February 27, 2012

Not So Trivial Trivia

I hosted a trivia contest for a youth group of a local church last weekend.  The person in charge of the fundraiser wanted a category to be about Biblical villains.  I was only too happy to do this.  We had eleven tables for a total of around 100 Christian minds working on this and nine other categories.  I was particularly curious to see how they did on two questions.  Being a preacher's kid myself, I had a fairly strong background in the contents of the Bible, and I have been thoroughly dismayed by the antics of people who proclaimed themselves as Christian.  This is why my curiosity to how these two questions would be answered led me to answers about my non-understanding of their behavior.

The first of the two questions was the following:  Jesus lost his temper just one time with what group of people, causing him to turn tables over?  Now, I thought this answer was a gimme--moneychangers.  Half of the group got this question wrong.  The second question was "According to the Books of Luke, Mark, and John, Jesus said that the likelihood of what person getting into heaven was the same as a camel going through the eye of a needle?"  Only two tables got this one correct--a rich man.  Two or three tables wrote down Satan for the answer, and my natural tendency toward irony almost accepted this as correct, but I did not want to turn the event into something that was not about the kids--but it was tempting.

So, what did I get out of this?  I have long felt that big money has corrupted our Christianity for political reasons.  It can be seen in a number of ways, but I thought this was the proof I needed.  I truly believe that the money seeps into the seminary schools by making sure that people with money are not treated badly by the ministers.  How else can one explain that members of a church are not familiar with a quote found in, not one, not two, but three books of the Bible?  How else can a fairly substantial number of faithful members of a congregation not know the story of the moneychangers?  It reminds me of a quote by Senator Al Franken before he got elected:  "Rush Limbaugh hid his drugs in his Bible after he cut out all the references to helping poor people."

This is the Peace and Justice Caucus blog.  Peace and justice will never be obtained when money is allowed to be infiltrated into our most important philosophical aspects of our daily decisions.  The 91% tax rate for the top earners during the republican administration of DD Eisenhower was designed with the purpose to eliminate a continuous money class, and it succeeded to create the strongest Middle Class this country has ever seen.  When WWII occurred, the country assumed a shared responsibility for everybody, and Harry Truman went after the war profiteers with strong public support.  When big money was taken out of play, the ideals were clear, and the pride of the country in achieving a goal together was palpable.

Now, we are divided, and big money is the biggest reason.  Wars are being created to give corporations a bigger profit.  Eisenhower warned us of the military-industrial complex.  He saw this coming.  When FDR was elected, big money tried to fund a revolution against him--not in terms of getting him voted out, an actual coup d'etat type revolution that was thwarted by a Gen. Butler.  Big money funds radio corporations to fund gasbags like Limbaugh and Hannity with super-huge contracts that the radio corporations could never afford so that the lies/misinformation can go unencumbered to many who feed off of the fear of these dangerous people.  Big money is insuring that peace and justice will become an exception in this country and not the rule with the tainting of the political process so that radically dangerous Supreme Court justices get named.

How do we counter this?  We have to educate people to the truth.  I know that sounds like a Pollyanna view, but this is what we are good at--education.  We have to be relentless in this educational process.  We have to push for certain policies that will get us back on track.  Reinstate the 90+% tax rate.  Charge a 50% surtax when we get into an overseas war/whatever-Orwellian-word-we-use-for-war.  Reinstate the draft.  Do what we can to make people stand up and pay attention.  The 50% war surtax and the draft will make people be engaged when big money pushes into another "armed conflict."  Go to church and fight back when the minister insists on quoting Old Testament verses to support war movements, or quotes from Paul that counter Christian values expressed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Do not allow the minister to endorse a candidate or an anti-Christian policy.  Boycott mega-church establishments and media events as big money is bankrolling these pharisees.  Be engaged!  Stay engaged!  Push back!  Push hard!  Demand what you know is right!

