It’s Their Turn

Soon we well be celebrating the Birth of Jesus, A refugee. Will we turn him away as well?

Destitute and on the run, a man and his pregnant wife were running for their lives. Their baby was due soon, and as they looked for a place to prepare, fearful people turned them away. Without any medical care, the baby was born in a barn. Days after the birth, the new family had to get back on the road to escape violence and persecution.

This child could have come from Syria. But the young child in this story is known as “Jesus,” who, in the Christian tradition, brought a radical message of peace and welcome to a world in desperate need of healing.

Since the violence in Paris, Beirut, Egypt and across the world, more than half of US governors are saying they want to refuse entry to Syrian refugees, and both the US Senate and House of Representatives are proposing legislation that would stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees and slash refugee resettlement programs as a whole.

As people of faith, we have an urgent moral responsibility to let politicians know that we believe in — and will fight for - an America that welcomes the sojourner and loves our neighbors.

What will the American people do, as many say they are a Christian country or is it CINO [Christian in name only]. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” (I believe speaking of other religions) We’ve worn bracelets, wrote statements, spoken these words: “What would Jesus Do?”

I don’t know. What will our members of Congress do? Our governors, now that it’s up to them to commit, make a lifetime decision, that will change the lives of millions of refugees, families, the world, or will they again leave it up to the President of the United States, Barack Obama? If it works, take credit; if it doesn’t, blame Obama.

It’s their turn, one has to decide. It’s not a Republican or Democratic thing, its the US Constitution. Congress has to VOTE, it’s in the Constitution, it’s the law, it’s their job. They swore an oath to the US Constitution.

We’ve heard and seen many froth at the mouth for more War. Again, will we finally go to war, legally? Or will we try diplomacy?

I wonder “What would Jesus Do?” What would other “Messengers of God Do?”

North Woodstock, N.H.

‘Progress’ Has a Cost

Re: Jim Sawyer’s letter, “Climate Horror” [11/15/15 TPP] in which he has covered the complicity of Exxon in denying that burning of fossil fuel can influence global warming. We can understand the business reasons where Exxon would try to suppress results of their studies (did not the Tobacco companies followed the same path?) but why are the Right Wing Broadcasters doing it? As Mr. Sawyer mentions that Exxon has spent millions “hushing up” their study and part of this amount may have trickled down to such broadcasters. Putting it in harsher terms, “they have been bribed.” Some of them may not be doing for monetary rewards and are just dutifully following the Republican mantra “always be against Mr. Obama’s proposal.” Some “intellectuals” in the broadcasting field are positing that to reduce the production of fossil fuel would lead to “job loss” and progress (Republican Presidential candidates amongst such ‘thinkers’).

Progress at all cost, they say, and where will such progress be, if oceans rise and millions of people worldwide are rendered homeless and landless?

Flushing, N.Y.

Cancer: Cosmic Justice?

Re: “Is It Time to Put Down Bacon?” [12/1/15 TPP]. Health professionals have convinced me that eating (perhaps too much) red meat and bacon increases the likelihood that I will become a victim of cancer.

Sadly, most of humanity gives little thought to the billions of animals that are bred only to live a short miserable span in factory farms before they are slaughtered.

Is it possible ( I’m tempted to ask) … that the cancer which afflicts so many of our species, is a form of cosmic justice for causing the unimaginable suffering of those animals?

Monrovia, Calif.

Financializers of America

When Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the mid-’60s Civil Rights Bills, he (as “everybody” knows), said, “We have lost the South for a generation.” If only. It seems that that great decision spawned an energized and predaceous Leviathan that (as Lou Dubose describes in “The GOP is a Neo-Confederate Party Now,” 12/1/15 TPP) devoured the Republican Party. Ergo, the Neo-Confederacy.

Those Republicans of ways and means, however, didn’t see defeat; they saw opportunity. With impressive prescience they saw “What’s Wrong With Kansas” writ large. The more Wall Streetish Republicans now had an army of volunteers who, while reveling in their status as rebels and “victims,” demanded the attention of the media, the populace and the politicians. The money-management class used that mass-distraction to further disinhibit themselves and get on with—-as Kevin Phillips foretold—-the “Financialization of America.”

San Francisco, Calif.

Food Unsafe

I’m surprised that Joan Retsinas [“A Five-Year Trek for Food Safety,” 11/1/15 TPP] thinks that our food supply is safe. Approximately eight times as many people die every year from anti-biotic resistant diseases than from food-born illnesses, yet the FDA has not banned the prophylactic use of antibiotics in CAFOs. Most of the chemicals used in processed foods have never been tested for safety.  Genetically engineered food was declared by the FDA to be generally recognized as safe against the advice of is own staff scientists, so they have never been tested for safety. Our food is fertilized with petroleum and doused with poisons several times before it gets to us. These are only a few of our unaddressed food safety issues.

