Category Archives: Agni ad Bellum/ The Lamb’s War

A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Except for how it turned out, I hate almost everything about this report:

A mass school shooting was foiled on Thursday, December 13; that’s the good part.

College students and adults too: warning booklet, in a college dorm room at a large Quaker conference.

But the first thing I hate about it is not in the news, but in myself: when I began checking the evening  headlines yesterday, a thought came:

Isn’t it about time for another big mass shooting? How long has it been—? Let’s see . . . the Pittsburgh synagogue, hmm. Oh yeah, late October: 11 dead, six wounded. . . .
Seven weeks ago; right? So  . . . another one is about due . . .”

Yes, I thought that, unbidden, and I hate that I thought it. A premonition? I don’t think so. It’s just that after these past few years, it does feel like there’s some sort of gruesome rhythm to such events.

The new ABnormal.

Then I glanced at the BBC News feed, and there it was:

Continue reading A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Notes on a Terrible Day In Our History

I listened to and watched almost all the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing Thursday; 9 hours I’ll never get back. Can  any sense be made of the ordeal? Here are a few observations

One, Ford was very credible. She was credible in two ways: one, her stories, even if incomplete and not thoroughly investigated, hung together.

Second, she was personally credible: Beyond the impact of the assault, her story of struggling with anxiety, her fear of public humiliation (and then death threats) are all too plausible. Even Utah Republican Orrin Hatch grudgingly admitted afterward that Ford was a “very attractive” witness.

Her willingness to talk openly about needing and doing therapy with her husband and then on her own was impressive. Even her fear of flying (which she manages by force of will for work and important family trips) sounded like many people (me for instance), and explained much about why she kept quiet about her story so long. And her naiveté about politics, her vain hope that she could leave her story to have whatever impact it would in the Senate behind the scenes.

Three, her courage, to face the Committee and the country and speak her truth even as her voice shook, was undeniable.

Well, no– “undeniable” is not appropriate here.

In the snake pit of our current politics, her testimony was eminently “deniable” — by the Republican majority, many of whom are skilled professionals in denial and discounting anything that gets in the way of their agenda.

Continue reading Notes on a Terrible Day In Our History

Kavanaugh Wrap-Up: The Wheat from the Chaff

Too many media people around this past week’s supreme Court hearings wasted their energy doing horse race and atmosphere coverage. Political sportscasters, I call them; and pretty bush league at that.

Their frame was: the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (hereafter “K“) is a done deal, so all that matters is the hullabaloo, that and the shadow horse race preview of the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Which meant excessive attention to whether aspirants Kamala Harris or Cory Booker managed to draw some blood and get a boost from a bombshell revelation.

Senators Cory Booker,left, and Kamala Harris, right, peering over the parapet.

But the pair, it was reported, didn’t bring any real ordnance, and neither came out with a 2020 home run. That’s true enough, and for the media political sportscasters, this was all that mattered. And that’s utterly mistaken. Continue reading Kavanaugh Wrap-Up: The Wheat from the Chaff

McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

I have to start here by repeating a caveat, best stated by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce:

“It has been fashionable for a while now to place McCain somehow above politics; the “maverick” thing was based on a sparse list of examples. There was the campaign finance law that he championed with Russ Feingold, a law that lies now in ruins because of judges for whom John McCain loyally voted. He campaigned vigorously to give the president a line-item veto until a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist explained forcefully that such a measure was hilariously unconstitutional. He thoroughly supported Reagan’s adventurism in Central America, was a protege of Henry Kissinger, got snagged in the Keating 5 corruption and became a campaign-finance reformer only after skating on that episode more cleanly than the other four miscreants, one of whom was John Glenn. He was a reliable Republican vote on every nomination and every policy that evidenced the Republican Party’s slow slide into madness and chaos and he was unable and not a talented enough politician to stop it.

All true, sadly. Yet Pierce, who differed sharply with McCain on Continue reading McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

A Carolina Centennial, But No Carolina Justice: John Jeffress Remembrance Day, August 25, 1920

We don’t have a picture of John Jeffress, at least I haven’t found one.  Same for personal background: where he was from, when he was born. We only have a report about his end, which came on this date, August 25,  100 years ago.

This report was published in several papers on August 26, 1920:

Sheriff Storey and Jeffress were in Graham NC, the seat of Alamance County. When they turned toward the courthouse, they passed near this Confederate memorial, 30 feet high including the statue on the top, which had already been standing for six years. Continue reading A Carolina Centennial, But No Carolina Justice: John Jeffress Remembrance Day, August 25, 1920

Time To Do Some History Homework

Found a valuable piece on the History News Network: “Why Is Christian America Supporting Donald Trump?” It’s by John Fea, a historian  at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Fea’s piece is not just timely, it’s also important. He homes in on the fact that the “Christians” in Trump’s base are operating on a specific religious reading of American history, one that’s not new, but which has always been false.

In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that our struggle today for a democratic American future is also a fierce struggle to confront & root out a false so-called “Christian” pack of lies about our past. Unfortunately, at the moment the false history charlatans are way ahead, and it makes a real difference. And it could soon make much more. Continue reading Time To Do Some History Homework

Full-Court Press: Apres Kennedy, Le Deluge?

I won’t try to predict who will be nominated for Anthony Kennedy’s seat. I  only vaguely recall the list of names that was floated before the 2016 election; the ones I recognized ranged from the outrageous to unthinkable.

I didn’t recognize Gorsuch then; but now we know that anything is possible, and lily Tomlin was RIGHT:

So let’s consider some of those legal landmarks that are now in deeper peril. Continue reading Full-Court Press: Apres Kennedy, Le Deluge?

Civility, Schmivility: A Quaker Dialectic, Then & Now

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?

Or consider this image: Continue reading Civility, Schmivility: A Quaker Dialectic, Then & Now

The Red Hen vs the Lunch Counter: Which Values Apply?

 

The Red Hen Restaurant, Lexington Virginia

I can’t deny it: I’m feeling conflicted about the expulsion of Sarah Huckabee Sanders (hereafter SHS) from the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington Virginia this weekend.

On the one hand, the report of it sets off alarms and bring back vivid memories from my young activist years. Then  most restaurants, especially in the South, were racially segregated. And it took long hard months of protests (that had really started on a small scale years earlier) to begin to break through and open up this part of public space to nonwhite Americans.

Continue reading The Red Hen vs the Lunch Counter: Which Values Apply?

Nikki Haley’s Got A Lot of Nerve; She Really Needs a Waffle

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 ipso facto 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.

Philip Alston

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.

Her target,  by the way, is Philip Alston, a noted law professor with human rights expertise.  And it’s not hard to see why Haley would despise his report, given this excerpt from his oral summary of it:

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. . . .”

Nikki Haley. Washington Post photo

“Misleading”? “Politically motivated”? “Patently ridiculous”?

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.