February 24, 2012

While most U.S. troops have left Iraq, we are still mired in violent conflicts in Afghanistan and there is an increasing drumbeat for war with Iran.
Numerous military and security officials from the United States and Israel have warned against an attack on Iran. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cautioned, “The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think it could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.”
And Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) said, “[Attacking Iran is] the stupidest thing I have ever heard … It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.”
Year after year since 2003, we have heard the numbers and the names of young Americans who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan — more than 5,000. Many more suffer from physical and mental wounds of war. And countless children, women, and men have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Have we not had enough loss of lives? Are we not ready to work for peace? I urge our president and our elected representatives to choose diplomacy — not war — with Iran.
Ann Stromquist
Iowa City
editor's note:  Ann is on the Peace Iowa Board which has been established in Iowa City.  The Board meets monthly at Old Brick and includes representation from Vets for Peace, NEA PandJ, Physicians for Peace, United Nations Association.  

February 23, 2012


Recovering from intense skiing and then a cold on the next day, I debated if I wanted to subject myself to watching the republican debate.  Do I want to watch four clueless men who could not care less about the Middle Class?  OK, Ron Paul may not completely fit that description, but I cringe when I hear people like Lawrence O'Donnell say that Paul is now showing support to Romney so that his hapless son, Rand, could get a cabinet position if Romney won the general election.  No, I'd have rather poke my eyes with a sharp stick.  I already knew that they would not offer any ideas about jobs because they are happy with the overseas jobs putting pressure on US citizens' accepting lower and lower wages.  POKE, POKE.  I already knew that they hate women so much that they continue to impose their will on women's bodies while proclaiming a religious superiority in this position.  POKE, POKE.  I already knew that they hate the poor even though they love to proclaim their anti-Christian American fundamentalist Christianity.  POKE, POKE.  I already knew that the most important person in the room, in their arrogant opinion, was the individual talking at any particular moment; so, they would tear each other apart over inane ideas, leaving the citizens scratching their heads trying to figure out what the candidates stand for.  POKE, POKE.  I already knew they hate the fact that an African-American is President, and that they want THEIR country back.  POKE, POKE, POKE, POKE.

I enjoyed doing something else so much more enjoyable.  I blew my nose in their general direction.

February 22, 2012

Worthwhile information follows copied from Alliance for Retired in Iowa.
Reminder:  Have you nominated a YOUTH for the Paul Mann Youth Activist Award?

John Boehner Upset That the Payroll Tax Cut Extension Means Ordinary Americans Will Have More Money
Jason Linkins
February 17, 2012
Huffington Post
As talks of the payroll tax extension have dwindled down post-compromise, Speaker John Boehner has offered some interesting thoughts about the result. In not-so-straightforward speech, he expressed his view of the compromise as an economic relief plan and not as a jobs bill, instead opting for a view that would have given more money to big business or the “job creators.” According to Linkins, what the compromise really does is keep money in the pockets of the middle class so it can keep big business profitable, spurring job growth.
Unions Return to Democratic Fold for 2012 Elections
Matea Gold and Melanie Mason
February 19, 2012
LA Times
Union soldiers are back in action on the pro-Democrat side of politics after the massive Republican attack on unions and interests of the working class this past election season. Thanks to right-to-work movements in Wisconsin, Michigan, and unsuccessfully in Indiana, unions are gearing up for campaigns that look to oust anti-labor candidates.
Wisconsin Recall Race: AFSCME Endorses Kathleen Falk
Mackenzie Weinger
February 21, 2012
The 2nd largest union in Wisconsin has officially endorsed Dem. Kathleen Falk in the gubernatorial recall election later this year. The AFSCME spent much time interviewing different candidates that would be able to compete with current Republican Governor Scott Walker. The special election is expected to be in June of this year.

February 18, 2012

Published by Tom Hayden, The Peace Exchange Bulletin is a reader-supported journal, critically following the Pentagon's Long War in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as the failed U.S. wars on drugs and gangs, and U.S. military responses to nationalism and poverty around the world.
The Long Wars
Afghan Fissures Worsen, Exit Proposed 
As the Afghanistan crisis deepens, "there is evidence of a continued divide between the White House and the military over the pace of withdrawal." (New York Times, February 2, 2012) This dispute between civilian and military leadership is expected to worsen if President Obama accelerates the withdrawals past the 33,000 mark later this year, and as American troops are shifted out of combat roles by next year.  

