern Aristocrats’ slave-produced cotton that was needed for the textile factories of the Northeast.

Prior to the war, the Wall Street plutocrats and their lobbyists in Washinton set about securing the control of "King Cotton" for their own enterprising purposes by influencing Congress to impose stiff tariffs upon the export of this raw material to the textile mills of England. “Throughout most of our history,” reported author Walter Williams in 2013, “the only sources of federal revenue were excise taxes and tariffs. During the 1850s,” he noted, “tariffs amounted to 90 percent of federal revenue. Southern ports paid 75 percent of tariffs in 1859. What ‘responsible’ politician,” asked Williams, “would let that much revenue go?”[i] But, when the Landed Gentry of the South protested this targeted action against their low-country operations, the industrialists of the North recklessly contested the threat of secession. “In the presidential contest of 1860,” reported John Ashworth for The New York Times or February 2, 2011,  “southerners warned again and again that a Republican victory would mean secession. Hamilton Fish of New York declared that the ‘jails and lunatic asylums’ would be ‘of sufficient capacity to accommodate all the disunionists in the land.’ Lincoln for his part,” noted Ashworth in “What the North Got Wrong,” “dismissed all talk of secession as ‘humbug’.”[ii] When the Republican politicians in Washington lost the blinking game with the ruling class of the South, the Industrialists of the North and the federal government prepared for a war that would push the agrarian economy of the South off its tracks, but by action that was orginally believed would amount to a short campaign of military engagement. The President's miscalculation resulted in a "righteous" war that historians and civil war buffs continue to debate and even reenact. 

Scholarship of recent years argues that, contrary to the “saintly” image of Lincoln as commander in chief of an army of Christian soldiers marching off to war, he was “a model local politician, a loyal Whig standing for the protective tariff”; our 16th President, reported William Saffir (in quoting from Joel H. Silbey’s “Always a Whig in Politics" for his New York Times essay of February 14, 1986), "was a faithful practitioner of patronage to the White House” and “a total political operator.” In quoting at length, Saffir used Silbey’s reasoning about the antebellum political parties of the 1850s to critique the national politics of the mid-1980s and the congressional rancor of the day. “He was fully woven into the partisan fabric of his time,” asserted Silbey of Abraham Lincoln. “He was a total political operator—a party hack. But so what?” Saffir also appropriates Silbey’s remarks for the purpose of illuminating the inside affairs of a divided congressional body in 1986 (a Republican Senate and a Democratic House). “What emerged was a responsible party system,” opined Silbey for his view of Civil War-era politics; “the wiles and commitments of the party activist and regular are, therefore, not easily denigrated.” Saffir suggested that Silbey had reasoned correctly: that party loyalty and outspoken partisan opposition (using Saffir’s terms) “turn out men and draw issues in a way that may now be out of fashion but was vital in Lincoln’s day.”

Saffir went on to suggest that the compromising Lincoln, “working within the Whig and then the Republican Party to achieve power for great purposes, is rarely used as an exemplar by high-mindedly nonpolitical orators today. Just the opposite,” he opined: “we think of the political dissension in the North during the Civil War as divisive and harmful to the Union effort, with Lincoln having to jockey between the radical Republican abolitionists and the conservative Democratic civil libertarian Governor of New York. Most of us assume that party politics is a liability in warmaking, and that the one-party Confederacy had an advantage in mobilizing a national campaign. But the absence of a two-party system weakened the South,” reasoned Saffir. “Jeff Davis had no way of enforcing political obedience in the states, as Lincoln did,” he opined. “The clash of parties turns out to be the great instrument in protecting Lincoln’s ‘central idea’ of majority rule. That calculated internal activism needs a new birth today,” declared Saffir. “If Lincoln could speak at Springfield now, he would show us how a great politician is able to rise above the usual rising above politics.”[iii]

But since Saffir passed away in 2009 and is no longer present to comment upon the divided politics and dissension within the Republican Party of 2016, we are left to imagine what he might write for The New York Times about the polarized politics of today and the primary campaigns of a two-party system that has become ineffective in conducting the People's business. One might extrapolate from the essayist’s views of the mid-1980s in imagining what William Saffir would write today; that he would have a wild time in making sense of the current rancor within “the Party of Lincoln” which has led some to question if this might spell the end to Lincoln's "central idea" of majority rule—if not the end of the Grand Old Party itself.

But, because Lincoln was such a strict partisan, access to the Oval Office for the Captains of Industry was assured; and it is realistic to assume that the politics of that time followed the money, just as it does today. As such, it was the miscalculations of the Republicans and their party leader that led to conflict with the Southern planters and politicians–and to the disastrous military action against the aggrieved Confederate States. The horrific war, however, resulted in what is now commonly referred to today as “unintended consequences.” As it now stands, the American Civil War was the country’s bloodiest conflict, yet; the slaughter of America’s sons caused ruined lives and broken hearts for wives and children and mothers and fathers in every corner of the land; there were psychological and emotional wounds, too, for families and communities that have in some respects never healed. “Approximately one in four soldiers that went to war never returned home,” reported the authors at the Civil War Trust who wrote about the 1.2 million casualties. “At the outset of the war, neither army had mechanisms in place to handle the amount of death that the nation was about to experience.” In addition, the loss to the economy exacerbated conditions that inflamed resentments on both sides. “One in thirteen surviving Civil War soldiers returned home missing one or more limbs,” the authors noted. “Pre-war jobs on farms or in factories became impossible or nearly so.” But for many, the report declared, “there was no solution. Tens of thousands of families slipped into destitution.”[iv]

