October 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
A teenage girl from Central America entered the United States seeking asylum. She was apprehended by customs officials and detained, awaiting a ruling on her right to remain in the United States.
The girl was pregnant when she entered the United States. She concluded, based on her knowledge of her own ability and the circumstances in which she found herself, that it would be unwise for her to assume responsibility for raising a child. So she sought an abortion.
When she asked for the care of a doctor she was confronted with interference by the United States government, prompted and led by Scott Lloyd, appointed by President Trump to oversee the Resettlement of Refugees.
Mr. Lloyd had little or no experience to qualify him for that post but he did have a long record of expressing his Roman Catholic religious opposition to abortion. Based on the beliefs of that religious sect, he unleashed the power of the federal government to impose his zeal on the teenage girl and, heedless of her beliefs, force her to give birth to a child.
She was told she could abandon her right to seek asylum in the U.S. or abandon her right to abort her pregnancy. If she asserted her right to asylum, she would have to give up her right to abort her pregnancy.
The ACLU responded to this assault on the girl’s rights and, not surprisingly, obtained judicial relief for her. She obtained an abortion. This result was achieved, however, only after the girl was forced to watch a movie starring the fetus and enduring a harangue by one or more representatives of religious sects trying to impose their religious beliefs on her and warning her that, by asserting her right to abort her pregnancy, she was committing a sin.
The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” I know the key court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right tto abort a pregnancy was based on the “right of privacy” and not on this (to me at least) plain language of our Bill of Rights. The result delights me but the facts of this latest episode express, to me at least, eloquently and precisely why it is so un-American and disgraceful to subject a young woman to religious tests and forced shaming before she is allowed to make a decision about her own body.
To me the “free exercise” of religion means rejecting religion altogether is a right no less valuable than the right to choose adherence to any one of the myriad of religious doctrines commanding the devotion of men and women all over the world. I have no hostility toward religion and I am proud of our Constitution’s protection of its exercise. I do, however, regard forcing one’s religious choices on another person as a vile and evil practice with a history rife with examples of man’s ability and inclination to engage in cruelty and mass murder on a scale that beggars the imagination.
If any of my readers doubt the truth of this last statement, here is citation obtained by a brief Google search: https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword
The Importance of Language
I have so far expressed my outrage at the effort to impose a particular religious idea on a girl seeking an abortion. I now need to respond to those who dissent by expressing care and concern for the fetus who was the subject of the girl’s abortion.
First, I think it is useful to address the meaning of the word “person”. Here is the definition: “[a] noun : human being, individual, man/woman, child, human, being, (living) soul, mortal, creature; personage, character, customer; ,. . . .”
The absurd problem with which our laws now entangle us began with the judicial necromancy that equated the word “person” with a legal device designed to facilitate the organization of investors to pool money in a business enterprise and to limit their potential liability to the value of the device. The device is a corporation. A corporation has no pulse. It cannot be drafted or imprisoned. It can be terminated without judicial intervention. It cannot breathe. It has no pulse. It has no heart. In short it has no resemblance to a human being. Despite these facts, for more than a century, as a result of a feat of verbal gymnastics by the Supreme Court, corporations are deemed to be “persons”.
This kind of redefining words is the type of language abuse foreshadowed in Lewis Caroll’s Humpty Dumpty:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”
Decades later, George Orwell warned us about allowing government to redefine words in his novel “1984”. He reminded us that our laws and our Constitution protect us only to the extent stated in their words. And when we loose words from their moorings and allow them to be redefined by power-seeking politicians, we endanger our freedom. Here is New York Times 2007 essay expressing this concern, one I fully share:
As a result of the above referenced Supreme Court decision conflating a corporation with the word “person”, when the government of the United States seeks to regulate the activities of a corporation it must do so within the confines of our Bill of Rights. It is my fervent hope that, sooner or later, our Constitution will, be amended to solve this absurdity with an amendment. We regulate the actions of motor vehicles on our roads and I am confident we will be able to regulate the activities of corporations without the pretense based on this nonsense.
One result of this misinterpretation of the word “person” is the Supreme Court decision that enabled corporations to engage in politics and finance candidates for election. In other words, a brainless, conscienceless zombie creation of one or more people has potential influence on the election of government officials equal to an actual human being.
Another pernicious result of this institutionalized ignorance is the notion, enthusiastically embraced by the religious zealots who feel divinely appointed to impose their religious doctrine on expectent mothers, equating a zygote to a “person” entitled to all of the protection of the Bill of Rights. [To appreciate the twisted interpretation of language this idea requires: Here is a definition of a zygote: “A fertilized female egg from which a baby will develop is an example of a zygote.”]
A zygote is not a person. A person is a living breathing animal who has been removed and disconnected from a woman’s womb. Confusing the meaning of words to blur this distinction leads to unnecessary intrusion into the rights of a woman while she cares for and nurtures her unborn child. It does not add protection to the child and it infringes the rights of the mother. Separating the rights of a mother from the rights of her unborn child enables meddling outsiders to interject themselves into what is the most personal and intimate relationship of our species: the relationship of a woman to her own body.
