Debates over “civility” are nothing new for Quakers. And other people.
The last time I was thrown out of a retail establishment, it was a screen printing shop in Fayetteville NC, near Fort Bragg. I came in on a warm day in 2007, wanting some tee shirts made for a conference being planned by Quaker House. The shirts were to be black, and the wording something like this:
I handed over a CD with the image on it, and the guy at the desk put down his cigarette & slid it into a computer. I couldn’t see the screen when the image came up; but his widened eyes told me.
He stood up as the CD slid back out of the slot. “Hey, Sarge,” he called, and carried it into a back room.
“Sarge” was out in a couple moments; likely retired Army. He didn’t throw the CD at me, but dropped it on the counter and made clear in a loud voice that anybody at Guantanamo or what we were just learning to call “black sites” was a goddam terrorist who deserved whatever they got, and that he was not about to print such treason as this on any of his shirts.
I didn’t quibble. But I called the next shop on my list before I went in, to see if they too had any objection. The shirts got done. And I didn’t think til later about how the issue of who was being uncivil here could be fitted into the “It’s Complicated” category:
Was it “Sarge,” who at best might have considered my image some very bad joke that didn’t play; or was it I, who brought such a patently offensive message into his patriotic establishment?
A good friend works the late shift in a 24-hour diner near here. During the slow hours, the diner is a stopping place for homeless people. For the last couple of nights, one particular homeless man has come in. Last night he handed over a grimy five dollar bill and ordered some eggs & bacon.
Halfway through eating it he stood and asked for a take-out box. When handed it, he walked around the nearly-empty diner, scooping into it all the scraps and leftovers from plates that hadn’t been cleared, then left.
Such scavenging is strictly against the house rules; but my friend studiously ignored it. She’s become particularly permissive since she met up with two young women camping out behind the dumpster in the back parking lot.
She met them during the recent dry weeks. Then the rains came for several days, often pelting and blowing, and the young women left. We’re in the third week of another dry spell, and newcomers are here, crouched behind a different dumpster by the gas station up the block. They sweat through the mid-nineties days and scrounge for food that’s enroute to becoming trash.
Which brings me to Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, who just threw a fit because that body’s poverty investigator (aka special rapporteur) after making an extensive study trip cross the nation, dared to call for examining poverty in America.
“It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” Haley wrote in a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday. “In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”
Why “ridiculous”? Because, she said, there are other countries which have higher poverty rates than ours. (True enough, but that doesn’t feed our hungry or homeless. Read the article for her short “Whatabout” list of countries; interesting that they were places populated by dark-skinned children of God.)
This outburst was not surprising. For that matter its deep roots in southern hypocrisy were easy to expose. Haley is the former governor of South Carolina, which has long been among the states with the highest rates of poverty. Further, it is the runaway leader, Numero Uno for decades, in slurping up federal welfare.
Last year, for instance, South Carolina received almost eight dollars in federal payments for every one dollar the IRS collected there. It’s also in the top ten states for the percentage of residents getting food stamps.
And its poverty figures show some familiar skews: it’s among the top 8 for child poverty, and top 11 for working women who are still poor.
But who could forget race? As you might expect, Haley’s home state is a pace-setter here too. This chart lists poverty by ethnicity:
There’s another key indicator, the proportion of citizens living in mobile homes. Here South Carolina is in front again, beating out even my state:
Nonetheless, Haley declared that
“I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and politically motivated statements about American domestic policy issues,” Haley said. “Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities” of the United Nations.
Well, tell it to the guy who asked for the takeout box at my friend’s diner. Speaking of whom, he mentioned that he was taking his box of scraps back to the tent camp down near Exit 13 on the Durham Freeway. Was he going to share it there, or keep it and try to stretch it through the long hot day, unless he dozed off and the rats got to it? He didn’t say.
I know that camp. Drive past it almost every day; less than a mile from my house. As such places go, it’s been relatively innocuous. After the last spell of rain, most of the tents seemed to disappear. Besides the downpours, the state had posted a sort-of eviction notice, telling them to clear out or face arrest. A few left; others said they had nowhere else to go. As of yesterday, the tents were back, and no one has yet been arrested.
The camp will probably be cleared soon; nearby property owners will relax. Then it will reassemble somewhere else. The latest report from HUD says homelessness in the US is declining as the economy strengthens; but such numbers are suspect, and disputed for me by data gathered by my own eyes.
Nevertheless, Haley’s indignation is all too common, especially among our current rulers. The UN report clashes with the official story that America is being made “great again”, and poverty ipsofacto is on the way out, or doesn’t actually exist, except maybe for welfare cheaters, (or Republicans indicted by rogue federal prosecutors).
Perhaps I’m not doing her justice here. But in gauging her reaction, beyond Palmetto hypocrisy, there’s the fact that the Special Rapporteur on poverty was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which Haley had just taken the US out of.
Most observers saw the US departure as a way of deflecting its criticisms of Israel. But reviewing Haley’s outburst about its investigating US poverty suggests that there may be more to her agenda here.
