Monday, April 29, 2019

Our Endangered Values

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I began reading Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter.  In addition to completing this book, I read through some of the Mueller report.

First, ex-President Carter's book, was released in 2005.  It is one of many books written by Carter, many of them with a religious and/or spiritual message.  I find it quite fascinating that, as I read Carter's words, there is much overlap between his sentiments and my own, despite the huge disparity in our thinking when it comes to religious affiliation.  Carter was raised a Baptist, in the traditional sense of the word, and has actively practiced his religion during his entire adult life, through ministry and service.  As an adult, I have eschewed organized religion, seeing the hypocrisy rather than the positive.  Yet, as I read his book, I was agreeing much more frequently with his perspective, even when his opinion on topics such as abortion and war, were not shared by me.

I was also surprised by how much politics Carter injected into his book.  He is not flattering in his opinions of the Republican party, no surprise it itself since he was a Democrat, but his criticisms are often values based, even morally and ethically based, something that might affront the life-long Republican who was always taught that the GOP was the party of family values, religion and God.  And, Carter names names in his rebukes, detailing specific instances where GOP hypocrisy in the area of values, seemed most flagrant.

The subtitle of Our Endangered Values, is America's Moral Crisis.  It is through a multitude of pointed examples that Carter identifies his belief that the source of our shared moral crisis is somewhat linked with the recent merger of far right Christian groups with the GOP, in that while their focus on family values is correct, their policies and solutions to addressing the decline of the middle class family, is far off the mark.  Carter pulls no punches in his description of his belief that this merger has created a dangerous path to America becoming a theocracy as opposed to a democracy, and in light of the evangelical community's boast that they helped elect President Trump, Carter's concern is not far off the mark. 

In the area of abortion, his perspective sums up the problem best.  While Jimmy Carter does not condone abortion, as President he was compelled to honor the rulings of the Supreme Court in cases such as Roe v Wade.   This did not mean that he did not do everything in his power to prevent abortions, it just means that he took his oath of office seriously, to uphold the rule of law.  His concern with the pro-life movement, again, one in which he agreed with in its belief that we should reduce the rate of abortions in America, was in their active role in preventing sex education for our young people, in fighting against the use of condoms and other preventive measures, and, once a young woman might choose to have her baby rather than aborting it, supporting the fight against "socialist" policies which  give government support for these young mothers to attain inexpensive day care, access to health services, education training, adequate wages.  Carter rightfully points out the numerous ways that the GOP loves the fetus but despises the baby, and its mother, once the fetus emerges from the womb.

There are a number of other areas where Carter details how the evangelical community has worked with the GOP, under the auspices of fighting socialism, to damage our collective soul.  Towards the end of the book he discusses how the national debt ballooned under Reagan and Bush which he believed to be the foundation for future cut backs to "entitlements" like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social/humanitarian programs like Head Start, all the while reducing taxes for the wealthiest Americans. 

Now, of course, since 2005 when Carter wrote his book, deficits continued to spike under President Obama, and was one of the major causes for the rise in the Tea Party Movement.  Curiously, if one were to measure deficit increases by percentage of the overall debt, after the huge increases of our national debt during the World Wars which were astounding, but generally considered acceptable, the following list indicates that President Reagan was the leader, by percentage, in his increase of our national debt.  And, in fact, of the most recent presidents in history, only one, a Democrat, reduced our national debt, President Clinton.  And that Carter, and this table is not from his book but from another source, a president who most people might consider a failure, was bested in the area of increasing our national debt, by percentage, by only Nixon, not either Bush, or Ford, or Reagan. 