We now have members of various religious sects picketing clinics where abortions are performed; political efforts to make such clinics impractical for low income patients to access by locating them hundreds of miles away from population centers; requiring waiting periods requiring overnight stays, thus increasing the expense and, again, denying access to low income patients – the imagination of those hateful people intent on “protecting the unborn” while harassing expectant mothers is fueled by their self righteous zeal.
I know this effort is an angry one. I am angry. I have daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters. The possibility that they can be bullied and defamed because of their personal religious ideas or their lack thereof outrages me. I know they, like he rest of us, may be prey from criminals who wish to harm them. That risk is part of living in a world with a diverse population.
That said, however, it makes me angrier that their safety and self respect may be threatened by religious zealots who presume to impose their ideas of morality on my family. I believe morality and religiosity are personal matters so long as they don’t infringe the rights of others. If a person’s religious belief is that abortion is wrong, he or she should discourage his family from engaging in it. If, instead, he or she believes his relationship with the God of his or her understanding empowers him or her to meddle into the beliefs of my family, then he or she loses my tolerance as I would expect him or her to react if I presumed to lecture him or her about my ideas about his or her religion. The idea that religious zeal entitles one to use the force of government to impose religious conformity on others is abhorant to the idea of America.
It is of no concern to me whether my neighbor chooses to worship God through the good offices of a Pope or through his own understanding of the Bible or through some pattern or structure he conceives for himself after solemn thought. I once knew of a man who, after reaching middle age without giving any serious thought to a belief in God, felt the need to add religion to his life. He finally elected to worship a palm tree in the South Texas town where he lived as the object to which he directed his prayers.
I sincerely respect the right of everyone to choose for himself or herself the object of religious devotion. I do not, however, have any tolerance for anyone attempting to recruit me into his or her religious sect by disparaging my conclusions or the conclusions of others about religion. I believe the choice of a religion and the choice of whether or not to give birth to a child are two of the most personal matters best left to the personal judgment and choice of each human being in a free society. Those choices should not be voted on. They should not be publicly shamed or disparaged. They should not be the subject of laws seeking to impose religious tests and doctrines. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is not a laboratory for experimentation and moral dictation by self appointed religious monitors.
October 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
A young Marine, La David Johnson, from Florida, was recently killed in a fire fight in Niger. His body was returned home for burial.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had known Johnson and his family for years, accompanied his mother as she was driven to the airport to attend the arrival of her son’s body. During that journey, Ms. Johnson received a tlephone call from President Trump. He expressed his sympathy but included in his remarks that the young Marine ” . . .knew what he signed up for . . . .”, which was interpreted by La David’s mother and by Congresswoman Wilson as an insensitive suggestion that Ms. Johnson should not feel the government should express regret or sympathy for her loss because her son knew what he volunteered for.
Congresswoman Wilson later issued a public statement critical of President Trump’s remark. Trump, true to his well founded reputation for mendacity, first denied having said what he said, but others in the car who heard it because the phone was “on spoeaker” when he spoke to Ms. Johnson, confirmed the accuracy of Congresswoman Wilson’s account.
After this dispute was widely publicized, John Kelly, Chief of Staff for the Trump administration and a retired Marine general, called a press conference and made a lengthy statement which began with an appropriate explanation about the usual practice of making condolence calls to the survivors of men and women killed in a military action.
Then, however, General Kelly launched into a vicious attack directed at Congresswoman Wilson. He did not call her by name but, instead referred to he as “an empty barrel”. He went on to recount his recollection of her remarks at the dedication of a government building in Florida named for two FBI agents killed in the line of duty. He claimed she used the occasion to praise herself for securing the financing of the building. This was not true. The Congresswoman did not become a member of Congress until years after the building was built.
He referred to the Congresswoman’s reference to Trump’s phone call to Ms. Johnson as if it had been a surreptitious effort to listen to a private conversation. He knew full well that the phone call had been heard by all those in the car with Ms. Johnson.
He laced his remarks with his own respect for women and plainly implied that Congresswoman Wilson did not qualify for it. Lest I be accused of misstating General Kelly’s scurrilous language, here is a link to a transcript. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/us/politics/statement-kelly-gold-star.html?_r=0
I realize I am spreading this vile statement by citing it but I trust that any intelligent reader with any vestige of a conscience or sense of decency will share my disgust at this rant from a Marine General and member of the President’s cabinet.
I was ten years old when WWII began. During the next five years, like most young Americans, I was fascinated with the exploits of American armed forces. I especially admired Marines because they were all volunteers. They were the first to respond to enemy threats and their bravery was well known and well earned. I learned all the words to the Marines Hymn and was thrilled when I heard it sung. These four lines express my belief in the meaning of being a Marine:”
“First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.”