The US military openly opposes the pace of the drawdown, which already is too slow for most Democrats and the peace movement, because the resulting panic in Kabul could cause an implosion if efforts at a diplomatic settlement bog down. 
US Afghan Allies Attacking US Troops

Allied Afghan soldiers are stepping up the killing of American troops, according to a recently declassified US military report covering the period through May 2011. "The sense of hatred is growing rapidly," according to an Afghan officer who said the Americans are "rude, arrogant bullies who use foul language." The report concludes that "lethal altercations are clearly not rare or isolated, they reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat...unprecedented between 'allies' in modern military history."  

Afghan forces attacked their US allies 26 times, killing 58 Western troops, during 2007-2011, most often since October 2009. The report, "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility," was carried out by a behavioral scientist who surveyed hundreds of Afghan and American soldiers.

Record Army Suicides and Sex Crimes 

The disturbing report last week of a record 164 suicides among active-duty Army soldiers in 2011 actually understates the rising number of American troops taking their own lives. Considering all military services, the fatalities are higher than the Army number, and total 2,356 since the so-called War on Terrorism began, through November 2, 2011. By comparison, 1,183 Americans have died in the Afghanistan conflict through February 15, 2012.
While the jump in suicides is correlated with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Army officials stressed "there are many other factors at work," including alcoholism and "lower recruiting standards."

The Army report also noted a sharp increase of 30 percent in violent sex  crimes by active-duty troops last year, mainly against 18-to-21-year-old female soldiers. Army officials said the rise in sex crimes was due to increased reporting, alcohol and "new barracks that offered no privacy."

For more, please see the New York Times, January 19, 2012.

Reps Ask for More Rapid Withdrawal 
McGoven, Jones, Lee Support Shift from US Combat Role

House members led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) are circulating a moderate letter commending the Obama administration for announcing an end to the US combat role in Afghanistan in 2013, one year ahead of the previous timetable. Many of the signers supported an accelerated withdrawal in a resolution last year, which attracted 204 House votes.

To read the letter and updated list of signatories, please continue reading...  
A Proposal: Amend War Powers Act 
Include Drones and Libya-Style Wars 

Congress should update and amend the existing War Powers Act (WPA), passed in 1973 over Richard Nixon's veto, to cover future American military operations relying on drones instead of ground forces.  Republican and Democratic House leaders seriously questioned President Obama's executive order for the war in Libya, but have not followed up with amendments to protect the crucial constitutional role of Congress - and American voters - in future decisions to go to war.

The Pentagon budget for Libya, submitted by Obama to Congress, included an initial outlay of $713.6 million for "military operations." The War Powers Act, however, requires the President to terminate any deployment within 60 to 90 days unless authorized by Congress.

Democrats like John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich were joined by Republicans like Speaker John Boehner, Walter Jones and Ron Paul in   opposing the unilateral military action without Congressional approval.