I turn now to my report on the United States. My starting point is that the combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities.
The United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million of those live in extreme poverty. In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.
In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of
(i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’);
(ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and
(iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits.
For example, a Farm Bill approved yesterday by Republicans in the House of Representatives would impose stricter work requirements on up to 7 million food stamp recipients. Presumably this would also affect the tens of thousands of serving military personnel whose families need to depend on food stamps, and the 1.5 million low-income veterans who receive them. . . .”
Bernie Sanders didn’t think so: “You are certainly right in suggesting that poverty in many countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi is far worse than it is in the United States,” Sanders said. “But … as it happens, I personally believe that it is totally appropriate for the U.N. Special Rapporteur to focus on poverty in the United States.”
And never mind Haley & the UN, or Alston and Bernie. Tonight my friend will be back at the diner, gathering her own data. She hasn’t talked to Philip Alston. But I bet she could give him quite an earful; along with some good waffles.
Or for that matter, she could tell Haley a thing or two as well.
I didn’t plan to do a followup to the previous post on the Bible and defending slavery.
But there’s been something tragicomic in the scramble by some reporters to get churchy rebuttals to the use, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, echoed by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, of the Bible to defend their latest, cruelest border policy of splitting up families and penning up children. This scramble also brings up some similar issues & dilemmas.
“The Bible does not justify cruel, dangerous and inhumane border enforcement practices,” said Diane Randall, Executive Secretary for FCNL. “It teaches us to love our neighbors, not to break up families. We are critical of the use of Biblical teachings to justify an immoral political decision of this Administration.”
Double Irony Time:
The Southern Baptist Convention just adopted a resolution condemning the view that the Bible supports slavery, which was the main premise on which the SBC was founded back in 1845. To back up this new view, it cites Bible verses used by 18th Century abolitionists to condemn slavery, which the early SBC long & steadfastly denounced as heretical, subversive, etc. That’s Irony #1.
Driving up Interstate 95 on the evening of May 19, a few miles north of Fayetteville, North Carolina I spotted this billboard, which I had not seen before. It seemed worth documenting, so I made a U-turn at the next exit and was soon aiming the phone camera at it.
But before I got there I stopped a few miles farther south on 95, where the nearest example of this campaign stands.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. . . .”
There’s lots that’s wrong about moving the U. S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, not least the trail of dead Palestinians.
Here I’ll focus on what might seem a sideshow, but is actually crucial to the whole project: the administration’s deadly alliance with so-called “Christian Zionists,” who were the move’s loudest promoters, and who have plenty of religious bigotry to spare.
Here I find myself again in unusual company, agreeing with Mitt Romney, who pointed up & condemned this:
NBC News: “Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney lashed out at the decision to have a controversial evangelical leader give a blessing at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday, calling him a “religious bigot.”
After thinking about the remodeled “backing-up-new-Iranian-sanctions-with-War”scenario, I did some searching & quickly came across several disquieting facts:
1. Iran’s population is at least twice that of Iraq;
2. it’s also more homogenous, linguistically, culturally & especially religiously (90+% Shi’a Muslim; Iraq, 60/40 Shia vs Sunni); further,
3. Iranians tend to be quite proud of their country & culture even if they despise their government;
As Gina Haspel prepares to face Congress and the press tomorrow in her quest to become CIA Director, there’s a duel underway in the background.
The duel is between two letters: one from a company of former spy chiefs, endorsing her nomination. The other is from a battalion of retired generals and admirals, vehemently opposing it.
Torture is the nub of the clash. Haspel ran one of the CIA’s “black sites” in which prisoners were tortured. She also helped run the whole program, and called for destruction of videotapes of torture sessions, in defiance of court orders to preserve them.
It is carefully reported, and digs deep. It takes a broad view, but focuses on a huge megachurch, “Gateway,” in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
The Gateway congregations are “integrated”; people of color have been worshiping there for years; pastors at two of its “campuses” are black. As Charmaine Pruitt, one longtime attender, told the Times:
“This is what I need right now,” thought Ms. Pruitt, moved to tears when she first went to orientation programs at the church. Members who happened to sit near her at worship came to ask about her when she missed a service, and some came to her grandmother’s wake. One couple began to refer to her as a daughter.
The congregation is mostly white, but not entirely; the pastors at two of the six satellite campuses are black men. Church videos and promotional materials are intentionally filled with people of color.
But recently, some there, and in similar churches, have become increasingly uncomfortable.
Two events seem to have marked this discomfort: first was the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, followed by growing anger and protest of the killings of many more black people (mostly young males). These killings were traumatic to many; but the disturbing aspect to some Gateway attenders was the silence about them in the church.
The second landmark was the 2016 election. As the campaign proceeded, there was anything but silence from the Gateway pulpit.
The church’s founder and “Senior Pastor,” Robert Morris, preached about the election in August 2016. As the Times quoted him:
“We (in America) are going the wrong way,” he concluded. “We need to get involved, we need to pray and we need to vote.”