I am now 86 years old and, during that lifetime I have forsaken many illusions about the true quality and integrity of my fellow citizens and, in retrospect, I have accepted my own failings. I have not, however, become a cynic nor have I ignored the ability of people to change and to make amends for their mistakes. Through all these changes I have retained my respect for Marines. I know we now have new heroes: Navy Seals, Army Rangers and other groups of specially trained warriors but I still respect and admire Marines as honorable patriotic Americans.
So, it is especially sad for me when a man with the long career of service as a United States Marine, a warrior as well as a scholar, who has educated himself in our finest universities and numerous military training schools, allows himself to become enthralled and defensive by and on behalf of an empty suit enclosing a narcissistic blundering fool like Donald Trump. There can be no honor there. There is no patriotic splendor there. There is no intellectual depth there. Trump has the attention span of a gnat and the moral integrity of an alley cat.
General Kelly should publicly apologize to Congresswoman Wilson for his false and insulting attack on her.. I don’t want or expect him to change his opinion of her. This country, however, is a constitutional republic. The Constitution was deliberately designed to subordinate military force to the authority of Congress. When General Kelly decided to pursue a military career, he swore allegiance to that Constitution.
He is entitled to his personal opinion of Congresswoman Wilson but he is not free to disrespect the office she holds or to publicly attack her. If he wants to do that, he should resign his commission, his cabinet post and run for office. His press conference rant was a plain violation of these well known rules of propriety and for that violation, he should make a public apology. There is no dishonor in making a mistake but it is dishonorable to refuse to acknowledge a mistake.
Having included a citation to General Kelly’s diatribe against a member of Congress, I will use this post to preserve a citation to a speech by former GOP President George W. Bush. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/10/19/george-w-bushs-anti-trump-manifesto-annotated/?utm_term=.13adebba0c60
I have not been an admirer of President Bush and I agree with Aristotle that “One swallow does not a summer make.” He has, never the less, well expressed ideas that have too long been absent from our public discourse. This, however, does not change my opinion that his presidency did not well serve our country.
May 10, 2017 § 1 Comment
The Current Uproar
Yesterday President Trump fired James Comey, the FBI Director. The news commentariat is obsessed with his motives for that decision. His critics contend he was fearful lest Comey and his investigators would uncover damning evidence of collusion between Vladimir Putin and Trump or his managers and advisors to discredit Hillary Clinton and favor Trump during the presidential election campaign. This would cast a shadow of doubt about the legitimacy of Trump’s election to the presidency; i.e. “Did he really win the election or was it handed to him by Putin?”
The President’s supporters dismiss this problem and staunchly support his claims: Comey’s termination was required because he failed to sufficiently ascribe blame for Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. This excuse is obviously false. Trump’s contemporaneous tweets praising Comey’s handling of the email matter as well as the long delay between the alleged cause and the alleged effect both serve to equate Trump’s claims with the legendary excuse of the errant schoolboy: “My dog ate my homework.”
A Modest Alternative Suggestion
I have no more evidence of President Trump’s motives for firing Comey than those who assume he did so to discredit in advance any conclusion by Comey incriminating the Trump campaign or Trump himself. I do, however, offer a different possibility. My modest suggestion is based on the following facts:
Negotiations Trump Style
Donald Trump made his fortune by a lifetime of negotiations with lenders, builders and land owners. This record reflects a negotiation style discernible as follows: Use borrowed money to finance projects. Repay debts based on a comparison of the probable consequences of repaying them versus the probable consequences of not repaying them or repaying only part of them. This simple formula is also applicable to paying for goods and services purchased to build improvements on acquired land. This method of handling money was accompanied by a style of person-to-person interaction based on flattery, intimidation and deception,, a style developed to a high degree of skill sufficient to divert attention from the policy of debt repayment mentioned above.
The result of these skills and methods was the accumulation of a fortune of many billions of dollars. [ In passing: In some ways Trump’s skill is similar to that of a successful poker player.]
Negotiations Putin Style
Vladimir Putin is a lifelong practitioner of the art and skill of a spymaster. He acquired those abilities during decades of service in the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service and, after the Soviet Union’s empire was decimated and Russia became a separate country, more decades spent using those same skills to rebuild that empire. Here is a brief summary of one of those skills:
Select a person with authority and access to information or authority over the policies of a foreign nation. Learn some potential vulnerability of the target person. Design some way to use that vulnerability to induce the target person to engage in some action or inaction which, if publicly disclosed, would harm or embarrass the person. Then blackmail the target person with a threat, either express or implied, of disclosure of the embarrassing information. Then control the actions or inaction of the target person in ways advantageous to Putin.
A Possible Explanation of Putin’s and Trump’s Motivations
When I imagine the interaction of Putin and Trump during the presidential campaign and Trump”s brief term as President of the United States, I see them as gladiators in an arena in ancient Rome, circling each other. Trump holds a trident. Putin holds a net. Each is confident of his ability to protect himself from the other and ultimately benefiting from the contest.
My speculation about this matter began with a question: “Who undoubtedly knows exactly what interactions occurred between Trump and his family and advisors and Putin?” The obvious answer was, “Putin”. I then asked myself, “What would be the consequences of disclosing the details of those interactions?” “Would that disclosure harm Putin?” “Would that disclosure harm Trump?” I suspect it would harm both but in different ways and to different degrees of seriousness.