President Barack Obama: Total = $6.785 trillion, a 57 percent increase.
  • FY 2017 - $666 billion. Although Trump requested additional spending, Congress did not approve it.
  • FY 2016 - $585 billion.
  • FY 2015 - $438 billion.
  • FY 2014 - $485 billion.
  • FY 2013 - $679 billion.
  • FY 2012 - $1.087 trillion.
  • FY 2011 - $1.300 trillion.
  • FY 2010 - $1.547 trillion. This is the sum of $1.294 trillion plus $253 billion from the Obama Stimulus Act that was attached to the FY 2009 budget.
President George W. Bush: Total = $3.293 trillion, a 57 percent increase.
  • FY 2009 - $1.16 trillion. This amount is calculated from $1.413 trillion minus $253 billion from Obama's Stimulus Act.
  • FY 2008 - $459 billion.
  • FY 2007 - $161 billion.
  • FY 2006 - $248 billion.
  • FY 2005 - $318 billion.
  • FY 2004 - $413 billion.
  • FY 2003 - $378 billion.
  • FY 2002 - $158 billion.
President Bill Clinton: Total = $63 billion surplus, a 1 percent decrease.
  • FY 2001 - $128 billion surplus.
  • FY 2000 - $236 billion surplus.
  • FY 1999 - $126 billion surplus.
  • FY 1998 - $69 billion surplus.
  • FY 1997 - $22 billion.
  • FY 1996 - $107 billion.
  • FY 1995 - $164 billion.
  • FY 1994 - $203 billion.
President George H.W. Bush: Total = $1.036 trillion, a 36 percent increase.
  • FY 1993 - $255 billion.
  • FY 1992 - $290 billion.
  • FY 1991 - $269 billion.
  • FY 1990 - $221 billion.
President Ronald Reagan: Total = $1.412 trillion, a 142 percent increase.
  • FY 1989 - $153 billion.
  • FY 1988 - $155 billion.
  • FY 1987 - $150 billion.
  • FY 1986 - $221 billion.
  • FY 1985 - $212 billion.
  • FY 1984 - $185 billion.
  • FY 1983 - $208 billion.
  • FY 1982 - $128 billion.
President Jimmy Carter: Total = $253 billion, a 36 percent increase.
  • FY 1981 - $79 billion.
  • FY 1980 - $74 billion.
  • FY 1979 - $41 billion.
  • FY 1978 - $59 billion.
President Gerald Ford: Total = $181 billion, a 38 percent increase.
  • FY 1977 - $54 billion.
  • FY 1976 - $74 billion.
  • FY 1975 - $53 billion.
President Richard Nixon: Total = $70 billion, a 20 percent increase.
  • FY 1974 - $6 billion.
  • FY 1973 - $15 billion.
  • FY 1972 - $23 billion.
  • FY 1971 - $23 billion.
  • FY 1970 - $3 billion.
President Lyndon B. Johnson: Total = $36 billion, an 11 percent increase.
  • FY 1969 - $3 billion surplus.
  • FY 1968 - $25 billion.
  • FY 1967 - $9 billion.
  • FY 1966 - $4 billion.
  • FY 1965 - $1 billion.

Considering that under President Trump, the 2018 budget deficit was $789 billion, and is on pace to be $1 trillion, per year, in the next few years, and that already submitted budgets by the president and the GOP are targeting the "entitlements" of social security and medicare, and that one of the primary movers of this increase in the deficit is the recent tax cuts which saw the bulk of the savings go to the top wage earners in the country, it all seems to indicate that Carter hit a few home runs in his 2005 book when he lamented the course of America should the marriage between the evangelical community and the GOP continue.  Add to that, the populism which Trump succeeded in tapping with his the anti-immigrant, anti-government, rhetoric, and we see how Carter'r fears that America would continue suffering from a moral crisis seem prescient.  Not to mention the opioid crisis, which seems even more appalling, if we are to believe how insidious the pharmaceutical industry was in its behavior in regards to pushing pain killers which they knew to be addictive, all for the sake of higher profits. 

In not so many words, Carter checks all the boxes when it comes to chiding Americans for our worship of money above all else, and our ability to choose bedfellows, not based on shared moral values, but based on the Machiavellian precept of the ends justifies the means, whether its a marriage which supports a serial philanderer to make abortion illegal, or one which dehumanizes those with darker skin while altering the rules so as to allow them to accumulate more and more obscene amounts of wealth.

Which bring me to the Mueller report.  For those of you who haven't read it, and, based on its shear length and dry material in general, and the comments I see on facebook, and in the halls of Congress, I expect that is most of you, I heartily recommend downloading it and, at the very least, glancing through it.  I would imagine that Carter, should he be inclined, might comment that its content conveys everything he worried about in 2005, and much, much more. 

The Mueller report itself, is two parts.  The first is about 200 pages of proof that the Russians actively interfered in the 2016 election, in hopes of electing Donald Trump.  It documents multiple examples of their efforts on social media, in the hacking of emails of those in the Clinton campaign, of contacting a host of members of the Trump campaign, including his son, and in the ways that these tactics attacked Hillary Clinton and praised Donald Trump.  What it does not conclusively prove is that the Trump campaign traded favored treatment for this assistance, although the actions by Michael Flynn in particular, were disturbing.  Not to mention the president's almost daily assertions that the Russians did not interfere because he asked Vladimir Putin and he said "Nyet".     

The second part details the lengths to which the President attempted to interfere with or scuttle the Mueller investigation.  His attempts to get Attorney General Sessions to un-recuse himself so he could fire Mueller, his attempts to bribe witnesses through pardons and promotions to either lie or bend the truth to protect him, and his multiple tweets which attacked the investigation as a witch hunt, in an overt attempt to render any possible conclusion as political rather than factual.  Plus the numerous attempts to have Mueller's investigation be restricted to the future, not the past, and his firing of various people who would not break the law to do his bidding.  The report painstakingly paints a picture of a man who tried everything in his power to interfere with the investigation, but who failed in this endeavor only because some of his staff preferred to quit rather than go to jail. 

