We learn same old lesson from Indiana law that claims to protect religious rights: Money talks

When did the fight about religious liberty change from protecting the right to practice in private to asserting a right to impose a religious practice on a public space?

It’s a rhetorical question, because history tells us that for at least 200 years the religious rightwing has always wanted to impose Christianity on American society, just like radical Muslims want to impose a conservative version of Islam on civil societies across the Middle East. We know that the America’s religious rightwing has become more pushy over the past 35 years as it has become more politically powerful—thanks to a deal to join forces with those who support the economic interests of the wealthy. The campaign against the war on Christmas, the many state laws trying to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights, the demands that the state pay for religious education through voucher programs, the demonizing of Michael Schiavo and passage of “Terri Schiavo” laws—these are some of the steps that the Christian right has taken to impose its religious values on the rest of the country.

But we do live in a secular society and sometimes the religious right pushes too far.

The mainstream of business leaders, pundits, politicians and media have joined progressives in believing the new Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows business to discriminate against LGBT individuals and couples. Indiana Governor Mike Pence and other conservative supporters of the new law believe that it merely protects religious people and the organizations they control from having to take actions against their religious beliefs.

It sounds like a face-off between two rights, each with equal standing, but it’s really not. There is no right to refuse to sell goods or services to anyone because you don’t approve of their private actions. Many people who support the law—Pence, the Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush—insist that it won’t enable discrimination against LGBT, although the comments of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker all suggest that they don’t care about gay rights as long as religious rights are preserved.

An analysis of what the law means on the level of day-to-day actions reveals that at its heart, it represents an imposition of religion on civil society. Let’s start by all the real-world actions that the law might protect: Private worship in the home? Other laws protect that. The right to display religious imagery on one’s own property? Other laws protect that. The right to gather with others of like mind and pray or philosophize together? Other laws protect that. So why did we need this law if not to enable individuals and corporations to act out their beliefs in ways that do impinge on others?

Supporters of the law have yet to name one additional action not allowed previously that religious individuals and the organizations they control will now be able because of the new law.

Keep in mind that many businesses can quietly refuse to serve anyone, although as the recent case of Macy’s discriminating against blacks in New York City, you have to be pretty subtle about it. Take everyone’s favorite example of the florist or photographer who doesn’t want to work a same-sex wedding. A vendor can claim to be “too busy, jack up the price or market the business solely through religious vehicles such as the local Christian business directories. As long as no one discovers a pattern of discrimination, the vendor—be it florist, landlord or adoption agency—could always get away with it. If the interpretation of most in the mainstream and on the left is correct—and I think it is—the new law would enable these vendors to take their discriminatory attitudes out of the closet and explicitly tell LGBT people why they won’t serve them.

Thus, when we reduce the lofty words about religious freedom to specific actions, we can only conclude that either the law is unnecessary or that those supporting it do want to give people and corporations the right to refuse service to others because of a difference in religious practice.

Even as the Indiana governor and legislators raise a hue and cry about the hue and cry everyone else has raised about this ill-conceived law, they are nevertheless acting swiftly to amend it to make certain that no one can hide behind it to discriminate.

The reason for this rear guard action is money: They fear that businesses will take theirs away from the state. In the few days since the Indiana legislature passed and Pence signed the law, large employers in Indiana and all over the country have protested loudly. Indianapolis-based Angie’s List has canceled a $40 million office expansion. The Gap, Apple and Levi Strauss have all come out against the law, as have the administrations of Indiana and Butler Universities. So has the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is holding its basketball finals in Indianapolis and has an extensive operation in Indianapolis. Several smaller organizations have already canceled conventions planned for Indiana’s largest city.

Those who believe that the United States is a secular nation should naturally rejoice that the Indiana state legislature is going to fix the new law to make certain no one can use it to discriminate against others in the marketplace. But we should mourn the fact that Indiana’s elected officials are not acting from a sense of right and wrong, but rather reacting to what the moneyed interests want. It reflects the hypocrisy of many of the politicians who follow the classic demagogue playbook in upholding the views of the religious right. Their support is not sincere, but part of a snow job to gain support for economic programs and policy that hurt 99% of the country but help their real employers—the super wealthy.