How Would Disclosure Harm Putin?
If there were financial and policy agreements between Putin and Donald Trump, his family and advisors, they probably involved the enrichment of Putin. Making deals facilitating profits resulting from land, loans and construction of buildings is native to Trump’s tool house. That’s what he does. The carefully groomed and constructed public image of Putin as the leader of a communist country, however, hardly matches someone who makes deals with the world’s most famous capitalist from the world’s most prominent capitalist country for the purpose of garnering millions of dollars worth of personal gain.
Even if I’m wrong about Trump cutting Putin in on some of the Trump family business deals involving property and franchises in Russia as well as Russian property deals in the United States, Putin had a powerful motive to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President of the United States. They had a mutually hostile relationship with each other during Hillary’s service as Secretary of State.. Putin had good reason to know his problems would multiply during a Clinton presidency.
So, I think Vladimir Putin was understandably nervous about the FBI led by James Comey , digging deeply into the nature and details of transactions and cooperation between himself and Donald Trump or Trump’s family or advisors. Of course Putin does not have the problem of a free press or unbridled democracy. Still, his reputation as a strong and incorruptible communist leader is doubtless important to him.
How Would Disclosure Harm Trump?
The exposure of details of collaboration with Vladimir Putin would not only harm Donald Trump, it might trigger a call for his impeachment. First it would indelibly ink the word “liar” on his forehead. This could not be shrugged off as merely another example of his well known mendacity. Evidence that the President of the United States colluded with a Russian leader to affect a presidential election could not be ignored. This would be true whether it involved face-to-face negotiations between Trump and Putin, or negotiations between the Trump family and advisors with Putin. Such evidence would be a major political problem for Trump.
If there were such negotiations – and I strongly suspect there were – we can be sure Putin took care to keep records, notes and probably surreptitious recordings of them. If that kind of evidence were presented on the evening news shows, the results would make Nixon’s recorded plots with his advisors look like a weenie roast by comparison.
So, What Do I Think Might Have Happened?
I believe it is likely that sometime last week Vladimir Putin or some courier of his sent a message to Donald Trump: “You must shut down James Comey and this FBI investigation. I can’t afford to have our financial and political dealings exposed. If you don’t take the necessary action I will publicly acknowledge or disclose through third party sources the nature of our arrangements to discredit Hillary Clinton. I will justify my part of that effort as a means of preventing a known enemy of the Russian empire, to which I owe allegiance, from gaining control of the power of the United States of America. I leave it to you to decide how to justify your participation and benefit from our joint efforts.”
I think that threat of blackmail was received and perfectly understood by Donald Trump. I believe it explains why, without any meaningful consultation with his White House Staff, he fired James Comey.
If I am right, we now have a President who is subject to the control of a hostile world power. It is a chilling thought because Donald Trump does not take kindly to being controlled by anyone. The real danger is that he will resort to the only way to free himself from Putin’s control: wage WWIII.
February 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
The dictionary describes a zombie as “. . . a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought. . . .”
The essential responsibility of those charged with the supervision of law enforcement in a democratic republic like ours is prosecutorial discretion. District Attorneys, County Attorneys, US Attorneys and the Attorney General of the United States are obligated to use judgment informed by principles of justice and fairness to impose guidance and limits to those entitled to use force to kill or capture people suspected of unlawful acts and omissions.
This feature of law enforcement is necessary because it is impossible and undesirable to use the criminal justice system to proceed with equal zeal to arrest the hungry person who shoplifts a loaf of bread and the bank teller who embezzles thousands of dollars. Priorities are necessary as a matter of justice as well as efficiency.
The Immigration Problem
Nowhere is this fundamental principle of criminal justice more obviously important than in our response to the problems of immigration. We have eleven million of our neighbors in large and small communities throughout our country who did not comply with the prescribed procedures for becoming citizens. Many of them have lived and worked and paid taxes and contributed their support to our country for periods of time varying from thirty or forty years to a week or a day. Many have children and grandchildren who are citizens because they were born here. Many have formal permission to be here – holders of “green cards” or visas entitling them to stay here for extended periods of time to attend schools, work as doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers – the gamut of useful employments.
The classification of these “undocumented aliens” is a daunting task because it should be done with gumption, fairness and discretion.
This classification process should have been done by Congress. It was not done for two reasons: First, a substantial segment of Republican members of both the House and Senate were more interested in blocking any significant accomplishment by President Obama than they were in performing the job which they had sworn to perform. Second, a sizable group of those GOP elected officials were unwilling to agree to any rational arrangement for deporting some aliens and granting conditional permission for many of them to remain as citizens of the United States. They were more interested in appealing to the bigotry and hatred of some of their constituents than in designing a reasonable and humane immigration law.
As a consequence of this legislative dereliction of duty, the task of seeking a solution to the immigration problem devolved to the President, who sought to create some degree of stability and rationality through executive orders.