In regards to collusion, Mueller states emphatically at the outset that there is no such term in federal penal code, but he does amply detail how willing the Trump campaign was to accept aid from the Russians.  In regards to obstruction, Mueller leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for Congress to follow should they believe that impeachment is justified, but he bows to the precedent established in the DOJ guidelines that a sitting president should not be indicted, because he values the office of the presidency and its possible inability to function in the face of such a decision, and values the founders belief in the three branches of government, believing that his job was to present the facts, while it is Congress's job to pursue a political solution. 

I have heard some compelling arguments against this viewpoint, and understand them, especially the argument which says that in extraordinary times, extraordinary men must sometimes take extraordinary measures, and that Mueller may have proven himself to be less than able in this regard. In many ways, he seems to be a Constitutional purist, and a believer in the basic tenets of our democracy.  Perhaps open to criticism for such ivory tower beliefs, but certainly not deserving of the rhetoric emanating from the White House.

In the end, it seems to be a perfect justification why the American electorate should never elect a powerful, successful business person to run our government, because to be in that position, one has to be comfortable with skirting, changing, or ignoring the law.  One might even conclude, that while politics is a dirty business, filled with questionable ethics, double talk, and subterfuge, big business is far worse because it is far easier for people to sell out for the higher private sector salaries, than the lower compensation package of the public sector.  I imagine that President Trump is continually disappointed with his governmental staff when they do not "do what we knew he wanted us to do" as Cohen described it. 

What really strikes me about the report, is that it reaffirms my belief that the President Trump is the consummate politician, able to bend the truth in whatever way is required, able to attack his opponents for the very thing he is most guilty of, able to convince people to vote against their own interests by presenting his policies as ones which will punish those he knows his listeners most despise. 

In the end, I guess that is the challenge; being able to differentiate policies and rhetoric that uphold values above all else, or disguise selfishness with words that link to values, but are without substance.
Or worse, to acknowledge that as long as we have a few bucks in our pockets and our IRA's , we can excuse any behavior.

My next post will be directed specifically towards President Donald Trump. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Endurance

After finishing New York, 2140, I began reading Endurance,A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly.  For those of you unfamiliar with Kelly, he spent a year on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a joint American-Russian experiment to study the effects of long term space travel on the human body.  This information is critical, if we are to seriously expect to travel to Mars. 

I finished Endurance yesterday, and began reading Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values today.  Also, over the weekend, I spent some time reading the Mueller report.  My plan is to comment on Endurance in this post, then link my impressions of ex-President Carter's book with my interpretation of the Mueller report for my next post.  If all goes according to plan, I am composing a letter to President Trump which I hope to post sometime next week.

Endurance is a remarkable example of what humans are capable of, both individually and communally.  While Kelly clearly possesses an above average intelligence, sense of purpose and ambition, he also comes from an ordinary background in which he was not blessed with the automatic access to the best opportunities.  He is very honest in his descriptions of an early academic career marked by less than stellar performance.  His recollection of floating through school without purpose is indicative of so many of us.  There is no indication to his parents or teachers that he had the internal strength and discipline to embark on a career of such remarkable achievement.

What is special about Kelly's story is that he knows precisely when his life turned on a dime.  He can recall the exact moment when he was inspired to be more than he was, when his goal became clear, his life purposeful.  That in itself makes Kelly an unusual person, let alone the fact that despite some setbacks and obstacles, he achieved his goal, and then, surpassed it.

Just from that standpoint alone, the book is worth reading.

I also enjoyed Kelly's forays into philosophy and reflection.  There is a point during the end of his year-long stay on the ISS, that he allows himself to begin thinking about returning to earth,  He had made a pointed effort to not look forward too much to that day, in fact, counting up from the day he arrived, as opposed to counting down to the day he would return to Earth.  But when asked by his partner to make a list of the things he wanted on his first days back, Kelly allows himself to mentally wander beyond the physical things he misses to the more emotional, social, even spiritual feelings and thoughts that are connected to those things. 

And then, surprisingly, to the things he would miss about his year in space.  I say surprisingly, not because he was unhappy in space, but because much of the book was about all the things that are different in space as compared to our gravity driven lives on Earth, and these differences are what is so challenging about our contemplation of travelling to Mars, or beyond.  He appreciates the moments he has spent on ISS, and not just because of the historical nature of them, but because they now have become a part of who he is, and that those moments, in combination of everything else he experienced beforehand, will become part and parcel to his future life.  He reminds us that our own lives are an accumulation of experiences, good and bad, challenging and mundane, ecstatic and tearful, but that the key is to acknowledge that they all combine to create the person we see in the mirror each day.  And to embrace them all with the thought that at some future time, one of those experiences will be our last.