Once again, in the immortal words of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, “When money talks, no one listens to the accent.”

House budget seeks to make war, not love thy neighbor

Snip, snip, snip. They’re cutting down the nets.

I’m not talking about overjoyed college basketball players standing on ladders to cut down the basket nets to the cheers of rabid fans after advancing to the next round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

No, that loud and constant snipping sound we hear comes from our nation’s capital where Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to shred the social safety net.

Healthcare aid to the poor. Cut.

Food stamps for families who can’t otherwise afford a decent meal: Cut.

Special education. Cut.

Pell grants to help poor students afford a college education. Cut.

Job training. Cut. Housing assistance. Cut. Federally-funded research. Cut.

The one government function not to get the hatchet is defense. The House budget actually gives the Pentagon more than it requested, including $96 billion that the generals can spend without telling Congress why. They call it the Overseas Contingency Operations funds, or OCO, but that’s just a euphemism for a slush fund.

And not just for military spending, but for spending on war. As a New York Times article points out, the House budget gives the Defense Department less than it wanted for basic operations, but more than double what it requested for waging war.

House Republicans say they are slashing programs to reduce the deficit, but the fact they saved war from the cutting table suggests that what they really wanted to do was stop paying for social welfare programs.  Thus the budget takes money from poor people and gives it to the military contractors and defense manufacturers who benefit most from increased spending on war.

When we look at the money flow, it all makes sense. This budget continues the proud Republican tradition of stealing from the poor to give to the wealthy. It’s the essence of the Reagan agenda, which still guides Republican economic policy. The true objective behind the budget differs not a whit from that goal behind other Republican actions that transfer money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, such as replacing public schools with charter schools that pay teachers less and administrators more; cutting taxes on the wealthy while also cutting social welfare programs; or making it easier for businesses to resist labor unions so they can pay their employees less and keep more of the profits.

The House budget also includes language that could lead to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would end the health insurance of millions of Americans, while driving up the cost of coverage significantly for those lucky enough to keep their insurance. The House budget also takes the first step to privatizing Medicare.

It’s not just the flow of money that makes the Republican budget so odious, it’s also the values behind it: These self-proclaimed protectors of American values say “no” to helping the young, the sick, the poor and the elderly, but say “yes” to bombs, tanks and guns. I know these guys hated the 1960s, but that’s no reason to make “make war, not love” in a mockery of that earlier age’s slogan projecting a world of peace and prosperity.

There is absolutely no chance that this budget will become law. The more reasonable Senate will undoubtedly mess with it, and even if it does pass in close to present form, President Obama will certainly veto it.

But all that means is that programs that help poor people, those who send their children to public schools and those who use America’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems will suffer gradual strangulation, not an instantaneous deathblow. Why? Because without a budget, the sequester will remain in effect and keep slowly choking the budgets of all federal programs.

And if the Republicans could somehow exempt military spending from the sequester, they wouldn’t mind that outcome at all.

Ted Cruz is more likely to become star orator on the rightwing rubber chicken circuit than president

With all the imagining Ted Cruz was doing in his speech announcing he’s running for president, one thing I don’t think he was imagining was winning.

In fact, I’m convinced Cruz knows he’s not going to win and he doesn’t care, since he’s not really in the race to win.

What I believe Cruz is after is to solidify his career as a radical religious-based right wing nudge, someone who can command fancy prices to throw red meat to the faithful at rightwing gatherings. If I’m right, the true competition for Cruz is not political trust fund babies Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, but current religious right demagogues Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. There are just so many $50,000 honorariums floating around.

My theory depends on Cruz being a rational person who realizes that he has pissed off too many mainstream Republicans with his obstreperous grandstanding and obstructionism since he assumed the office of junior U.S. senator from Texas. He knows that his loud-mouthed intemperance may have given him national visibility but at the cost of burning bridges. When it comes time for Republican senators and Congressional representatives to begin giving endorsements, I’m guessing they’ll go out of their way not to give their nod to Cruz.

My assumption that rationality guides Cruz’s actions stems more from his background than from his public statements, which show an irresponsible disregard for economics, economic history and how government works in the 21st century real world. I’m assuming that if Cruz didn’t pick up good reasoning skills growing up as the privileged child of business owners, he certainly picked them up at Princeton or Harvard Law School. Of course, Cruz was also indoctrinated in middle school and high school into the beliefs of the Christian and economic rightwing, and perhaps these beliefs have addled his brain.