In Nicholas Marshall’s opinion article for The New York Times of April 15, 2014 (“The Civil War Death Toll, Reconsidered”), the author reported that the number of deaths was greater than had been estimated, and yet “it is not enough simply to speak about numbers.” In the effort to reassess the unintentional consequences and costs of the conflict, the authors suggest that the evidence from the period “makes clear that historians need to reevaluate the way we have come to understand the carnage of the Civil War. The war added to an existing demographic and cultural problem rather than creating an entirely new one. Given this milieu, the nearly ubiquitous use by historians of a set of factually correct, yet misleading, statistics need rethinking.”[v] One could argue that the present political climate is a continuing cultural disunity that has yet to be resolved, and that simple solutions recommended in the past are not enough to bring about reconciliation between political parties or regional societies that are currently splitting the party faithful into varying camps, each resentful of the Washington establishment. Indeed, it could be argued that the demands made by one group against the other only exacerbates the wounds that endure from the loss of life and loss of pride painfully subdued within the psyches of the millions of descendants whose forebears fought in that war. Indeed, the racial issues of 2015 that left cities such as Charleston, Ferguson, and Baltimore in question about “systemic” police brutality remain unhealed and unresolved for the nation, as a whole.

After Appomattox, political operatives loyal to the “special interests” of the North were in control of the federal government. But with the President’s assassination, the "Reconstruction South" was left to resolve its own strife and disorder, while the Robber Barons of the North turned the United States Military toward the West to wipe out or subdue Native American societies opposed to expansion beyond the Mississippi, and the threat of an unstoppable American Empire. “The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged 600,000 families to settle the West by giving them land (usually 160 acres) almost free,” reported Wikipedia. “Before the Civil War, Southern leaders opposed the Homestead Acts because they feared it would lead to more free states and free territories. After the mass resignation of Southern senators and representatives at the beginning of the war, Congress was subsequently able to pass the Homestead Act.” But then, as the great cities of the East became swollen by immigrants who were invited to the New World to work the factories and build the growing network of ports and rails that carried away natural resources from the land, the corporate boards of the industrialists and their political stooges in the Nation’s capitol beat down the White and Black families of West Virginia and Kentucky to make of them economic slaves to coal mines from which cheap energy was extracted to fuel the dirty engines of commerce and the economies of the North—a serious game for money and power that has gone on and on, without end, to the present day.

“When you hear charges today that the federal government is overreaching, and the idea that the Constitution recognized us as a league of sovereign states—these were all part of the secessionist charges in 1860,” noted a article in 2008 entitled “4 ways we’re still fighting the Civil War.” “The shutdown of the federal government, war in Libya, the furor over the new health care law and Guantanamo Bay—all have tentacles that reach back to the Civil War,” the report noted. “The Civil War took place during a period of pervasive piety when both North and South demonized one another with self-righteous, biblical language.”[vi] One only needs to reconsider the words from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to understand how certain aspects of the War Between the States lives on in the present-day notions of honor and patriotism which in effect preserves old emotions for both Whites and African-Americans, no matter where they now reside within the country. What could ever possibly resolve this painful past and restore a national sense of trust in a future free from the depression of decline and a rigged economy that leaves many underemployed and without hope?

Writing for on April 6, 2010, author Paul Farrell reported upon the danger signals enumerated by business guru Jim Collins “nine years ago” (more than half a decade before the Wall Street collapse that he predicted). Writing under the headline, “Mighty America’s 5 stages of rapid decline,” Farrell named the stages Collins had warned about: 1) Hubris born of success; 2) Undisciplined pursuit of “More”; 3) Denial of risk and peril; 4) Grasping for Salvation; and 5) Capitalization to irrelevance…or death. One’s very success, Collins had suggested, “might cover up the fact that you’re already on the path of decline.” People become arrogant, it was noted, and insiders see “success virtually as an entitlement.” Then, declared Collins, the belief that we’re so great that we can do anything drives many to “more scale, more growth, more acclaim, more of whatever those in power see as success”–and that, he suggested, justifies mega-bonuses. Those in power “begin to imperil the enterprise by taking outsize risks and acting in a way that denies the consequences”; elected representatives in 2007-2009, Farrell noted, surrendered “the keys to the U.S. Treasury over to Wall Street’s new soulless pseudo-capitalism.” The key to overcoming the decline, noted Farrell of Collin’s warning signs, is Great Leaders. “Does America have a Churchill in the wings, a leader who knows ‘the path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation’.”[vii]