[Morris] never said to vote for Mr. Trump. But the implication in the sermon, and in the leaflets that [were] handed out at church, was lost on no one: that one must vote to uphold Christian values and that the Republican Party platform reflected those values. And Mr. Trump was the Republican candidate.
This sermon, and the previous silence, left Charmaine Pruitt, who had attended Gateway for some years, more & more uneasy:
Pruitt sent messages to several white couples she had befriended at the church, telling them she was going to take some time off. She had become uneasy at a church, she told them, that speaks of overcoming racism on one Sunday “and then turns around later and asks me to support” Trump, who she believed was “a racist candidate.”
One of the couples invited her to come to their house. Sitting in the living room over a plate of brownies, Ms. Pruitt explained to the wife how disturbed she had been by the clear inference from the pulpit that she should support a candidate whose behavior and rhetoric were so offensive that she could not bring herself even to say his name. The woman explained that a Trump victory had been prophesied and handed Ms. Pruitt a two-page printout, which began: “The Spirit of God says, ‘I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this.’”
[NOTE: the full text of this “prophecy,” issued in 2011, is here, with “updates.” Here is an excerpt:
The Spirit of God says, I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this. For as Benjamin Netanyahu is to Israel, so shall this man be to the United States of America! For I will use this man to bring honor, respect and restoration to America. America will be respected once again as the most powerful and prosperous nation on Earth, (other than Israel). The dollar will be the strongest it has ever been in the history of the United States, and will once again be the currency by which all others are judged.
The Spirit of God says, the enemy will quake and shake and fear this man I have anointed. They will even quake and shake when he announces he is running for president, it will be like the shot heard across the world. The enemy will say what shall we do now? This man knows all our tricks and schemes. We have been robbing America for decades, what shall we do to stop this? The Spirit says HA! No one shall stop this that l have started! For the enemy has stolen from America for decades and it stops now! For I will use this man to reap the harvest that the United States has sown for and plunder from the enemy what he has stolen and return it seven-fold back to the United States. The enemy will say Israel, Israel, what about Israel? For Israel will be protected by America once again. The spirit says yes! America will once again stand hand and hand with Israel, and the two shall be as one. For the ties between Israel and America will be stronger than ever, and Israel will flourish like never before.
The Spirit of God says, I will protect America and Israel, for this next president will be a man of his word, when he speaks the world will listen and know that there is something greater in him than all the others before him. This man’s word is his bond and the world and America will know this and the enemy will fear this, for this man will be fearless. The Spirit says, when the financial harvest begins so shall it parallel in the spiritual for America.
The Spirit of God says, in this next election they will spend billions to keep this president in; it will be like flushing their money down the toilet. Let them waste their money, for it comes from and it is being used by evil forces at work, but they will not succeed, for this next election will be a clean sweep for the man I have chosen. They [the enemy] will say things about this man, but it will not affect him, and they shall say it rolls off of him like the duck, for as the feathers of a duck protect it, so shall My feathers protect this next president. Even mainstream news media will be captivated by this man and the abilities that I have gifted him with, and they will even begin to agree with him says the Spirit of God.
[NOTE: the “next election” following this “prophecy” was that of 2012, which we will recall was won handily by Barack Obama. However, the premature chronology did not trouble the woman who gave it to Pruitt. As the Times reported]:
Barack Obama, the woman continued, should never have been president, since he was not born a United State citizen. The visit ended with the woman suggesting that Ms. Pruitt’s discomfort at the church was God telling her it was time to move on.
Ms. Pruitt never went back.
. . . Mr. Trump’s win, which one elder at Gateway described as a “supernatural answer to prayer,” generated a frisson of excitement at the church. Pastor Morris told the congregation that he was one of Mr. Trump’s faith advisers. The church was a sponsor of an inaugural ball in January 2017. . . .
Pastor Morris has since preached about race, However, his feelings about the current administration have not changed:
“We were electing what we felt was the person who held the values that the church loves dearly the most. That doesn’t mean that he’s perfect. But I do believe after spending time with him that he really wants to learn, that he really wants to do a good job for all Americans. I really do.”
There are larger racial injustices in the country, he said, and those injustices need to be fixed — though not in ways that would enable dependence, he clarified, but rather to “give people a hand up, not a handout.” He noted the low black unemployment rate under Mr. Trump. The answer to racism lies primarily in the church, not the government, he said, and now that white pastors are waking up to the pain that black people have felt, it is in many ways a hopeful time.
“I think that there’s an anger and a hurt right now, and a fear,” he said, “and I think that people are going to get past that.”
There is now a team at the church focused exclusively on making the church more diverse. On the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a 49-second video of excerpts from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was played at worship services — “a monumental moment in Gateway church history,” one pastor said, the first time that the day had been acknowledged. . . .
For Charmaine Pruitt, this was too little, too late:
[Ms. Pruitt] had kept giving tithe money to Gateway for some months after she stopped going, but after learning about the inaugural ball, started donating to another church. On most Sundays she had stayed at home, watching services online.