I could be all wrong. Cruz’s wife is a high-ranking executive at Goldman Sachs, and maybe Goldman is looking for a reliable Republican to offset their investment into the campaigns of such Democrats as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Maybe Cruz is backed by the kind of deep pockets that kept Newt Gingrich in the 2012 race long enough to embarrass himself.

He might also be thinking that running this year will increase his visibility, thereby setting him up for serious runs in 2020 or 2024, by which time he’ll be only 54. But candidates that start in the extreme rightwing fringe like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum usually remain fringe candidates, even as their visibility rises. The way to win the Republican presidential candidacy is to start in the middle and look right. That’s what has worked for every Republican candidate since Nixon. My guess is Cruz knows that his strength as a demagogue is also his weakness as a serious candidate, so instead of jockeying for a future race, he is positioning himself for the gravy train awaiting all politicians willing to appeal to the doctrinaire ignorance of the Christian right while espousing economic policies that enable Cruz’s social and economic class—the wealthy—to continue pulling more and more money from the middle class and poor through lower taxes on the wealthy, privatization, policies that keep a lid on wages, the dismantling of the social network and government disinvestment into America’s future.

Koch Industries uses college sports programming to try to brainwash American public

Why would a major university want to be associated with a company that has spent tens of millions of dollars espousing views that go against mainstream science and the preponderance of historical economic data?

Do I even have to supply the answer? But here’s a hint: It’s in the title of songs written by Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the men in ABBA, R Kelly and the team that wrote the songs for the Broadway musical, “Cabaret.”

The major universities in question include Penn State, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Oklahoma, among others. The company supplying the stuff that makes the world go round is Koch Industries.

But those worried that Koch money is going to directly poison research into the effects of global warming, government regulation, the minimum wage and unionism, can rest easy. Koch Industries is not giving the research dollars to academic departments.

No, what the Kochs are doing is advertising to fans of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams of 15 universities.

Koch recently announced a three-year deal to advertise to these universities with Learfield Sports, which is a company that negotiates advertising deals for dozens of college sports programs across the country. The news release announcing the deal calls it a “multi-year, integrated national sponsorship platform,” whatever the heck that is. Besides advertising, Koch will have signs in stadiums and arenas, social media advertising campaigns and other nontraditional marketing programs.

The news release doesn’t really get into what the Kochs will be saying in their ads, except in the most nebulous of ways, such as “Koch looks to Learfield to tell its story..,” “college sports are a great fit for us,” and “develop a meaningful program…to help drive home their goals of being able to give back to the college communities.” We do know that the topic of some of the advertising will be honoring employees and retirees, a common way that corporations combine marketing with employee relations.

A wonderful opinion piece by Kavitha A. Davidson, who writes sports opinion pieces for Bloomberg News, points out the similarities between the goals of Koch Industries and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is not a party to the deal, except by inference (since the NCAA sets the rules for college sports). Both Koch Industries and the NCAA are fighting unions; Koch has also spent a lot of money opposing the minimum wage, while the NCAA is currently being sued for minimum wage law violations.

Davidson misses another way that Koch Industries resembles college sports: College sports distort the mission of universities, just as the millions of dollars that Koch spends on political campaigns distort our political process and what should be the mission of our elected officials. Sports money corrupts many institutions, as we see in the recent examples of the University of North Carolina and Syracuse University, just as Koch money corrupts our political process.

Even if Koch Industries doesn’t use the opportunity to speak with millions of college sports fans to spread its boldfaced lies about the mythical free market, taxes, the minimum wage, global warming and unionism, it will still be furthering its political agenda, which hurts everyone in the United States except the top .1% in terms of wealth. Every happy-faced employee and retiree lauded for contributing to the community or the company and every mention of Koch Industries sponsoring this or that sports radio feature will improve its reputation with the target market. Plus, there are many subtle ways to sneak in hidden messages: references to the power of the free market to solve problems and the value of volunteerism (as opposed to government programs); citations of the huge number of Koch employees or Koch contributions to communities; faces of happy and hard-working women and minorities. Moreover, the repetition of the Koch name in association with what the audience perceives as a positive experience (college sports) will offset the many references in the news media to the Koch family’s support of rightwing think tanks and political candidates.