In 1860, that great leader was the "party-hack," Abraham Lincoln. But, at what costs did the 16th President’s partisan decisions of 150 years ago bring upon the nation the unintended consequences that in both subtle and hostile ways continue to divide communities and the country, even at this very moment? It would seem that certain subtle emotions are deeply felt and might actually be at the root of fears that quietly reside in the psyche of the electorate for the present political cycle: Might Donald Trump become the “Great Leader” who will make the country great again? (But at what cost to the nation's destiny, or to the World's?) Yet, this same fear is reported to be present as a widely-shared concern about the warmongering rethoric in Hillary Clinton’s vocal abuse. “Do We Want a Chameleon or an Authentic Person,” asks Ralph West for his Reader Supported News article of February 21, 2016. “If you have read any of the postings of this semi-retired non-political English teacher, you know that I am 200% behind Mr. Sanders,” West admitted. In comparing the authenticity of Sanders to the chameleon-like “changeability of Hillary,” West suggested that she “will always be wearing the colors that suit her endless ambition.” In his view, if Clinton becomes President, “her lingering dedication to Goldman Sachs, etc., will water down all of her ‘commitment’.”[viii] But the same might be said of Donald Trump, of his chameleon-like character—which makes the choice between these two front-runners a matter of real concern for many Americans–and at a time when the nation and its citizens struggle on to recover from the financial wreck of Wall Street’s rigged system and the unintended consequences of speculation and greed which brought about the “Great Recession” that fuels the ongoing resentments over inequality, unfairness, and from racial and ethnic divides.

It could be argued that the cost of the Civil War was more, perhaps much more, than the loss of life itself; the psychological pain that seems to never end as a result of unintended consequences runs too deep to “shame” away. While one side denigrates the other by reminding it that it lost the war and that it should just get over it, the other reacts with indignation by promising to never forget what was done to impoverish the non-slave-holding families of the South whose homeland was invaded and whose farms were destroyed. The psychological wounds that were inflicted run too deep to brush away with insults intended to offend and harden positions long held to for emotional reasons related to lost property, lost livelihoods, and lost relatives. Within half a decade (within less than five years after the end of the Civil War) physicians in America were reporting upon a health phenomenon called “neurasthenia,” a disease identified as a direct consequence of modern life. “And it could only have happened in America,” reported Julie Beck in her Atlantic review of March 11, 2016. In her review of Professor David Schuster’s Neurasthenic Nation, Beck noted that the condition had “a certain American flavor” and that William James, an early psychologist, had termed it “Americanitis.” The journalist goes on to report that the psychological maladies came to be thought of as “an illness of the privileged—the white, Protestant, Northern privileged, mostly. Mental activity was thought to use more energy than physical activity,” Beck reported, and there were those who offered “racist explanations for why blacks and Native Americans didn’t get neurasthenia—because they didn’t overuse their minds.” No mention was made of the region-wide prejudice that has been perpetrated against poor white families of the South whose lives were disrupted and thrown into poverty by a war that left entire communities destitute and without security or the means of educating the next generation for a pathway toward transforming shattered lives. It is supposed that poor white southerners were among those who didn’t get "neurasthenia"–didn't contract Americanitis..

“If there is one sober lesson Americans seem to be taking out of the bathos of the Civil War sesquicentennial, it’s the folly of a nation allowing itself to be dragged into the war in the first place,” wrote Allen Guelzo for The Atlantic of August 23, 2015. “After all, from 1861 to 1865 the nation pledged itself to what amounted to a moral regime change, especially concerning race and slavery—only to realize that it had no practical plan for implementing it. No wonder that two of the most important books emerging from the Sesquicentennial years—by Harvard president Drew Faust, and Yale’s Harry Stout—questioned pretty frankly whether the appalling costs of the Civil War could be justified by its comparatively meager results. No wonder, either, that both of them were written in the shadow of the Iraq War, which was followed by another reconstruction that suffered from the same lack of planning.”[ix]

In an opinion article for the February 21, 2015 issue of The New York Times, entitled “What the North Got Wrong,” author John Ashworth began his piece as follows: “In the years and months preceding the Civil War, the Republicans in general and Abraham Lincoln in particular made many mistakes or misjudgments. And these errors were vitally important in bringing on the war.” The first mistaken, noted Ashworth, “was to underestimate the danger of secession.” The second mistaken “was to underestimate the danger, and the cost, of war, if and when it did come.” Essentially, noted Ashworth, the misconceptions “were the product of current northern social conditions” that bore the imprint (as he put it) “of the interests that were thriving in the free-labor North in the final years and months of the antebellum Republic.” Yet, the so-called “free-labor” doctrine as represented in the author’s account fails to connect the young nation’s economic and social conditions of the past to those that threaten to bring about an end to the two-party political system of the present—a system which, in truth, is actually a critical component of the same "rigged economy" that brought civil war upon the American People.