As a result of the recent presidential election that responsibility is now dependent on President Donald Trump. His recent blunderbuss mishandling of travel from five predominantly Muslim countries bodes no confidence he will respond to this immigration issue in a rational or just way.
The Horrors of our Past as Cautions for out Present
Our history is littered with examples of how not to deal with problems like these. It began with our treatment of the Indian population that inhabited this land for thousands of years before our ancestors arrived. With many fits, starts and stumbles we ultimately solved this problem with genocide, almost destroying the Indian culture and most of its population. As we engaged in that atrocity, we simultaneously imported a segment of our population from Africa, against their will; then enslaved them and afforded them the right of citizenship only after a war than came close to destroying our nation.
In the 1940’s we imprisoned Japanese people living along the West Coast, regardless of their citizenship, because we let anger and fear overpower our Constitution and the principles upon which our country was founded.
At different times in our past we have discriminated against immigrants from China while simultaneously using many Chinese immigrants as close to slave labor to build our railroads. For awhile we discriminated against the Irish who fled Ireland for America to escape a famine. Later we discriminated against immigrants from Eastern Europe and from Italy. These examples of bigotry were some what moderated by the fact that, until the late 1900;s we had a sparsely populated frontier to which the victims of our prejudices could flee. That frontier has now been closed for over a hundred years and is no longer available.
Tu summarize, we have had several examples to warn us against wholesale mistreatment of people because of generalized classifications. We should not add another chapter of hateful abuse to our already embarrassing past. Simple rules should guide us: Punishment should be administered based on individual wrongdoing; not like an indiscriminate scythe, wounding the innocent along with the guilty, the children along with their parents and the worthy like the unworthy. Children should not be denied the stability of a family. Long time residents should not be treated the same as recent arrivals.
Statements like “They are all here illegally, therefore they are all equally guilty of a crime and all should be treated as criminals.” is the idiotic declaration of a simpleton; not a person with the mental equipment necessary for serious matters.
The Gathering Storm
Today, February 21, 2017, we have the first evidence that, having had his first ham-handed effort graded a failure by four federal judges, President Trump is revising his directions, while still, like a four-year-old child snuffling after a scolding, insisting that his rejected effort was perfectly crafted and expertly executed. This is not encouraging because it indicates he is uneducable, even by experience.
I have not read the new Executive Order but, based on the commentary about it, it apparently preserves the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) exemption in one place but, in another paragraph seems to call for deportation to all who have broken the law. It is not clear whether “broken the law” in this context means committed a crime after arriving in the U.S. or committed a crime by crossing the border into the U.S. without legal permission.
Regardless of the ambiguity of the new Executive Order, its application to the fate of the eleven million undocumented people in our country will depend on the way the Justice Department and the other government agencies involved in the enforcement of our immigration laws exercise discretion concerning the timing and choices based on that Order. If they proceed, willynilly, sending ill trained armed officers into communities all over our country with vague orders to arrest and detain everyone suspected of being here illegally, America will become a dsreputable example of a zombie nation, where the imposition of punishment and harm are meted out without regard to justice, fairness, rationality or morality.
We have already tarnished our reputation by turning a blind eye toward the abuse of Palestinians by the Netanyahu government in Israel. If we apply that same level of abuse to millions of men, women and children living in our own country, we will forfeit any right to boast of our standing as a beacon of justice and hope for the rest of the world.
February 6, 2017 § 3 Comments
I have been trying to compose these ideas in my mind for several days. My dilemma is to write carefully about religion and politics without attacking religion while expressing my sincere fears about the nomination of Betsy DeVos. I am not a religious person but I respect the choices of others who find comfort and helpful guidance from their faith. The narrow balance for me results from my hostility toward anyone or any government which considers his, her or its particular religious belief to require enmity and forceful opposition to other religious beliefs, especially when that opposition is translated into law.
I am aware of the often repeated retort to this distinction: “I hate the sin but love the sinner.” The history of this idea is long and bloody. To an Evangelical Christian the fatal sin is the failure to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and, for most members of that sect within the Christian church, the failure to believe in the literal infallibility of the Christian Bible. This doctrine obviously envelops the corollary belief that adherents of other religions, who reject the tenets of Christianity entirely, are sinners.
In practice my observation and reading of history compels me to regard that pleasant expression with profound suspicion. The Inquisition’s proclaimed purpose was to identify and convert those who strayed from the Catholic Church’s teachings. To the man on the rack it was of small consequence whether his inquisitor was loving him or hating his errant belief. The Spaniards who “converted” the Indian population of Mexico by brutal punishment may well have believed they were trying to save the victims from eternal damnation but, again, the victims most certainly did not understand those benign motivations.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, the eleven million citizens of America who are either Muslims, Hindus or Jews should not be compelled to contribute their tax contributions to support religious instruction and political support of religious ideas at odds with their own. When that occurs, democracy becomes a tyranny of the majority and America becomes, thus, not a democratic republic but a theocracy. No adherent of one religious faith should be required to contribute money to support other sects or religions.