So, anyone who has recently asked the question, “How could college sports get any more corrupted and corrupting than it already is,” we now have an answer: Get the Kochs involved.

Basic premise of rightwing economics makes American society unfit, according to latest evolutionary theories

In Does Altruism Exist, David Sloan Wilson lays down the most advanced theory of how natural selection works. He reduces libraries worth of research and studies to a single statement: Within groups, selfish behavior by individuals succeeds, but between groups, groups with more altruistic behavior succeed.

Wilson defines altruism purely in terms of action, not distinguishing whether the motive is selfish or not. If the action benefits others and not the individual, it is altruistic. If the action benefits the self (or the self more than it helps others), it is selfish. Wilson further distinguishes between low-cost altruism like sharing your popcorn and high-cost altruism like dying in war.

Science finds that within a group, the more selfish individuals thrive, making selfishness within a group or a species the best way to survive, which in the case of evolutionary theory, means transmitting your genes to the next generation. But time after time, groups with higher percentages of altruistic acts beat those with more selfish acts and actors, which means the group with more altruism reproduces more members.

In fact, some scientists now theorize that altruism drove some very fundamental advances in evolution. One cell creatures became multi-cell creatures because so many of the one-cellers started to work together with other one-cellers and then specialized in a function while working together. Instead of acting in their own best interest, they did what was best for the group until they became attached to one another as a brand new type of organism. According to this theory, the same type of cooperation may have caused the transition from bacteria to single-cell creatures with nuclei. No one is saying that bacteria or single-cell animals thought about the group, only that they acted in the group’s best interest. The ultimate in this kind of inter-group cooperation are the superorganisms formed by bees or ants, entire colonies in which certain individuals play lesser roles that advance the whole.

Those who buy this version of evolution—and I count myself among them—will quickly see that the economic theories that currently guide our politics doom us to failure. Since the ascent of Ronald Reagan, we have enthroned the selfish pursuit of material gain as the greatest good for all, and for society. Our basic economic theory—taken out of context from an 18th century economic philosopher—is that if everyone pursues their own selfish interests, unconstrained, all of society will thrive. As Sloan points out, this benevolent “invisible hand” does not really exist.

Sloan, does not, however, put America’s reliance on selfishness into a real-world context. Our infrastructure of roads, bridges and mass transit are in disrepair. Public schools and universities suffer from a lack of public support. We lag behind other nations in terms of basic research into alterative energy technologies. This deterioration in the fitness of the United States results from the selfish acts of wealthy individuals and their factotums in elected offices, all dedicated to the politics and the economics of selfishness. The selfish acts entailed cutting taxes on the wealthy and spending by the government.

But does the decline make us weaker relative to other human groups, most of which face similar social dislocations?

It doesn’t matter, because it certainly weakens the larger group called the human race, makes us less fit as a species to survive. The mindlessly consumer society and the politics of selfishness seem to reign in most parts of the world, although often to a lesser extent than in the United States. Our actions are rapidly heating the world, and at a certain point it will get so hot that it will become inhospitable to humans—too many crop failures, too many epidemics, too many wars over fresh water, oil and other scarce resources, too many massive deaths from super hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes.

We are close to reaching a tipping point, and the only way to avoid it is for all of us in industrialized nations to sacrifice, to act altruistically. Curtailing driving and perhaps ending private ownership of automobiles, using mass transit, composting, keeping the temperature cooler in winter and warmer in the summer, recycling, taking fewer vacations, paying more for energy and products, living with fewer possessions in smaller spaces—this list does not exhaust the major and minor changes that we all have to make. Perhaps most critically, we have to limit our births—one child per person—to reduce our population without war, famine or epidemic. We have to structure our economy to deliver goods and services to a declining population. All these actions will involve restraining the individual for the good of the whole. Whether mandated or voluntary, the actions we need to take to make our species fitter are all altruistic.