“Do you enjoy being forced to choose between one of two candidates,” asks author Eric Sanders in “Bipolar Politics: The Beginning and End of the Two-Party System.” “If we truly believe in democracy and freedom, and wish to do more than merely talk about them theoretically, then we have no alternative but to get rid of these archaic laws that force us to vote for only one candidate.”[x] Though the Constitution does not establish the party system we have inherited, it was the political climate of the years that immediately preceded the Civil War that gave rise to the two-parties that survive as a direct result of Lincoln’s “central idea” of “majority rule.” In truth, the stress put upon the electorate at that time was not dissimilar to what is being experienced today by individuals who are dismayed at the thought of having to choose between the front-runners in the 2016 Primary Cycle. There is no doubt but that the two-party system is an “establishment” device that directly supports the "rigged economy," a system that permits the Washington elites to better manage their chances of staying in power against the threat of "outsiders." If the electoral system permitted the people to vote for an Independent candidate in 2016, there is every reason to consider the likelihood that Senator Sanders would have run as an Independent (and not as a Democrat), and that he might even have reasoned that he would have a better chance of receiving more votes than either of the Super Tuesday frontrunners. There is also reason to believe that the shenanigans of both the Democrats and Republicans that helped to bring about the Great Recession might have been averted had the two-party system been reformed years before. There seems little doubt that the stress and financial wreck the American people are struggling to overcome has resulted from a political climate that leaves the electorate with having to choose between front-runners that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents feel they cannot trust.

“Too much stress, too little sleep, rushed meals, technology that seems to change faster than we can begin to keep up with,” wrote Greg Daugherty for the Smithsonian of March 25, 2015 to describe the effects resulting from the Great Recession of the present. “If those complaints sound familiar, chances are they’d have resonated with your great-great grandparents too,” he instructed his reader of the what took place generations ago. Medical practitioners in 1870, he reported, “suggested that the country’s legendary work ethic and go-getter spirit might be a form of mental illness they called Americanitis.”[xi] Some writers, it was noted, suggested that the condition was the result of “the hurry, bustle and incessant drive of the American temperament,” or “a consequence of the country’s incessant busyness.” But there was no mention of the psychological burden of guilt and shame or bitterness and hatred that arose from the years of war that took its toll on the families from both the North and the South. The horror of assassination and the aftermath of dark sorrow and psychological pain were unaccounted for in either of the articles named above.

Fast-forward to late March 2016, to two weeks after the election night speech in Phoenix where Senator Sanders addressed a large gathering of supporters who might otherwise have been dismayed by Secretary Clinton’s increased gain of delegates from Super Tuesday's turnout. Senator Sanders has since also gained significant numbers of delegates and added virgorous momentum to his campaign for the presidency by identifying the distress experienced by ordinary Americans, which he attributes to a “rigged economy” brought about by Wall Street speculators, banks too big to fail, and the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in the “Citizens United” case–a ruling which granted evermore voice and personhood to the corporate entity. Yet there seems to be little voice for this view, that the present conditions of overwork and mental distress are connected in any way to the Americanitis of today that began when early financiers of the antebellum North pushed the country into civil war from which the nation has yet to recover its Revolutionary War identify and psyche. "Most of all," wrote Joel H. Silbey in describing the political life and times of Abraham Lincoln, "he fit a particular model endemic to his time: a new type of political activist that had replaced the great statesmen of the revolutionary era and their successors in the generations up to the 1830s." And though slavery was ended as an institution that had corroded the moral authority of the nation's character, it was not the economic cause that had brought about the conflict. Even Southern Aboltionists as early as 1795 were writing to General Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry to request that legislation be introduced to end the practice of slavery. There were numorous slave-holders who freed their slaves and voluntarily ended the practice for themselves decades before the war. As such, slavery was not the cause for the war. And, what is more, abolition of slavery failed to end segregation in the South and resulted in mass out-migration of African-Americans to the cities of the North where they also endured segregation, prejudice, and subsistance wages. Indeed, the power of the elites who pushed the nation into war was oppressive, as it continues to be so; and it is arguable that the economics of inequality has made financial slaves of the Middle Class itself, which, in effect, has been forced to sell its soul to the company store.

It could be argued that the Civil War of one-hundred and fifty years ago has morphed into the Global War Against Terror we have today, and that the same "rigged economy" and its unintended consequences will continue to influence Central Banks of the West to struggle with making policy shifts for a sputtering economy that seems destined to grow slowly for an indefinite number of years ahead. It could also be argued that, since the end of World War II, China and India (indeed, the rest of the World) have had to fall in line under the political and economic pressures wrought by a rigged system that was instituted a hundred years earlier, which caused the disastrous War Between the States. What took place in Brussels recently is but one more incident in a conflagration of opposing values between the East and the West that goes back millennia. But the peculiar economic realities of the West are of but a few centuries in the making, and have contributed to an escalating conflict for the World that has brought death and terror upon European and American soils. To make matters ever more intense, Americans are faced with the burden of costs for its longest war, with the inequalities that come with such a financial burden; at the same time, they are faced with having to choose sides in the current political cycle which seems to foreshadow the end to an outdated two-party system that is arguably overdue.