As elementary as the whole be-here-now philosophy can seem, the simple fact is that everyday, thousands of people wake up for the last time, experience their last meal, last laugh, last kiss, last words to their loved ones.  We shouldn't need a year in space, where the least little thing could morph into a life-threatening, or life-ending event, to realize how important it is to live our days with meaning.

My last takeaway from Endurance was Kelly's emphasis on cooperation.  He is quite generous with his acknowledgement that his personal success was assisted in countless ways by the various people in his life and that his success in many ways is a testament to this assistance.  There are far too many successful people who seem to have forgotten such assistance in their own lives. 

He also repeatedly extols the virtues of international cooperation, labeling the ISS as the greatest cooperative achievement in the history of mankind.  At one point he reminds us that the various modules that make up the space station, were created independently by the engineers and scientists of various countries, and yet they fit together perfectly once assembled in space.  Think of it as a puzzle with pieces manufactured in different plants throughout the world to create an object greater than its parts, flying at 17500 miles per hour around the globe with humans within, their lives depending on each part being created in exact harmony with the others to assure their survival.  That kind of  cooperation needed to be flawless!

Now imagine such cooperation in the effort to eliminate world wide poverty, or to address climate change, or to seek peace rather than conflict.

The good news is that we know it can be done.  The bad news is that we can't seem to set aside our differences, and lust for power, and fear of the other, to make a concerted, unified effort.

If nothing else, Endurance is a book of hope.  Hope that we can learn from such an example of cooperation with and understanding of people different from ourselves, hope that we can create a world which allows all those born upon it to have such opportunities, and hope that by seeing planet Earth from space, a simple blue marble in the vastness of the universe, we might realize how precious all life is, and how critical it is for us to work together to appreciate, sustain and enhance this fragile existence. 



 

     

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

New York 2140

In my last post, I mentioned the organization Reading is Fundamental.  That paragraph and reference may have seemed a bit out of place within the post.  I mentioned it as a sideways attempt to impart the idea that there are organizations in the world which are considered by the IRS as 501(c) charities, meaning that your donations are tax-deductible, whereas the source of that survey I discussed is not such a charity.  This is not necessarily a value judgment, in that those registered as 501(c) are better than those that are not, but it is interesting that some that are not reveal this information in small print. 

Also, this is just as important, all registered 501(c) charities are not as good as others.  I find that Charity Navigator does a good job of rating the 501(c) charities, particularly when it comes to administrative and fundraising expenses, and sources of income.  For instance, Reading is Fundamental has only an average rating, (copy and past the link below in your browser to see) presumably because nearly 1/3 of its money goes to expenses which are outside of the program's mission.  If you happen to check out Charity Navigator's rating of Reading is Fundamental, also check for similar groups that do similar work but have higher ratings, if you are motivated to donate to the worthy cause of improving children's literacy.

https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4390

So, New York 2140.  I knew pretty quickly that I would like the novel when I encountered the following quote about 80 pages in, from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary

Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

Without revealing too much of the plot, let's just say that this novel, set in New York City, details what the world is like, through the eyes of about a dozen citizens of the city, after catastrophic sea level rise caused by climate change has changed virtually everything in the world.  Well, not quite everything, as the author, Kim Stanley Robinson, paints a picture wherein the rich have indeed survived the disaster of climate change, something we believe they believe today, which is why those in power work tirelessly to combat the scientific evidence which indicates changes are needed, changes which will challenge the wealth of this class of people, but something which we all hope will not be true (that they suffer right along with us) so we can give them the universal finger and a hearty ho "I told you so". 

But Robinson dashes those hopes, as we soon realize that this futuristic New York is still run by the 1%, that they have in fact, consolidated their power to now own even more of the world's assets, that the poor continue to live wretchedly, the global refugee crisis is beyond fixing, and the everyday working person is stuck in an even bigger noose of working for little and receiving even less from trickle down.  And worse, since investments to increase wealth still seek opportunity and return, they make use of the same old insidious devices to get their way; bribery, sabotage, shell companies, etc. 

The interesting thing about the work, although perhaps predictable, is that Robinson refers to the 2008 financial crisis, which was a real thing, then also his fictional financial crises which resulted from the two big "pulses" which featured massively quick sea level rise beyond our ability to cope with, belittles the efforts during both the real and fictional financial disasters as evidence that big money in the form of banks and investment firms have always run the governments of the world through overt donations and bribes (are they the same?), and covert actions that skirt the law, or are just not illegal.  Further, that they have gotten away with these actions, becoming rich through market and business manipulation, then successfully running to the government (the taxpayers) for bailouts when their bubbles burst, because, inevitably, those we elect serve their interests, not the interests of the people.