Another journalist revels in self-proclaimed stupidity by averring he’s afraid of math

There must be some unwritten law that journalists for the mainstream media are not allowed to write about a topic that involves numbers unless they first establish that they dislike, fear or are unable to understand math. Setting aside the issue of whether their narcissistic belief that their own math problem really warrants discussion, these math dummy confessions disqualify the writers from covering the very subject they are supposed to be exploring.

We see the latest example of a math dummy confessional in “Retirement Reality Is Catching Up With Me,” the lead story in the New York Times’ latest “Retirement” section. The article is supposed to be about how the writer, John Schwartz, began his own retirement planning at the age of 58, so we can forgive the narcissism (that is, once we accept the premise that we should care about this one writer’s retirement planning travails).

Schwartz is a long-time Times journalist who has written on such math-heavy subjects as climate change and space travel. And yet he claims to be scared of numbers. Here’s his extended quote on the topic, which we might consider a masterpiece of quibbling, except that it’s exactly the train of thought that Charles Blow used a month ago to attempt to qualify himself as disqualified to write about math education:

Why has it taken until I’m nearly 58 to open my eyes? My excuse is simple: Numbers scare me. I am not alone in this. Scientists who study math anxiety say that the anticipation of crunching numbers can lead to the kind of agitation that, on a brain scan, looks a lot like the perception of physical pain. As a reporter, I can be stirred to learn what I need to know to cover numbers in science and business and other topics; if I don’t, somebody will fire me. (Incentive!) But I’ve largely kept out of my own business.

We’re supposed to believe that of all the talented journalists at the disposal of New York Times editors to cover climate change and space travel that they selected someone who is afraid of the language of science?  That someone who infers he is “agitated…a lot like the perception of pain” by the very thought of crunching numbers wouldn’t quickly get himself reassigned to cover stories that didn’t involve something that scared him?

I think it’s more likely that Schwartz is taking a little poetic license: trying to turn himself into an average person, to empathize with his audience, which in this case seems to be people in their 50s and older who haven’t started serious retirement planning. To make himself this average guy, however, he turns to that old canard that math is hard.

As the article progresses and he and his wife confront retirement issues, Schwartz never circles back to the math challenge, never lets us know that most of the math involved in retirement planning is arithmetic or simple algebra, or that the financial planning industry has hundreds of calculators and formulas that do the work for you. He does mention completing a long survey and plugging numbers into a model, yet he never admits that the math was easy or nonexistent. We never see the resolution of his math anxiety. He has no need to, I guess, since his math anxiety was just a scene-setting detail, only important in so far that it carries the hidden message that math is hard to learn.

As I have discussed numerous times in OpEdge, asserting that math is hard is part of anti-intellectualism, which is one of the great ideological principles underlying virtually everything seen and heard in the mass media since the end of the Second World War. Day by day we’re bombarded with anti-intellectual statements and ideological subtext such as “math is hard,” “math causes anxiety,” “math isn’t fun,” “smart people are bad athletes and socially inept,” “college is only about getting a job,” “science isn’t fun,” “geniuses are usually mentally ill or extremely eccentric,” “the cool kids like to party” and “intelligent design is a valid theory,” just to name some of the more frequent variants of the anti-intellectual ideology. The cumulative effect is to create a culture that does not strive for or respect intellectual achievement.

Schwartz begins his article with the sentence, “I am an idiot.” He’s not, but he must think his readers are.

GOP letter to Iran is not about treaty but about undermining the legitimacy of President Obama

Republicans, and Democrats for that matter, have every right to make public their opposition to negotiating an agreement that will slow down or stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in return for lifting severe economic sanctions on Iran.

But I don’t believe foreign policy has anything to do with why 47 Republican Senators signed a public letter warning the Iranians that after Barack Obama leaves office, the next President could rescind any treaty.

No, what we’re talking about here is the latest in a six-year concerted campaign to undermine the legitimacy of our president. The letter belongs under the same rubric as the birther controversy, the frequent accusations that Obama doesn’t understand or love his country, and the snubbing of the president by inviting a foreign leader—Benjamin Netanyahu—to speak before Congress without first clearing it with the Oval Office.

Since Republicans have failed to convince most Americans that Obama is some disruptive stranger void of American values, they act to demean his person by trying to conduct their own foreign policy. BTW, the last time a party out of power ignored a President’s role in foreign policy, it also had to do with Iran—it was the secret and illegal negotiations that Ronald Reagan’s advisors held with Iranians in 1980 to delay return of the hostages until after the presidential election in return for secret weapon deliveries to Iran once Reagan assumed the presidency.