February 12, 2012

Teaching Students to Save Their Future

Even though I am almost 60 years old, I resist the evidently age-related urge to say “When I was your age. . .”  However, it is undeniable that there are generational differences.  This is natural.  The importance between these two concepts is that there is a thin line between being suppositional in being superior and stating the facts and analyzing them properly.
I am finishing Griftopia by the incredible Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone fame.  This is a book about how Wall Street took us to the brink of absolute disaster knowing they would be bailed out no matter how much the collapse was their fault, all the while demanding they still get their multi-million dollar bonuses for being "so smart."  It has made me think of what happened after I graduated from college.
When I was in school, the Vietnam War was being waged (despite no declaration of war by the Senate.)  The draft was in effect, and we were scared to death about dying in a foreign country that did not want us for a cause we did not believe  or believe in.  This caused us to be as engaged as we could (given that there were no internet and no ability to react immediately to politicians’ decisions that have real impact upon our lives.)  We protested, and we fought.  Some, like John Kerry, answered their call of the country and served, most suffering in silence the horrors they saw.  We were all greatly impacted.  
Now there is no draft.  Volunteers fight our wars, which are also illegal because the Senate never declared war.  However, there is not the concern of most people because their lives are not in danger.  They all go about their lives with little concern for those fighting.  But their lives are changing, and they are starting to wake up to the politicians who are changing their lives in a very negative sense.
When I returned to MacMurray College, my alma mater, after ten years of being away, I talked to my former professors and to some students of the time.  The war had been over for years.  Students were no longer engaged, and they stayed that way until recently.  The major with the largest number of students was and is business.  I am not being judgmental.  We need people in all fields to make society run as smoothly as possible.  However, I was disconcerted by the lack of idealism on the campus, a traditional place in which idealism flourishes.  Students were consumed with the concept that making money was priority number one.  I have to believe this philosophy has been a big reason as to why our moral and ideal compasses are out of whack.
In the past few years, we have read or encountered situations in which profits were at loggerheads with morals, and profits have won almost every time.  How many times did we read about a health-insurance company that denied a person a life-saving surgery because it would have hurt the bottom line of the company?  How many times did we read about mortgage brokers making ridiculous applications which included outright lies that the applicant was unaware of in order for the brokers to make a huge bonus for the applications they got through?  How many times have we read articles and books (read the innumerable books about Bear Stearns, AIG, and Goldman-Sachs) who bundled bad mortgages with other average mortgages to dump them off of their books, causing the new owners to blanch in fear after they realized what was about to happen?  Then these guys made more money off of those bundles by betting against them.  How many times do we have to pay outrageously high gas prices because these firms drove up the price of oil based upon manufactured fears?  How many times do we hear about how they have paid off our politicians to change the rules of Wall Street so that the regulators are either gone or ineffective?  How can we change these horror stories?
It will take time, but I think the answer is in our students in college right now and in a small change in the law.  How can we get our students who want to major in business not to become so cynical to believe that money is more important than ethics?  I submit that we change the Whistleblower legislation.  Right now, whistleblowers, who should be our heroes for doing the right thing, are being punished for this as stated in the Supreme Court case Garcetti vs. Cabellos.  The renegade-Fox-News-loving set of five conservative judges have made the regulators and whistleblowers Public Enemy Number One because of their threats to the profit margins of the corporations.  Why should a regulator whose job is to make sure that the major players stay in line be punished doing their job?  
Changing the Whistleblower legislation so that they not be arrested anymore is not enough however.  They should be rewarded with a percentage of the theft/embezzlement/fraud they uncover.  This percentage will mostly insure many from being bribed or from being fearful of losing their jobs for doing the correct thing.  If the students who major in business understand that being idealistic can be financially beneficial, then we can infuse both idealism and financial security for those who apply bravery and knowledge in their fields.  
We teachers are idealists.  Many of us do not get the cynicism and lack of morals of the 1% who work for Wall Street.  However, we must understand it to teach the ethics to future business students so that idealism can be a part of their philosophy, which would carry over to their underlings and children.  We also must impress upon them that the idealism will make sure that the collapse does not happen again.  The so-called business cycles that some economists say are natural is a myth.  The bursting of economic bubbles are manufactured by the uber-wealthy to suck the economy of every dime it can have.  While our pensions shrink because of these natural cycles, the 1% continues to get richer and richer while we get poorer and poorer.  We need to make this important move to make the future society for our kids more stable and more fair.

February 8, 2012

AZ Pension Law Ruling

On Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, Judge Eileen Willett of Maricopa County, Arizona, ruled that the Arizona pension law, very similar to that being proposed in Illinois, which insists that those who wish to keep their present pension plan must pay more, is unconstitutional.  
This is a source of hope.  Granted, it is a low-level decision, but how much will these cash-strapped states fight a ruling that will no doubt go all the way to the corrupt US Supreme Court?  I venture to say that this is unlikely.  Still, for veteran teachers who have been nervous about the onslaught of anti-union legislation by Koch-financed politicians, this is a good sign.  