Now that the middle-class has become painfully aware that the company store is soulless, it becomes understandable why the Senator from Vermont is drawing such large and passionate crowds of citizens, young and old, who know first-hand why the candidate is presenting a radical platform. There is no question but that the Senator has been consistently honest in his unchanging assessment that the "rigged economy" threatens to destroy or diminish our democracy while it asks for a sacrifice of low-wage labor and unbearable debt for generations already burdened by the excesses of a moneyed-class of elites who reap unfair rewards. But what is strangely ironic is that the “socialist” from Vermont is fighting against a rigged economy that is, in truth, a “socialized” system made powerful by decisions that were made during the Great Depression in preparation for World War II. The “managerial capitalism” of the 1930s, reported Buckminster Fuller in 1980 for Critical Path, welcomed new designs brought about “in the form of many new armament designs.” Just before the war, instructed Fuller, the Wall Street lawyers approached the Roosevelt administration and made certain demands that would obligate the government to reward the corporations for their cooperation. Those corporations, reported Fuller, “earned an average of 10 percent on every [product] turnover. This meant that in World War II for every annual war budget—running at first at $70 billion per year—10 percent, or $7 billion, was earmarked for distribution to the stockholders of the corporations. Complete socialization of the stockholders of the prime U.S.A. corporations was accomplished.” This “discreditation,” wrote Fuller, “has been brought about without the U.S.A. people’s knowledge of the money-maker-world’s invisible cheating.”

This “cheating” game made public by Fuller's account has continued to this day by way of actions our government continues to make for trade agreements that profit the stockholders of the corporations at the expense of the taxpayer. “By 1953 it became apparent that the Wall Street lawyers were moving the major American corporations out of America,” reported Fuller. “Of the 100 largest corporation in America four out of five of their annual investment dollars in new machinery and buildings for 1953 went exclusively into their foreign operations.” In Fuller’s critically-acclaimed book of 1980, he reported that this “four-fifths rate persisted for a score of years.” In illuminating the invisible cheating scheme, as documented, Fuller went on to note that “each new year’s foreign aid bill had a rider that said that if American companies were present in the country being aided, the money had to be spent through those American companies.” Foreign aid, he insisted, “paid for all the new factories and machinery of all the American corporations moving out of America.”[xii]

Senator Sanders is courageous in that he has always made it clear as an Independent member of Congress that he is a “democratic socialist” and that he is strictly committed to the well-being of the American taxpayer and to the United States of America. This would help to explain why Sanders was so put off by Donald Trump’s false accusation that the senator from Vermont is “a communist.” “He’s a pathological liar,” Sanders responded. By contrast, it is clear why Sanders can call his opponent a liar while Hillary Clinton cannot use the term in attacking the businessman from New York. Clinton has her own cross to bear with regard to whether or not she can be counted on to tell the truth. Indeed, it is imagined that Trump would jump at the chance to debate her on the issue of trustworthiness. They both score embarrassingly low by that measure.

But is it any wonder that Donald Trump has been able to stymie the GOP by lying and capitalizing on the fear and insecurity that the “American Economic Model” has brought into the World? “But all republics and democracies in history do have something in common,” reported Adam Gopnik for The New Yorker of March 24, 2016. “They’re fragile,” he suggested. “That’s why Lincoln could speak so solemnly at Gettysburg of government of the people, by the people, for the people perishing from the Earth.” Gopnik went on to suggest that whether “moved by rich men’s recklessness or poor people’s fearfulness—or a little of both—strong social arrangements do fall too easily apart.” But one is reminded of the story about the author of the Gettysburg address, and of comments Lincoln is reported to have made soon thereafter. “When I left Springfield, I asked the people to pray for me; I was not a Christian,” he said. “When I buried my son—the severest trial of my life—I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg, and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.”[xiii]

In his post at, Samuel Wheeler noted that the statement by Lincon came from an article in the Freeport Weekly Journal of Freeport, Illinois. “Here’s the shocker,” he suggested: “the article appeared on December 7, 1864. In other words, during Lincoln’s lifetime. In my view,” reported Wheeler, “this lends substantial credibility to the purported quote. But what does it mean?” In quoting from Wayne C. Temple’s book, From Skeptic to Prophet, Wheeler repeated Temple’s remarks as a commentary upon the question that remains. “And the honest President did not rush to join a church after speaking at Gettysburg," the author reported. "For a number of years he had been a God-fearing mortal, and he often referred to the United States as a Christian nation, yet Lincoln still did not publicly acknowledge himself to be a Christian. Lincoln’s attitude toward Christ is most difficult to evaluate.” One can hardly ignore the involuntary thought about how President Lincoln's political acumen compares with the outrageous political audactiry of Donald Trump. But this then leads one to reconsider the fact that though the senator from Vermont is Jewish, he is, to his credit, honest and forthright in a professed commitment to his faith. And though it appears he has never confused the matter of his faith with his role as a politician, he freely admits that his faith, nonetheless, informs his character. He professes to be an admirer of Pope Francis, which is a perfectly reasonable tenet for any leader to profess; indeed, this tolerant view is refreshing, given the intolerant views expressed by some others. The senator, in fact, openly defends the rights of Muslin-American citizens devoted to the Islamic faith. Quite frankly, the Judeo-Christian vlaues of our forebears are actually brough to modern maturity by Senator Sander's patriotic outlook and tolerant views. Perhaps these matters of faith that are front and center in the campaigns of 2016 offer the electorate hope and optimism for the important questions about the pluralistic society the United States has brought to the world; that such an evolved national character will actually contribute in an open way to making the country great again. Indeed, if  Senator Sanders is successful in his bid for the presidency, such an outcome will present a hopeful and mature political model for the World.