For proof that the letter is merely meant to demean Barack Obama, check out this key sentence: “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.” First of all, while the president could bypass the Senate by signing an executive agreement with Iran concerning development of nuclear weaponry, only Congress can permanently end the economic sanctions against Iran, giving Congress de facto veto power over a deal. But the really wild part of the sentence is the reference to Ayatollah Khamenei, which turns an agreement between two governments into a personal matter between Obama and the personification of the Iranian Islamic right wing. The phrasing of the letter detaches Obama from a standard government process and attached him to one of the leading symbols of “terrifying otherness” bandied about by rightwing fear-mongers in the United States and elsewhere.

What the Republican Senators are really saying with the letter is that Obama is not a real representative of the United States and its government. In the context of the almost continuous attempts to question the legitimacy not of Obama’s policies but of the man himself, the inherent racism behind the letter should shine through to all. Overt racism stands behind the birther and “hates America” comments. The letter and previous Netanyahu speech act more subtly, undermining Obama’s legitimacy, but leaving it to their rightwing audience to supply the reason why Obama is illegitimate in their silent thoughts—“because he’s black.”

Here’s a poem I wrote 6 years ago about the second Selma march

It’s easy to forget that there were three Selma marches. March 7 commemorates the bloody first march in which state troopers and a county posse attacked 600 unarmed marchers when they reached the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The marchers had wanted to walk 50 odd miles to Montgomery, the Alabama state capitol, to raise awareness of the fight for voting rights.

The images on television were unforgettably horrifying, and America rose, almost as one, to support the marchers.  People from all walks of life using every means of transportation descended on Selma for a second march.  Now there were 2,500 marchers, led by Martin Luther King, who had sat out the first march. I haven’t seen the movie “Selma,” but as Taylor Branch tells it in Pillars of Fire, King debated whether to risk injury or assassination by leading the second march. I have always wondered what goes into the decision to put your life at risk for an idea. It must be frightening to contemplate your own death, and yet to still walk into the lions’ den.

Although the second march on March 9 was merely symbolic, it held the potential for more violence. The Southern Christian Leadership Council tried to get a court order that would prohibit the police from interfering with the next attempt to walk from Selma to Montgomery. The judge decided to issue a restraining order prohibiting another march until he could hold hearings on the court order. So America watched as King led the marchers to the bridge, where he declared victory and said they would wait for the court order.

Much happened before the triumphant third march: The KKK beat to death a white minister and he died after the Selma Hospital refused to treat him. President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act before both houses of Congress. There were several protests for voting rights elsewhere in the south. Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers. And of course, the judge granted the court order saying that the marchers could march because they were exercising their constitutional rights.

The third march that started on March 21 was almost anti-climactic, a five-day marathon of media coverage that started with 8,000 in Selma and ended with 30,000 witnessing another timeless speech by King on the steps of the Alabama Capitol Building. It was very much a victory party, since the marchers were well-protected by the troops and it was apparent that Congress was going to pass the Voting Rights Act. Thus, when I wrote a poem about Selma six years ago, I decided to focus on the second march.

Here is my poem, “The Second Selma March.” The poem, by the way, is a serious travesty of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” about five nuns fleeing Prussian anti-Catholic laws who drowned when their steam ship, The Deutschland, sank in the North Sea in 1875. The arrangement of lines, stanza length, tumbling accretion of verbs, nouns and adjectives, hyphenated words, musicality and other aspects of my poem all come from Hopkins’ poem.



“I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm…”

            – Gerard Manley Hopkins


                        It was on TV

            for all the world to touch:

the bloodied men and women

            reeling on the bridge,

the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama,

feel with them the billy clubs,

            horn-bean branches, rifle butts

on black-brown arms and legs, black-brown noses, chins,


                        and lash of bull whips

            swinging hard by hate-sieged men

in uniforms and gas masks,

            tear gas melting lungs and eyes,

on TV for all to see, the bleeding broken

borne on arms and stretchers into church.