It is also important for our public schools be conducted in ways and in a manner welcoming children of all faiths or of no faith. No Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or atheist child should be educated in a classroom where his or her ideas about religion are treated disparagingly or condemned as sinful, contrary to God’s will or destined for eternal punishment.
My Problem With Billionaire Bess
I believe Betsy DeVos is more seriously perilous for our country than any other Trump nominee. She threatens our most valuable resource: the minds of our children. Unless one more Republican decides the future of America is more important than party loyalty, Betsy DeVos will realize her lifelong dream: To covert the education of our children from a secular system designed to teach our children to learn how to think and relish the thrill of exploring new ideas and skills to a system designed to enclose our children’s minds within the framework of Christianity. And not just any flavor of Christianity; the kind of Christianity that regards any intellectual framework other than its own as logically flawed whose adherents are doomed to eternal damnation unless they repent and embrace its doctrinal imperatives.
Here is my bill of particulars;
1. Betsy DeVos has never attended a public school After graduating from a private school she obtained a Bachelors Degree in business from Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. Here is a statement from its web site; “. . . Calvin’s excellent Christian faculty walk alongside you to ensure that you find God’s path for you in the world.” Calvin boasts of a “252 full time Christian faculty”. One of them, an English Professor, described education at Calvin as follows: “At Calvin, faith and learning work together constantly . . . .”
2.Betsy DeVos is a strong advocate for private school vouchers for parents who chose to send their children to private schools.
3. Private so-called charter schools compete with public schools for federal and state funding for public schools. There is a long history of litigation and Supreme Court decisions concerning the persistent effort of religious sects to impose requirements for religious instruction in public schools and charter schools. So far, the Court has thwarted that effort but it continues. There is no doubt Betsy DeVos would be a vigorous advocate for injecting religion into public schools and public funding for religiously oriented charter schools.
4. President Donald Trump, Ms. DeVos’ sponsor, has proposed the repeal of the “Johnson Amendment”, a law drafted and successfully submitted for enactment by President Lyndon Johnson. It prohibits nonprofit tax exempt organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates. Ms. DeVos is an enthusiastic backer of the proposed repeal.
5. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” As stated, this prohibition has been the basis for several Supreme Court decisions preventing religious involvement with public education.
The origin of this part of our Bill of Rights was the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, proposed by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Assembly in 1779, ten years before the adoption of our Constitution in 1789. The Assembly adopted the Virginia Statute in 1786. Here is a link to Jefferson’s proposal and a description of its adoption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Statute_for_Religious_Freedom. It is an eloquent argument for preventing exactly what is now being proposed by President Trump and supported by his nominee to head our Department of Education.
From its origin, the most damaging and shameful thread in the fabric of America is racism. The founders, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others were slave owners. The Constitution of 1789 included a provision treating negroes as 3/5ths of a white person. Jefferson’s stirring rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” represented an aspiration requiring decades of slavery, a Civil War, bloody political struggles in the streets, lynchings continuing for two and one half centuries, several Supreme Court battles, several Congressional battles – and still remains an aspiration not a realization.
It is now apparent that, while the white man’s behavior can be constrained by laws, his mind and heart will require more decades and generations to become a reality. I believe public education is the necessary remedy for the horrors of racism. Children are not born with hatred based on appearance. It has to be taught. The most impressionable period of a person’s life is between birth and age twenty. The most intense period of time is from birth to age six or seven. During those periods of time, the sources of influence shaping the child’s intellect are parents (not necessarily genetic parents, but those in loco parentis) and schools.
Children in kindergarten do not react with racism toward their classmates. So it is important for the future of our country that the population in those classrooms are reflective of American population. That means we must continue to work to integrate public schools; to insure those incubators of future American adults are free of separations based on race. Privatizing schools is inimical to that objective. It enables parents to “protect” and separate their children from the children of other races and religions.
If secular public schools are protected, adequately financed and designed to have student populations reflective of America’s racial and cultural diversity, the final solution to racism in America will eventually come about because, after puberty, boys and girls will begin to select mates without regard to race and the problem will gradually disappear.
I do not believe we can or should wait patiently for all this to happen. Far from it. We should do everything we can to hasten the end to this plague. I just don’t expect it will cease to be a concern until racism becomes too complicated to be practiced.
I regard Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos as stumbling blocks in the way of this process and, therefore I believe it is immoral for the Senate of the United States of America to consent to her appointment.
This is not required reading. I’m just including it because I found it interesting.
While researching the basis for some of this essay I encountered an essay by a PhD college professor from (of all places!) The University of California. Robert A. Harris has written a series of essays he calls Virtual Salt. One of them is an intellectual disagreement with just about all I’ve written here. Here is a link.http://www.virtualsalt.com/int/intdef.pdf
Here is his conclusion:
“The integration of faith and learning is such an important topic largely because too little of it seems to occur. The bias in the academy and in the larger culture against Christian truth and Biblical authority has had the effect of disconnecting Christian knowledge from other knowledge, even in the minds of some Christians. For that reason, integration must be undertaken with deliberateness. Christians must be intentional about making the con- nections between their faith and the knowledge claims they encounter and careful to keep the Biblical framework in the foreground as the structuring principle of truth.” I include it here to alert my readers that the risk of religious bigotry is real and has powerful advocates. I don’t know how widely Professor Harris’s ideas are distributed but I am sure he has many supporters.