Yep, a novel right up my alley.  Condemnation of the wealthy for their double standard of encouraging, even deifying the idea of the power of the individual, and those various rags to riches fairy tales which happen just enough to make us all believe we might be the next example, while using their inherited, lawfully but immorally gained, or outright stolen wealth to game the markets and abuse the spirit of capitalism, all the while knowing the next bust will come but,  no worries, their wealth is secured with the workings of too-big-to-fail socialism which will save the day, pass their debts onto the state, and allow the next cycle to start again. 

While there is not necessarily a happy ending, in fact, there is the direct statement that we should not expect a happy ending, that perhaps it is not in our DNA to yet erase our tendency towards greed, there is a hopeful ending in that a new path is taken, albeit temporarily, and not without its detractors, and the novel ends with pessimistic optimism.  Again, my cup of tea.

What is even more hopeful, is that the new path is developed by everyday people who believe that doing the right thing means helping their fellow men, not just themselves.  These people are not necessarily all lovable and certainly not perfect, but they are not complete assholes either, as so many of the rich and powerful, in business and in Washington, are depicted.  And, perhaps that is the true message to those of us living in the pre-catastrophic world, where we know what we need to do but where the assholes are still in charge.  That we, the non-perfect, the everyday citizens, the up until now victims of the machinations of the wealthy and powerful, can make a difference.  Can be part of a change.  Can take that maxim, you can't fight city hall, and throw it right back up their you know what's. 

That fiscal non-compliance, as it is termed in the novel, is our greatest power, followed, very quickly by the power of the voting booth.  Or, as they say in the movies, hit 'em where it hurts.


Monday, April 15, 2019

More on the Christian Patriot

I started reading a new book last week, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson.  I had purchased the book as a Christmas present for Nora, after reading an excerpt from it in one of last year's Lapham's Quarterlys. 

I am still surprised by how much pleasure I get from reading.  When I first crack open a new book, or in this case, a softer crack as it is a paperback, I feel a surge of energy.  A hopefulness one might say.  A new book gives me something to look forward to, as I delve into someone else's mind, someone I will likely never meet, yet will discover umpteen things about, through reading their words, even if those words are fiction.  I guess I feel that even in fiction, a person is revealed.  Glimpses of their mind, glimpses of their fears, glimpses of whether their idea of the future is dystopian, or Utopian or somewhere in between. 

And yes, I guess it is also an escape.  A way to enter another world, should one's own be a bit routine, a bit unfulfilling, a bit just OK.  But also, it inspires me.  To know that you can concoct a world out of one's imagination and experiences, record it on paper or within a computer, place it within a bound book or in the cloud for others to read, should they choose to, and for just those moments, create a small bridge between two people, the writer and reader.  When I read, it reminds me that I might also occasionally, create that bridge when I post on this blog.  Perhaps even inspire, if I use the right words, and convey my thoughts with sincerity.

Reading is Fundamental is an organization founded in 1966 with its purpose to improve literacy rates in America and in the world, but also to emphasize the word Fun, within the word Fundamental.  I know I was already reading by 1966, and have found it to be both fun and fundamental.  I can't imagine my world without the magazines, books, and other various reading material which I enjoy.  I would think it might be much darker, without the light provided by other people's imagination, research, story telling, and love of communication. 

Reading also reminds me of the power of words to create hope and fear and the responsibility of the writer to respect that power.  To be responsible in its use.  It is far too easy to write (or say, for that matter), what will make one popular, or rich, or influential regardless of whether one's writings are
true to the nature of the writer, or true to facts.  Irresponsible writing is rampant in our culture, fueled by the 24/7 media cycle, the proliferation of social media, and the lack of discriminatory listening on the part of us, the audience. 

Subtlety and innuendo as the tools of an effective writer seem to have been replaced by in your face tirades and direct insults and slander.  And, while I too blame the sources of these irresponsible words, we, the readers are also responsible for swallowing any words that agree with our prejudices, fact based or not, and by replacing our own sense of right or wrong with the tribal equivalent of circling the wagons, and treating everyone outside that circle as an enemy.

Which brings me, sadly, back to that survey which I received in the mail last week and referred to in my last post.  It is impossible for me to know if the source of that survey are people who truly believe the information they imparted.  I know there are Christians who believe that information, as the results of the most recent presidential election show that among those calling themselves evangelical Christians, they voted heavily in favor of GOP candidates, and especially President Trump.  I do know, however, that there are many leaders of such groups who convey such messages as a way to gain money and power.  They feed the flock what will best frighten them, knowing that in that fear they will donate money and vote a certain way.  Through those words, these leaders become wealthy and influential, and since we (as a nation) do not scale our admiration for the wealthy and powerful by evaluating how they achieve those goals, they are able to double down on their methods, and their rewards.