In concluding these observations about "America's Rigged Economy," there is sound reason to consider that the effects the Civil War of a hundred and fifty years ago are still with us as they remain present by way of President Lincoln’s central idea of "majority rule" as enforced by the two-party system that grew solidified in the years just before the Civil War. Yet, little is said about the effects as they impact us still, or about the hundreds of thousands of Americans lives senselessly lost during the War Between the States; or about how this wound upon the people continues to divide the electorate; or that such wounds are unlikely to be healed so soon—or not until the excuses made for the conflagration our grandparents were forced to endure are articulated to become a common fact of history for all Americans: that both sides in War Between the States were at fault—one terribly wrong and the other horribly wrong. The terror of a war that wrought destruction upon the people a century and a half ago still resides within our present psyche. But surprisingly, the physicians of long ago failed to assign the cause of “neurasthenia” to the battle scars of a conflict between the North and the South that resulted in either death or disability for more than a “thousand-thousand” Americans. Lincoln, it appears, was too partisan to prevent the conflict, too politically loyal to party to properly assign blame for the conflict to the “rigged economy” of the Robber Barons who took control of the nation’s financial houses and began a rule over Wall Street that continues to this day.

It is clear to this writer that we need a New Economic Model, not one based on “more” of whatever it is that those who mistakenly judge what makes one successful might be, but one that is transformed and grounded in a realistic vision of better lives for workers in every corner of American life–indeed, for all people: a new system modeled on the American sense of fairness and justice and a respect for humanity and the natural world—not a system of greed and power that has driven our nation into the same disfunctional ditch that once resulted in the slaughter of nearly a million American citizens during a Civil War that ended with unintended consequences and economic enslavement of both Blacks and Whites who were set upon to work for the machine that goes on destroying nature and the consciousness of the American soul–a rigged economy and system that pays healthy dividends to shareholders of the corporations that run the show. A slower pace of economic life and good sense might be just what the doctor should order: a rational pace out of which the country elects a real leader who can inspire the nation to work together in building a future that brings about improved infrastructure planned upon what’s possible from producing more with less: a society that is happy with an economy no longer rigged against itself. In this author’s view, the senator from Vermont promises some hope that together we can move our nation forward to a fairer political system no longer rigged against the electorate of today or the generations that will follow.

[i] Walter E. Williams, “Abraham Lincoln,” February 20, 2013:

[ii] John Ashworth, “What the North Got Wrong,” The New York Times, February 2, 2011; http://opinionator.blogs,

[iii] William Saffir, “Essay: Lincoln the Party Hack?” The New York Times, February 14, 1986:




[iv] Civil War Trust, “Civil War Casualties,”




[v] Nicholas Marshall, “The Civil War Death Toll, Reconsidered,” The New York Times, April 15, 2014.




[vi], “4 ways we’re still fighting the Civil War,” 2008 Cable Network News,…

[vii] Paul B. Farrell, “Mighty America’s 5 stages of rapid decline,”




[viii] Ralph West, “Do We Want a Chameleon or an Authentic Person?”, February 21, 2016.




[ix] Allen Quelzo, “Did Religion Make the American Civil War Worse?” The Atlantic, August 23, 2015.




[x] Eric Sanders, “Bipolar Politics: The Beginning and End of the Two-Party System,




[xi] Greg Daugherty, “The Brief History of Americanitis,”




[xii] R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1980 (see “Socialism”).




[xiii] Samuel P. Wheeler, “Was Lincoln a Christian?” for Lincoln Studies at







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Evolved Thinking

 Posted by at 2:13 am  1 Response »
Oct 242015

On Tuesday, November 8th, 1960 I cast my first vote in a U.S. presidential election, at the age of 23.  I voted for Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy. I was a Southern Baptist ministerial student at the time, and although I did not openly admit it, I was influenced by the fervent anti-Catholic sentiments I heard around me in Tennessee. Preachers said that a vote for Kennedy was a vote to have the Pope running things in America. My voiced rationale for the Nixon vote was that he was "more experienced." 

kennedy nixonI did learn better. In the 1964 election I voted for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, then for Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968, then for George McGovern against Nixon (who seemed never to go away) in 1972. My thinking on Nixon and what he represented had clearly "evolved." 

I grew up in rural Tennessee, and although he had a Ph.D, my father was still a mountain man from North Carolina. He gave me a rifle at an early age and taught me to shoot and hunt. I developed a love for guns and hunting and marksmanship.

I joined the National Rifle Association and benefitted from its connection with the U.S. military that allowed NRA members to purchase surplus weapons for almost nothing. I obtained and refinished guns such as the classic M1903 Springfield .30-06, the army M1 .30 Carbine, and the .45 caliber pistol. I learned to re-finish and re-blue weapons, and to fit and furnish them with new and beautiful wooden stocks. In those days you might have called me a "gun nut" and been pretty accurate.

I also was a hunter. I have aimed at, shot, and killed squirrels, rabbits, dogs, ducks, deer, crows, groundhogs, doves, hawks, pheasants, rats, snakes, quail, frogs, large fish in a river, racoons, and possums, to name those I can recall. I once shot at a wild boar but missed. In those days I would probably have hunted and killed an African lion named Cecil if I posessed the money to do so.