            As one the viewers rise

from beer or dinner, stand and cry,


                        Is this my land, is this

            the soil of equal hopes, of equal dreams?

and in a common rapture east to west,

            people stop their meetings, drop their jobs,

board buses, railcars, airplanes, autos

bound for bloody Selma for another march,

            another chance to show the world,

to show themselves they live in freedom’s land.


                        Dead, dead, dead

            if I should march to Edmund Pettus Bridge,

closed-door Martin’s dread of next day’s plan

            before a watching world, confronts

protected points, every ledge and rock along the way,

every liquored angry cracker white with smarts:

            lay of the land, way to escape

after drawing, pulling, piercing him with searing shot.


                      My greater fear:

            to die or disappoint?               

to cease to be or cease to matter?

            March he does

leading new recruits from every state

before the pens and cameras, before the snakelike

            seething men, march he does,

a new rhythm haunting him, a fearless rhythm,


                        relentless echo rhythm,

            sun blister cloud water wind shatter rhythm,

rhythm ready to pay the price,

            peaceful ordnance steady step and turn.

And thousands march along, and multi-millions

watch as at the bridge the troopers wave

            their clubs and court orders

and stop them, but only from crossing:


                        Martin prays,

            declares freedom victorious,

turns home to wait

            for briefs in court, the slower march,

inevitable camp and walk, sing and praise,

five days fifty miles to Alabama’s capitol steps,

            thirty thousand strong to witness Martin ask

How long, not long, not long at all.



Ferguson financing city operations on backs of the poor is just business as usual

The U.S. Department of Justice Report on the Ferguson, Missouri police department (FPD) makes clear that the City of Ferguson made raising revenue the primary objective of the FPD and the Ferguson court system. In budgets, memos, emails, commands to police and meeting minutes, the DOJ found an explicit collective program to fund city operations with traffic and parking tickets and public safety fines for minor offenses such as not keeping a tidy lawn. The DOJ documents that Ferguson’s fines are much higher than other Missouri cities of the same size, as are the percentage of all city revenues that comes from fining citizens.

Rural counties in Texas, West Virginia and elsewhere have long had a history of stopping those driving cars with out-of-state plates to pump up the local treasury. Ferguson has taken this gambit one step further by going after its own citizens.

But no one should be surprised or shocked to learn that the Ferguson, Missouri city government financed its operations on the backs of the poor and middle class.  It happens all the time, although usually not with the overtly racist element. When municipalities use tax dollars to build new stadiums with more luxury boxes but fewer cheap seats, as happened in New York, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and elsewhere, it represents a convoluted form of taxing the poor and middle class to fund municipal benefits to the wealthy. When states and local governments decide to fund activities by issuing bonds that constitute safe investments for rich folk and pay off those bonds through taxing everyone, it’s another complicated way to shift financing burdens to the poor and middle class. The report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform a few years back didn’t suggest much to help balance the budget but did propose giving rich folk big fat tax breaks while increasing taxes on the poor and middle class, thus shifting to the latter the burden of paying for government.  The net effect of the several tax breaks and tax hikes over the past 35 years has been to make the poor and middle class pay a larger share of the cost of government and government services.

These and other mechanisms for making the poor and middle class pay more are far more subtle than the naked wealth grab we have seen in Ferguson. The headlines in the DOJ report depict a contemporary version of highway robbery:

  • FPD Engages in a Pattern of Unconstitutional Stops and Arrests in Violation of the Fourth Amendment
  • FPD Engages in a Pattern of First Amendment Violations
  • FPD Engages in a Pattern of Excessive Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment
  • Court Practices Impose Substantial and Unnecessary Barriers to the Challenge or Resolution of Municipal Code Violations
  • The Court Imposes Unduly Harsh Penalties for Missed Payments or Appearances

We can assume that city officials knew that Afro-Americans were arrested and fined at a much higher rate than their representation in the population, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other: the result of using the criminal justice system as a source of revenue and overtly discriminating against blacks in arrests and court treatment pretty much defines the kind of institutional racism that transcends whatever laws are in place to protect against discrimination.

Global warming deniers share many characteristics with those who defended slavery in first half of 19th century

On close inspection, the political and economic dynamics involving man-made global warming over the past 40 years resemble those of slavery in the United States from about 1790 until the Civil War.