I am fortunate enough to know many Christians who live the spirit of the teachings of Jesus.  One is my mother, who spent her entire life as an example of being kind to others, helping others, treating others as she would want to be treated.  Even today, at her advanced age of 85, she spends a considerable amount of her time with family and friends that might need a ride to the store or a visit on a cold dreary afternoon.  She is not perfect, but she tries to be her best per the words of the New Testament.  So often, it seems that those who use the Bible to justify their actions quote the Old Testament, as if the life of Jesus, and his new words never happened.

Yet, I don't consider my mom to be a Christian Patriot, at least not as portrayed in that survey.  She does not believe the half truths and lies that abound in its words, but is as Christian a person as I have been blessed to know.  While we may disagree on dogma which is really man's version of what he thinks God meant, I default to her example when it comes to putting words to action, and living as Jesus has instructed us to live. 

There is a danger in words such as those I've described in that survey.  A danger when treating others inhumanely, is considered a Christian act.  A danger when using lies to confuse the masses leads to the election of people who are cafeteria Christians at best, selfish, narcissistic, and in many ways, haters of the masses, at worst.  They work to create chaos through fueling prejudice, xenophobia, and fear of anything that looks different than the image in our mirror, worships at a church with a different shape and different rituals, or chooses to love others who are not who we might choose to love.  And, to make matters worse, they do all that as a way to distract those who succumb to and resist their plots, from the real goal of their efforts, unlimited wealth and power. 

In some ways, it is pretty easy to tell if someone is working for God or for themselves.   Compare their actions to the lessons from the Sermon on the Mount.  When their words or deeds differ from the lessons given to us by Jesus, when they treat the poor with disdain, seek riches and fame, create chaos rather than peace, boast endlessly rather than share accolades with all those involved, surround themselves with those who agree with their beliefs rather than with those who seek truth, when their public words are in direct contrast to their private conversations, it is clear that they do not work for God.  I published a barely read short book about the subject called An Atheist for Christ.  (See link below)

https://www.amazon.com/Atheist-Christ-Joe-Pugnetti-ebook/dp/B00TT3YLHW

As portrayed in that survey, the phrase Christian Patriot seems an oxymoron without peer.  By advocating the dehumanization of those considered our "enemies", and those merely seeking a better life for themselves and their families, and by gleefully supporting a military that is used to wreck havoc in the world through illegal invasions and covert operations, which are generally supported by those more interested in gaining power and stealing resources, they are not Christian.  And, by supporting policies which flame the growing income inequality problem, which attempt to create a theocracy rather than democracy, and which empower those with more to take advantage of those with less, they are neither Christians or Patriots.

I am far from perfect.  I do not attend church regularly.  I believe abortion is a poor way to control our population problem, but support a women's right to make that very difficult decision.  I sometimes treat others in a condescending manner, using what I believe is my above average intelligence as a club against their lack of thinking.  I still struggle with the idea that Jesus was the Son of God, but revere Him as a messenger of hope and love.  I do not think that God will save us from ourselves, and that if we don't get our act together soon in regards to climate change, we will create a very difficult world for the next few generations to survive in, let alone thrive in.  I too often take for granted those I say I love the most.  I don't clean the kitty litter enough, or the toilets, or the stove top.  I would never call myself a Christian Patriot as defined by that survey, but believe I am on track to go to heaven, should their actually be such a place, and I love America and what is stands for even though I am saddened on a daily basis by what we do, as a country, to each other and to others in the world.  I am selfish, yet do my best to provide my family with love, opportunity, and support. 

I am all things bad and good, judgmental when I see things that seem horrific, yet aghast at those who judge me for what they perceive as my shortcomings.  I believe in Karma, well more like hope for its circular sense of justice, in this world or the next, yet am not fully sure if there is such a place.  My recent thought is that your essence lives forever with the knowledge that your life was graded as good or bad, and that is in itself, heaven or hell.  The eternal knowledge that you were a good person or an asshole but I guess that is how a self-described intellectual might think.

For now, I have off from work this week.  I will finish New York 2140, and perhaps post about it later in the week.  I will check off some items on the honey-do list, I will stop by work to help train a new manager on a particular task she has not performed, I will attempt to have a reasonably nutritious dinner waiting for Nora when she comes home from work, I will watch some NHL and NBA playoff action, I will get the car's oil changed, I will get an estimate for a new kitchen and mudroom and powder room floor, and I will think, a bit, about what I want to do when I grow up.  I might even consider whether it is possible that I am a Christian Patriot.  Wouldn't that be a kick in the head?