1024px-National_Rifle_Association.svgBut today I would not even consider shooting an animal. I still own some of my old guns but I haven't fired one in years. I love watching wildlife films and doing wildlife photography. My thinking has evolved on the subject of killing animals. It has also evolved on the subject of the National Rifle Association, whose politics I now detest.

When I was a young man, the smoking of tobacco was stylish and popular. I had a professor I greatly admired, and he wore a vest and smoked a pipe. I got a vest and bought a pipe and tried my best to learn to use it. The pipe and my mouth and nose never took to each other, and I finally gave up on the effort, which I am grateful for today. Over time, the truth about smoking tobacco came out, despite the efforts of tobacco companies and the politicians whose votes they owned. Today, public sentiment is totally reversed on the subject of tobacco. Our national thinking has evolved on this subject.

When a person changes her mind on a matter, friends will give her credit for evolved thinking. The unsympathetic will call it "flip flopping." You might assume that flip flopping and evolved thinking are the same. You might believe that the only difference is in how they are being described, whether in supportive or derisive terms. Actually I think there's a difference between the two.

When a person changes his mind on a subject of importance, the decision may or may not be based on conviction and sincerity. An open and reasoning mind may not have been involved at all, just convenience or expediency or practical self interest. In this case, the term "flip flopping" fits well and is not inappropriate. But if a person begins to see things in a new and different light, finds and accepts new evidence, struggles with and overcomes old prejudice–when that happens things are totally different.

Thus, it seems to me, there are two kinds of change: one based on sincere reason, and the other based on following external influences. And, to make a judgement on the matter, one of these is admirable and the other is not. One is to be admired and the other is to be suspected. One can be trusted and the other cannot. 

We trust and admire those who live by the advice of Shakespeare's Polonius to his son Laertes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Evolved thinking, if it is that, must arise from within a self that is true to itself.

The outcome may not be the most expedient, or the most profitable, or the most popular.

But you can live with it.

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May 212015

When I was a boy and aspiring to become a man, I spent most of my summers at Boy Scout camp. For me, this was Camp Pellissippi on Norris Lake in East Tennessee. I began as a regular camper and later became a camp counselor and handicrafts instructor. I was also the camp bugler. I played Reveille to get them up, Assembly to form them into rows before the flag, and Mess Call to bring them to meals. Other calls sounded throughout the day, and Taps was played at the end, when they were obliged to go to sleep.

The highlight of my week at camp was the Saturday morning swim meet down on the waterfront. We swam in the lake, but mostly inside a floating wooden "crib" as it was called. Wooden boards formed the side walls and bottom of the crib, and it was supported in the water by empty oil drums. Water from the lake circulated freely in and out. It was much like a regular swimming pool, having diving boards, walkways, ladders, and life guards. The crib was attached to shore and held in place with cables, and these were adjusted as the lake level rose or fell.

My favorite swim meet event was the underwater swim. The goal was to swim farther underwater than anyone else. Those entered went one at a time and the order was determined by drawing straws or guessing a number or something similar. I became good at swimming distances underwater. I learned how to hyperventilate and store up oxygen in my system, and how to dive in with lungs full and exhale most grudgingly. Another camper was good as well, and one or the other of us always won the event. Often it came down to the order. If he went first, I had the advantage of knowing just how far I needed to go to beat him. If I went first, this advantage was his.

One memorable Saturday, I had to go first. I went through my breathing routine and dove in. I swam down to the end, came back, went down again, came back, turned and went part way and came up. His turn. He went down to the end, came back, went down again, came back, turned and started but didn't come up. Instead a lot of bubbles came up and he stayed down. The life guards dove in and pulled him out, and he coughed up water but soon was okay. We were both pretty serious about winning this event.

Pool signI'm reminded of those days when I go to my pool in Germantown, Maryland, and observe the dire warning about swimming underwater. I can only guess that no underwater swimming events are held at Boy Scout camps these days. In fact, I heard the other day that the Scouts have banned water guns at scouting activities. Apparently as a concession, they still allow the throwing of water balloons, but only those filled to the size of a tennis ball.

Nearby in Silver Spring, the police have picked up children for walking to school or to the neighborhood park without adult supervision, and their parents have been investigated by child protective services for suspected abuse or neglect. 

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is a beautiful swimming hole at "The Y" on the road into the park from Townsend, Tennessee. For generations, young boys have climbed up the rocks and practiced diving into those mountain waters. Young girls and older people used to gather along the bank on the other side and watch. The braver boys climbed up higher and made a bigger splash. Recently the Park Service has banned this activity and put up a sign warning of consequences if you do it and get caught. 

I know that there is more risk of my getting hurt from riding my bicycle than from sitting on the sofa watching daytime television, but I would like the choice to be mine, not someone else's. I know that going out in my kayak is more dangerous than shopping at the Safeway, but don't tell me I can't go out. Indeed there are activities whose risks I would not assume: skydiving, BASE jumping, ice climbing, scuba dive cave exploring, and others often termed "extreme." But I would hate to see us tell those people, no, they must not do those things. Or children walking to and from school. Or swimmers swimming underwater.

I would rather live in a land of the free.