In both the case of slavery and man-made global warming, an overwhelming moral imperative begs us to act as individuals and as a community, but action is forestalled to accommodate the economic interests of a handful of wealthy individuals.

Pretty much everyone except for the hard-core defenders of slavery knew that it was morally wrong by the end of the 18th century. Yet many people like Thomas Jefferson pretended (or stupidly believed) that the main impediment to ending the institution of slavery was the fact that the Black slaves were inferior beings who couldn’t cope with the demands of contemporary society. This belief, often based on a false science called “scientific racism,” persisted despite the preponderance of real-world evidence to the contrary. The lies and distortions used to justify slavery concealed the real reason the institution persisted: slavery was in the economic best interests of a handful of ultra-wealthy and politically connected Southern growers and Northern merchants. Even as more people began to oppose the horrors of slavery and Northern business interests developed alternative economic structures, slavery continued to spread West from the southeastern Atlantic coast towards Texas.

It took the savage butchery of the Civil War to end slavery in the Unites States. In the war to fight secession and end slavery more than 600,000 soldiers died, countless others suffered injuries and the slave-owning states that seceded from the Union saw their economies decimated. Before the war, millions of slaves died from overwork and murder or suffered beatings, whippings, rapes and other violence from their owners and a society that conflated their humanity with private property.

We can see the same dynamics that led to the Civil War working in the case of man-made global warming. It’s as morally wrong to avoid addressing a problem that could lead to the deaths and suffering of hundreds of millions of people in the near future as it was to enslave millions of human beings. BTW, some experts have shown that the adverse effects of environmental degradation hit the poor and people of color around the world much worse than they hit the wealthy.

Global warming deniers tell two kinds of lies to conceal that their main concern is their own selfish short-term interests. The first lie is to deny that the Earth is warming or aver that the warming is part of the natural unfolding of Earth’s history and not because of humans. Another variation of this scientific lie is to postulate that the impact of global warming will not be catastrophic. Just as the super-wealthy whose riches depended on slavery found so-called experts to tell the various lies that justified slavery, so have the ultra-wealthy whose riches depend on polluting our environment. A handful of scientists—less than 1% of those qualified to proffer an opinion—have received undue attention in the mass media for their misrepresentations of the science of climatology; we know that some scientists who deny global warming, like the disgraced and disgraceful Wei-Hock Soon, have been in the pay of groups that deny global warming.

The other big global warming lie is that an expeditious transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources will destroy our economy. Economic studies demonstrate that the impact of increasing pollution limits on fossil fuels and depending on wind, hydraulic and solar energy will be quite minor. Some people will lose their jobs and find others, but that happens in any dynamic economy that routinely introduces new technologies. New pollution controls, research and development into alternative energies, retrofitting manufacturing systems and delivering the new forms of energy to consumers and business will all create new jobs and economic wealth. The big change will be that those who own the means of producing and delivering fossil fuels and fossil-fuel based electricity and those whose industrial processes depend on fossil fuels will see the basis of their incredible wealth upended—which is what happened to slave owners.

Just as slavery continued for decades in the face of growing opposition, even as more people come to realize that continuing to rely on fossil fuels is immoral and short-sighted, the pollution not only continues, but grows.

There is one difference between the dynamics involving slavery. The death and destruction wrought by slavery was apparent to anyone who cared to read the works of abolitionists or to visit a large plantation. The harm caused by man-made global warming and other environmental degradations is harder to picture. We look at the ocean from a beautiful beach and do not see the increased carbon dioxide in the water that’s slowly killing important ecosystems. It’s hard for most people to connect the dramatic increase in extreme weather events with the increase in both average temperatures and ambient carbon dioxide. Moreover, the conflagration—which may involve environmental disasters, weather calamities and wars for resources—is still in the future.

Slavery was a horrible institution. Millions of slaves lived their lives under the yoke of violence, their freedom and dignity denied. I believe that every American should spend at least one minute every day thinking about our nation’s collective guilt in enslaving and mistreating millions of our fellow human beings.

But make no mistake about it. If we don’t act both quickly and radically to address man-made global warming, the death and destruction from it will end up being much greater than what Africans and African-Americans suffered under slavery.