     

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Christian American Patriot

Dear Christian American Patriot.

That is how the letter I received from a conservative Christian organization began.  Its purpose was to encourage me, as a supporter of family values, to complete the attached survey which would prove to
Congress and President Trump that the overwhelming majority of American voters strongly support the president's agenda to Make America Great Again.

While I am not sure what mailing list I might be on which was sold to this organization, or if they just targeted registered voters in my area, I was glad to have received this solicitation.  It is always good to
learn how others perceive you, even, or perhaps more importantly, when that perception is negative. 

For instance, as a member of the Left (capital provided by the literature) I am anti-Christian, anti-family, anti-freedom and anti-America.  Yikes!!  I also don't want to make America great again or to keep America great, because I don't think America ever was great.  Ouch!  Further, my agenda as a member of the Left is to

- erase America's borders so we no longer have a country
- eliminate Christianity as a moral force in American life
- encourage America to be governed by the United Nations, not our own Constitution

Fortunately, as the letter emphasizes multiple times, we can defeat the Left by keeping President Trump and like minded Republicans in office in 2020 through donations from wonderful Christian patriots like myself and by completing and returning the enclosed survey so we can prove that all other surveys under represent the true American voters' opinions.

With check book in hand, I began filling out the survey.  Each question was prefaced by facts which assisted me in answering the question which followed.  For instance, after a brief review of the tax cut and reduction of government regulations that have occurred in the past two years, the question which followed asked for my opinion of the president's performance on getting the economy moving again after 8 years of stagnation under the socialistic anti-business policies of President Obama.  Seemed straightforward enough.  Who wouldn't answer in the positive for the president? 

This pattern continued throughout the survey.  A brief description of the wonders and accomplishments of the current Administration, followed by a question or two that encouraged positive answers for President Trump.  I expect that when the results are tallied, they will truly indicate that the American voter is on board with the President's agenda. 

A few of the questions were really slam dunks.  For instance, how much blame to you place on the anti-police rhetoric from Obama and many leading Democrat politicians for triggering an epidemic of assassinations of police officers?  Even though I couldn't find statistical evidence of such an epidemic, that most data indicates that less police officers die in the line of duty than in the preceding decades, and that when you consider that there are more offices on duty than before, the actual percentage has decreased dramatically since the 1980's, I know that Obama hated cops so that must have increased the desire to kill them.  Check that blame box.

The one about Judge Kavanaugh was also easy.  What was your reaction to the smear campaign launched against Kavanaugh by Democrats at the last minute before the confirmation vote?  If there is one thing I can't abide, and I am sure most of you agree, is a smear campaign.  I don't think the three choices, Outrageous and Terrible, Good or No Opinion, in answer to that question reflect the true nature of a Christian when faced with such an example of prejudice against a fellow Christian.

As a Christian patriot, the section which angered me the most referred to the Left's War on Christians in America.  Three quick "strongly support" answers for President Trump when asked if I was with him on making sure that the IRS is not used as a weapon to conduct politically motivated audits of Christians and conservatives, undoing all of President Obama's Executive Orders that attack Christians, religious freedom, the family and common sense (I thought that was a strange addition to that list, but Hey, who is against common sense), and our President's decision to end the anti-Christian, anti-American so called Common Core curriculum produced by the Dept of Education under Obama. (Common Core has been around for over 50 years, but was supported by Obama, so that is close enough to the truth for me). 

And finally, the last question which reminded me that America is at a tipping point, and that all the gains made under President Trump could be lost very quickly, turning our country into a one-party socialist state like Venezuela if the wrong people are elected to run our government.  Will I send my best gift of support the help fund the Battle Plan for the 2020 Election cycle that has been described in the letter and enclosed pieces of literature?  Yes or No.

Wanting to become one of the 10 million voters who responded, I quickly zipped through the survey per the instruction that encouraged me not to spend too much time on it, that my first instinctive response will be more accurate and useful. 

Now the big decision.  How much to give?  I read the really small type on the back of one of the inserts (not the survey or very detailed letter which laid out the horrors of the Left), and found that the organization is classified as a 501(c)(4).  I tried to figure out what this actually means, but it was tough as there are a number of classifications which separate charities from social welfare organizations, from PAC's etc.  What is clear, and is stated in that small type, is that donations to this particular organization are not tax-deductible, and that part of the reason for that is that it actively lobbies in Congress for its
beliefs which I expect to mean that it provides campaign donations to members of Congress who agree with its agenda.  Not sure if that makes the survey biased, but does differentiate it from those conducted by news agencies or polling organizations, all of which we know only ask people who hate America for their opinions.