He and I are from different planets but he’s a smart guy and he wraps his argument in an impressive academic package. His essay is a good example of a man who lures you in to agreeing with his first premise and then tells you ,”. . . now that you’ve agreed with that, let me tell you what else you’ve agreed with.”
December 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
The Loss of Ari Shavit
For several decades Ari Shavit was a talented and intelligent columnist in Israel’s left-of-center newspaper Haaretz. A few years ago he published a very good book describing the origins of Israel and an incisive analysis of its culture and modern history: The Promised Land. I was charmed by it and, three years ago, expressed my admiration and reaction on this blog:The Broken Promised Land. https://wordpress.com/post/bobsremonstrance.com/2757
Now, a few months ago, as Israel faces what I believe is an international crisis, for Israel as well as the rest of us, Ari Shavit was disgraced and banished from public discourse because he made an astonishingly stupid assault on a woman, a respected journalist, who visited him for an interview. He admitted his guilt and apologized but, as a person with a list of political enemies as long as his list of supporters, he was fired by Haaretz and voluntarily discontinued public professional life.
Here is an article from The Forward, a more than century old weekly newspaper published weekly in New York with news about Jews and Israel. http://forward.com/news/israel/352891/ari-shavit-sorry-for-trump-style-sex-assault-many-israelis-arent-buying-it/
Without defending Shavit’s indefensible behavior, I can’t resist reflecting how his treatment contrasts so sharply with our political embrace of our own braggart about his history of sexual exploitation of women.
I know Ari Shavit, aside from this scandal, has been attacked from both right and left in Israel. He has vigorously defended Israel’s right to exist and has never ceased criticizing the Palestinians for failing to officially acknowledge it. Still, I wish he were around to offer some measured analysis of the present situation.
The Tragic Timing of Shavit’s Foolishness
It seems apparent to me that Israel is now the hub of an international earthquake that could threaten the safety of the United States and, given the recklessness of three men, perhaps the future of our planet.
The three men? Donald Trump, Bibi Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin.
Remember how WWI began? It began in Austria with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie, his wife, by a Serbian rebel. WWIII could begin in Israel, a country long characterized as the hub of conflict between violent internal and external ethnic and national groups. One difference: In 1914, there were no nuclear bombs.
In the past decade Israel, led by Netanyahu, has used its huge military force to control the Palestine population by killing its civilian population and encircling it with a network of barriers, hindering its ability to care for its citizens as a free and separate nation. This has been explained and justified with claims of encroaching rockets launched by Palestine’s small cadre of outraged rebels. The rockets rarely reached population centers and the number of their victims were far outnumbered by the all out responsive assault by the Iraeli military.
So, again, I wish for some calm reasoned ideas from someone like Ari Shavit. But his fatal foolishness has disqualified him.
One feature of this conflict has been the erection of “settlements” i.e. housing for Israeli citizens on Palestinian land. These “settlements” have flourished and expanded thanks to the deliberately passive and permissive unwillingness of the Israeli government to stop them. They are in plain violation of international law. The United Nations assembly has repeatedly tried to declare them to be unacceptable. Until last week those efforts were thwarted by vetoes by the U.S..
Last week, finally, the U.S. abstained and the UN measure was adopted with a large majority vote.
The Dangerous Reaction
Netanyahu reacted angrily, claiming that the UN resolution was a betrayal of Israeli and was “engineered by Barack Obama”, with whom Netanyahu has waged an endless political war during Obama’s terms in office. The intrusion into US politics has always been treated with enthusiastic acceptance by the GOP and, ironically, by the so-called evangelical wing of the protestant church in America. Until Putin’s hacking interference with the recent election, Israel was the only foreign power granted permission to meddle with US politics. See: http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/358334/benjamin-netanyahu-seeks-to-rally-israelis-with-no-holds-barred-attack-on-u/
This time, Netanyahu’s tantrum has exceeded his past performances. He has recalled Israel’s ambassadors from the nations who sponsored the UN resolution. and expelled the diplomatic representatives from Israel. Trump has denounced the UN resolution and Obama’s failure to oppose it. Putin, so far as I know, has not yet waded into this morass but I am confident he will perceive how the attacks on the United Nations can serve his international ambitions.
So, as a dangerously ignorant and reckless man becomes President of the U.S., a situation fraught with peril develops in the world’s most dangerous place: The Middle East, where religious conflicts cause common sense diplomacy and rationality to be regarded with suspicion and hostility. To fanatics, dying in a nuclear holocaust evoked by religious zeal would be a privilege.