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Apr 252015

Numerous U.S. State legislatures have passed or are considering what are termed "Religious Freedom Bills." These exempt the owner of a business from liability for refusing to do business in cases where the owner has a religious objection. When asked what problem these bills seek to address, the example often given is that of a Christian cake baker who is requested to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

gayweddingcakeIt is assumed that the cake baker will gladly bake a cake for John and Mary, but objects to the wedding of John and Jim, or of Mary and Sally. The cake baker considers these relationships immoral and does not wish to be associated with them. Providing cake-baking services might be construed as giving approval to a sinful act. Apparently, in this person's church, you do not want to become known as a friend of sinners.

"Friend of sinners" . . . I remember that phrase from somewhere. Actually it was a term used against Jesus by his self-righteous critics (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34). Jesus was known to associate with the most despised people of his day: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, adulterers, Samaritans, thieves, Roman occupiers, and street beggars. Jesus was also known to suggest that these friends of his had higher moral standing than his self-righteous critics. Which brings us back to the sinner-avoiding Christian cake baker.

Really? If you are in the cake baking business, you want to pick and choose your customers? You want to focus your moral judgment on each person who comes to the counter and consider if you should be associated with him or her? Maybe you don't want to serve Muslims or Buddhists or Jehovah's Witnesses? You don't want anything to do with sex offenders or former prison inmates? What about "sinful" (your judgment) women who have had abortions? Why not screen for use of contraceptives or foul language or immodest dress habits? When you aim to create a legal protection for moral judgments, the list goes on and on.

In the days of start-up Christianity, believers would not have turned to the State to enforce their morality. They would have baked their cake, or not, and accepted the consequences. Only now, in America, where professed Christians are 85% of the population, do they seek support of the State, affirming that they are, indeed, the State religion and deserving of special treatment. This is historically interesting in that a formally despised religious minority is now exercising its muscle as the religious majority. The persecuted have evolved to become the wielders of power, despite their roots.

I have a dear gay friend who recently married his same-sex partner of many years. As a confirmed heterosexual, I admit that to some confusion of feelings about homosexuality. I was not born to that lifestyle. But I acknowledge that my friend was, and I wish him well with his partner. I feel this is a Christ-like position to take on the matter. I also do not consider my heterosexuality to be morally superior to his. Apparently god creates some of us one way and some the other. I accept this.

That Christian heterosexuals will turn to government legislation to enforce their moral judgments on others is troubling to me.

Why not just bake the damn cake for whoever needs one?

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Apr 252015

As a former Southern Baptist myself, I was much interested in President Carter's reaction to recent actions by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is the the largest protestant religious body in the U.S. 

450986231-8aa3bc9064417c9c4b78ddfdb32837aa3eb8e7e0-s800-c15I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

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Jun 202014

He had made an appointment to see me at 1:30 to "catch up." When I looked up and saw him walking in, I saw there was an HR person following. Inwardly I said, "Oh Shit!" Verbally I said, "Looks like I'm in trouble."

2014-06-20_05-40-29So yesterday I went to my local Social Security office to apply for Medicare to replace the company health plan I'll be losing soon.

The SSA office opens at 9:00 a.m. and I arrived right on time so I could get this done promptly. Instead, I found there were 50 people already there and lined up ahead of me. The guard opened the door on schedule, and we were all assigned a number and told to wait for our number to be called. Others kept arriving and all the seating on the hard steel rows of benches was taken and newcomers began standing around the walls. It seemed to take about 5 minutes for a new number to be called. That was not encouraging.

retirement250-70My number did get called a little over 2 hours later. A young man standing behind me said that yesterday he had waited three and a half hours without getting his number called. He had to leave to go to work, and so he was back for a second day.

When I finally got to the window and stated my business, I was given a form that my company needed to fill out and sign. When I returned with the form that afternoon, conditions in the office were about the same. I spent another 2 hours there, with plenty of opportunity to reflect.

For a person used to being around people with good jobs and lives in reasonable order, this experience was a sad one. The many pictures on the walls and on the Social Security literature show healthy, smiling, happy people from all walks of life. But the people waiting in these lines and on these benches were not smiling. Almost all appeared to be among Mitt Romney's 47%. The "takers" as he described them. They were people struggling to make it: elderly, immigrant, sick or disabled, mothers with small children restless or crying, young people needing a social security card to work at low paying jobs. I felt strange in this place, as if I was out of place. And yet this is now my place. I will need to come back here.

medicare250-70A friend who cares for a disabled child wrote me: "It’s a sad state of affairs at SSA and Medicare.  I can’t tell you how many times my daughter gets updates on payments, gets payments, and then gets billed for the same amounts–all within a day or two. it’s definitely human error, and I can understand your concern about your info getting entered correctly.  Sad indeed."

I found myself thinking that if FedEx or Google or Amazon were running this operation it would be much different. I even ventured that if I was running it, it would be much different. But then I considered that likely the funding for this operation has been cut again and again, and maybe they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. I do recall that recently the VA administrator was fired for not getting our veterans served properly. But then the politicians turned right around and appropriated large sums of money to hire more doctors and build more hospitals for the VA. This suggests that the agency was under-resourced and under-funded and that the administrator had been made the scapegoat. 

Oh well, as long as I get my Medicare, I'll be happy. Or sad.

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