Suffice it to say that I wrapped up the survey questions, and, to do all I can to save America for my children and grandchildren, included a check with multiple zeros. 


Monday, April 8, 2019

Debt as a Weapon

I finished the Spring edition of Lapham's Quarterly called Trade.  A good read, especially in light of the current Administration's attempts to use trade as a weapon to attain goals, financial, as well as in other areas of conflict. 

One of the articles in the edition was written by David Graeber.  As I was not familiar with him, and expect you may not be as well, I did just a bit of research which I encourage you to do as well.  Perhaps the most revealing quote I found was from an article he wrote in Strike! magazine.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

The success of the article led Graeber to write the book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory which I just added to my list of books to read. 

Anyway, Graeber's entry in Lapham's was from his first book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years.  In this excerpt, Graeber recounts a discussion he had when in London with a young attorney with whom he was discussing his work with the anti-globalization movement.  Yes, Graeber is a well known activist, anarchist activist according to those who disagree with his opinions.  The discussion he had that day surrounded his belief that the IMF, that is the International Monetary Fund, had been part and parcel to the economic destruction of many a third world country.  His belief was that as the world's debt collector, they encouraged debt by these underdeveloped countries to the world's largest banks, debts that those countries would struggle to repay, which many people knew, but debts which were guaranteed to be repaid, so that the big banks had no risk. 

It is famously said (and I am paraphrasing this) that rich people love capitalism on the way up, but socialism when faced with adversity.  In other words, they are all into rags to riches stories, and the power of individualism, and each man pulling his own weight, and reaping the rewards of hard work and smart investment, until something goes wrong.  And then they run to the government for a bail out
or tax write off (bankruptcy laws) or some other version of social intervention to rescue them from their
poor decisions.

In the encounter mentioned above, Graeber casually suggested that perhaps those countries should not have paid their debts, which surprised the young attorney who believed that if they borrowed the money, "Surely, one has to pay one's debts".

And so we have the conundrum.  Everyday people are taught that repaying one's debts is proper. perhaps even moral.  And, in fact, there are laws that support that belief.  If you recall the scene in Scrooge when, asked for some contribution to help the poor, he wonders if places like debtors prisons are no longer in operation, you get the idea of how debt was handled then.     

Now, of course, we have credit cards which are really just legal debt.  Unfortunately, we are expected to be good consumers to keep the economy flowing, and to keep purchasing the newest and best products, especially in the technology fields.  And so we charge it all, some of us, those with the best credit ratings which means the better ability to repay, getting lower interest rates, those with the worst ability to repay (the higher risks one might say), paying the most interest.  A circle which seems to exacerbate the growing income inequality trend. 

I certainly have my share of debt.  I use zero percent transfer balance offers to pay as little interest as possible, and have even shifted some of the debt I accumulated for my children's education to this vehicle.  Invariably, when I close an account which has run its course of 15 or 18 months of interest free time, I am told that by opening and closing credit cards so often, I injure my credit rating.  In other words, by using their freely offered low interest cards for the free interest time frame, credit card companies want to punish me because I am not paying them exorbitant interest rates, one of the main areas of their revenue and profit.  Can you say a hundred billion dollars per year?  No wonder they don't like my game of revolving credit and so work with the credit rating companies to rig
the rules to punish me.

Ah, capitalism at its finest.  Get rich, no matter how you do it.  (A topic for the future, I imagine).

I read the other day about companies offering new workers the option of paying down their education debt by using future earnings.  Sounds like a good way to keep workers in line and with the company, and a good way to combat high turnover rate among people who are always looking for something better.  Kind of like connecting health care to employers.  (Oops, another future topic).

Clearly, we do not want to encourage people to avoid their debts.  That is a reason why the commercials that tell you that you don't have to pay off your credit cards, irks me a bit.  Now, I know that part of that program is to get the credit card company to accept principle payments only and excuse or reduce the interest that may have accumulated on a $10,000 debt that is 5 years old at 9% interest, which is below the average rate.  But it is hard to ignore such high interest rates (they used to be called loan shark rates), which are clearly meant to improve bottom line profits for banks and their shareholders, not help the American public purchase a product that they might need to improve their lives.  Still, when a rich person can make an investment in a real estate venture, then deduct the loss from their future tax burden for 5 or even 10 years, it sounds like the system includes separate rules for the rich and poor.  Rules that were invariably written by the rich, not coincidentally.

Debt as a weapon, used as the other side of the coin of rampant commercialism and consumerism, to keep the working class too busy to look around and see what is going on.  Or, if you believe John Maynard Keynes, to keep us working 40+ hours a week in the first place when we don't need to.