A second national leader , Netanyahu, is a single minded, religiously oriented, reckless man whose policies invariably choose military might over reasonable searches for peace. His success has depended on the support of the United States and its military strength as well as its alliances and reputation with the nations surrounding his tiny nation. I believe he will eagerly accept the support of Vladimir Putin, who shares his hostility toward the nations of Western Europe.
And Putin will surely see the opportunity to weaken the alliance between the United States and the Western European nations as a means of realizing his goal of restoring the empire which disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
These three dangerous men have one thing in common along with their militant policies: Possession of nuclear weapons. That is what frightens me and should concern the political leaders who obediently regard Donald Trump as a useful means of attaining their long cherished wish for a collapse of the political and governmental power to limit the corporate greed that nourishes them. They should remember that nuclear war will not distinguish between liberals and conservatives or Christians and Muslims. The dust from their incinerated bodies will mix indiscriminately.
October 22, 2016 § 2 Comments
Trump’s Premature Whining About Voter Fraud
It appears we have avoided the disaster of a Trump presidency. He has declared, as he has always done in the past when his mendacity, dishonesty and childish bullying has proved unsuccessful in some venture: He will sue everyone who has challenged him and find some public venue where he can continue to vilify the journalists and others who have exposed him to the public.
It is appropriate, therefore, to begin unraveling his claims that his rejection by the voters means that the system allowing them to judge him is “rigged” and riddled with “voter fraud”.
In his raving about this, he adorns his lies with the label of the Pew Research Center, a well respected source of information about many issues, including politics and voting. As usual, however, Trump misstates and skews the statistics he uses to mislead his adoring fans into thinking that Pew Research agrees that millions of voters vote multiple times by having multiple voter registration credentials; that a large number of voters are using credentials of dead people; that millions of voter credentials are inaccurate (implying some nefarious plot to “rig” an election) and on and on and on ad nauseaum.
I will cite some reliable sources in the remainder of this brief post so that you can read for yourselves accurate information about problems with voting in America. There are problems, but one of them is not voter fraud.
Multiple Voter Credentials
It is true that many Americans have multiple voter credentials, but the reason is that many Americans have qualified to vote in one State and then move to another state, where they qualify themselves to vote without canceling the credentials obtained in their previous residence state. There is no evidence this is motivated by or results in voting more than once in any election. It is only evidence that few of us see any reason to cancel our voter credentials when we move.
Inaccurate Voter Credentials
It is true that our system for recording and preparing voter credentials is antiquated and should be modernized and simplified. Addresses, birth dates and other information is often recorded inaccurately and, when the information is copied to official records from the paper forms filled out by the registrars, there are multiple opportunities for errors. There is no evidence this leads to voter fraud. It does, however, cause unnecessary expense and often interferes with the voters’ access to a ballot on election day.
Voter Credentials remaining on the Rolls After the Voter Dies
Because of the wide variation in the way voter rolls are maintained, those records often retain records of voters who have died. This does not, however, result from efforts to vote fraudulently and there is no evidence that it leads to fraudulent voting.
Common Sense is a Strong Reason Why Voter Fraud is Very Rare
Simple cost/benefit reasons argue against the kind of voter fraud focussed on by Republicans and candidates like Trump. All states have criminal laws against voter fraud as well as against facilitating voter fraud. So adding a single vote in an election is a foolish risk, given the likelihood of detection and the tiny benefit obtained.
Employer intimidation and control of employee votes is a far more efficient way to exercise control over voters than individual voter fraud. And, of course, the Republican lawmakers know very well how to limit and discourage voting in precincts well known to contain Democratic Party voters. They accomplish that by making the process of obtaining voter credentials as difficult as possible; limiting the period of time when early voting is available; stationing armed police near voting locations where the relations between the population and the police is notoriously fraught with suspicion and fear; changing locations for voting to make it more difficult for voters in known Democratic Party precincts to vote. These are tried and true methods for manipulating access to voting and getting away with it under the guise of “ballot security”
The Truth in a few Documents
The Washington Post has done an extensive investigation into the size of the “voter fraud” problem. Here is what they discovered:
The Pew Research Center has produced a report on voter problems in America. They do not include “voter fraud” in their report because it is not part of the problem. Here is a summary of their report:
The Brenan Center for Justice has sponsored an extensive study of voter problems in America. Here is a copy of their report.
It seems likely that Trump will lose this election. I don’t believe, despite his bombastic threats, he will file lawsuits against the women he has abused. He won’t do so because, if he does, he will be deposed under oath and, when he lies, he will be committing felonies. And, he will be facing prosecutors in Hillary Clinton’s Department of Justice.
I do believe he will find some TV platform to continue his assault on American justice, the American Constitution, American journalism and the American political system. A centerpiece of that campaign will involve the kind of lies and deception that the above cited sources address and disapprove. That is my reason for this post. Fortunately for all of us, my research did not require more than an hour or two on the internet. Our technology has armed us with easy access to the truth. Unfortunately it has also armed with our enemies with megaphones for their lies.