February 5, 2012

Occupy Your School District

I am turning 60 this summer.  I have no plans to retire for a number of reasons.  I love my job because it is not a job; it is a way of life.  I have been saying this for years, but now that 60 is on my doorstep, I have to face the reality of this personal idealism.  As long as I wake up every day looking forward to my time with my students, my decision looks sound.  Now, realities creep into my decision.  My wife has medical issues that, if I did choose to retire soon, would be difficult to handle financially since the State of Illinois has decided to jack insurance costs for retirees’ family members.  She is three years younger than me; so, I will have to wait until she gets onto Medicare before I can even logically consider retiring until I am 68.  I watch in horror as Republicans gleefully proclaim that they want to kill Medicare, and they have been saying this since the passing of Medicare during LBJ’s administration.  Tangentially speaking, I have been shaking my head in disbelief as these same cynical politicians have been expressing outrage with crocodile tears how “Obamacare” wants to cut money from Medicare, ignoring the fact that the money being cut out is wasteful spending, the very topic these politicians proclaim is most important.  (Uh-huh)
And then residents of Illinois got slapped in the face when Gov. Pat Quinn proclaimed that the state’s potential bankruptcy is due in part to public employees’ pensions.  Really?  It would not be because the past governors and legislatures stole from our pension fund, would it, Mr. Quinn?  It would not be because while we have been faithful in fulfilling our obligations to pay for our share, the state has not met its obligations?  Really?  My word, the blatant ignorance--no, the intentional misrepresentation--of the bleak financial state of Illinois by placing the blame on public employees should make our union membership to rise up in something above this Scooby-Doo moment of shock.  However, the response I have seen is depressing.
My local finally ended negotiations with our Board of Education concerning pay.  We settled on a three-year contract with the BOE in August, but we left the negotiations open for salary since this district is in even worse shape than most others in Illinois.  We correctly decided that we needed to see what the conditions of the district look like over the next few years and act responsibly according to that.  Teachers are trained to be problem solvers, and we tried to convey this to our BOE.  I honestly feared that we would have a frozen scale from the previous year like many of our neighboring districts now have, and I was not alone in this fear.  In looking back on my emotions, I kind of laugh.  I was relieved to see a 1% increase.  Imagine being happy with a 1% increase!  However, at least 75% of our membership did not show up for the meeting.  The younger teachers have resigned themselves to the conditions without trying to understand, but that is another blog for another time.
I think “dread” might be the best way to express the emotions of our membership, not anger.  We also got word in the last week or two that the pension system has the potential to cut pension benefits from 75% to 45%.  The younger staff has no perspective of that, being 40 years from retiring, but teachers my age are scared to death and feel powerless.  We wonder why our pension trustees did not sue the state when our funds were first raided.  We wondered why our trustees did not sue much sooner when anybody with an ounce of financial acumen would not express alarm about the upcoming insurmountable debt to the point of action.  Now, we hear comments like Quinn’s, and it reminds me of Baby Bush's “no one saw it coming” comment knowing he was lying through his teeth.  Now, I am faced with the prospect of settling for a 45% pension after 35+ years of teaching unless the amount of money I pay into the pension fund is to double within three or so years.
So, here I am, loving my job but faced with really tough choices.  Do I retire now to get the best percentage I can before they start the slash-and-burn attack on us?  Do I stick it out and pay more, essentially losing a sizable portion of take-home pay?  Do I pay the high premiums for my wife to keep her on, essentially decreasing the size of my pension  until she gets to the age of 65?  Perhaps the most important question is what do I do when I retire?  Who is going to hire me, knowing that most BOE’s concerns are not educational, but financial?  Do I want to go into a new career or job, knowing that it will be at or just above the minimum wage, putting myself in with 50% of the rest of the country at or below the poverty level?  Aren’t these laws intended to kill unions and force out expensive veterans like me, despite what they claim?
I think the answers to these questions lead me to only one solution:  Occupy My School District.  I am not ready to retire.  I can be a crotchety old gus when I have to, particularly to my “superiors,” so, I can do what needs to be done, and I can be loud about it.  I plan to stick it out until I am at least 72 years old and pay the increased payments to the pension fund to keep my 75%.  I plan to continue to be pushing my lawmakers and pension-fund trustees to do right by us.  Most importantly, I am going to be the most effective advocate for my students that I can be for many years to come.  I know I am only one person, but I advise those near retirement who still wake up and can not wait to get to school to occupy their school districts to show the folly of their ways.  We are not the problem--the politicians are.