The safest food in the country is that purchased from a farmer you know who cares more about people than profit. Unfortunately, most people are not blessed to live in a small rural community where they can easily bypass the industrial food system to a great extent. Michael Taylor, who has spent decades bouncing from his positions at Monsanto to jobs with the FDA and the USDA, intends to keep it that way. His latest government job was to write the regulations that Retsinas praises. The rules written for the big, monoculture farms may be reasonable for them, but they will not make our food safe and they will put many small farms out of business and make it much harder for young farmers to get started.

If the FDA really cared about food safety, its regulations would require farms to work in harmony with nature. No more CAFOs, GMOs, or monoculture crops for example. It would put a focus on soil regeneration.  No more poisons! It would pay attention to the principles and practices of agroecology. It would promote local food rather than national and international distribution (except for coffee and chocolate, of course!)

Here in Maine, 16 towns, with more in the pipeline, have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, which exempts farmers and small producers and processors who sell directly to their customers from licensing and inspection, separating small-scale farming from industrial farming. As people move their food dollars to these farms, we will transition to a food system that promotes health, environmental stewardship, and community.  The farmer who takes care of your dog when you are on vacation is not likely to kill you. Who’s your farmer?

Blue Hill, Maine

Levant Must Take Care of ISIL/ISIS

Do you recall when jingoists renamed French Fries and poured French wine down storm drains, to protest France’s intelligent decision to not support the Bush/Cheney administration’s invasion of Iraq?

The disastrous decision to topple the Iraq regime, which had no responsibility for the 9/11 attack, resulted in fracturing any semblance of stability in the entire region, resulting in the expansion of al-Qaida, that has morphed into the current terrorist organization; The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The Levant consists of Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. It is the responsibility of these states, including the militarily powerful Saudi-Arabia, to finally defeat ISIL.

While some may find some sweet revenge in the US, French and now Russia bombing ISIL strongholds, that will not solve the problem and may in fact exacerbate it. Regional states must block the source of income for ISIL; mainly the sale of oil and of captured artifacts. Follow the money !

Bradenton, Fla.

Waiting for Muslims to Condemn ISIS?

We must be careful not to condemn all Muslims for the barbaric acts of Islamic terrorists. “Islam,” we are told, means “path to peace.” I’m waiting to hear harsh condemnation from multitudes of Muslim leaders throughout the world. Waiting. Still waiting.

Piedmont, Calif.

Editor Replies: Wait no more; you may have missed it because it doesn’t fit the corporate media narrative, but prominent Islamic leaders have been denouncing the purported “Islamic State,” also known as Daesh, ever since it started spreading terro in Iraq and Syria in 2014. The Organization Of Islamic Cooperation declared that the Islamic State Has “Nothing To Do With Islam,” and has committed crimes “that cannot be tolerated” [7/25/14]; the Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, Egypt’s highest religious authority, denounced the “Islamic State” as a threat to Islam and said that the group both violates Sharia law and humanitarian law [8/13/14]; the Arab League “strongly denounced” the “crimes against humanity” carried out by the Islamic State [8/11/4]; Turkey’s highest ranking cleric, Mehmet Gormez, decried the Islamic State’s declaration of a “caliphate” and argued that the statements were damaging to the Muslim community [7/22/14]; the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called the terrorist group “un-Islamic and morally repugnant,” noted that the Islamic State’s “human rights abuses on the ground are well-documented,” and called on other Muslim community leaders to speak out against the violence; or when the Muslim Council Of Great Britain condemned the Islamic State’s actions and expressed that they do not represent Sunni Muslims [8/8/14]; and Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, the country’s top religious authority, said terrorism is anti-Islamic and said that groups like the Islamic State which practice violence are the “number one enemy of Islam” [8/19/14].

More recently, the head of Sunni Islam’s leading seat of learning, Ahmed al-Tayyeb of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, condemned “hateful” attacks in Paris and urged global unity against extremism [11/14/15]; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: “Pakistan stands firmly behind the people and Government of France in this hour and extends its support to bring the perpetrators to justice;” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani strongly condemned the deadly attacks in Paris, branding them “crimes against humanity” in a message to his French counterpart Francois Hollande; Qatar’s foreign minister Khaled al-Attiyah denounced the “heinous attacks,” adding, “these acts, which target stability and security in France are against all human and moral values;” UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan condemned the “heinous” attacks and said the country supports all measures aimed to eradicate terrorism; Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah condemned “these criminal acts of terrorism which run counter to all teachings of holy faith and humanitarian values.”

A Final Word on Jackson

The somewhat overwrought negative reaction on the part of a few readers to my recent column on Andrew Jackson [“Dissing Jackson,” 8/1/15 TPP] suggests the need for a further airing of the seventh president’s position in American history. Over the past half-century, no fewer than 14 polls of academic historians and other scholars have ranked Jackson among the “great” or “near great” presidents, placing him consistently in the top 10, or the upper 25%, of executive leaders. The most recent survey, taken in 2014 among members of the American Political Science Association, judged Jackson ninth best of the 44 presidents. And a significant poll of one, President Harry S Truman (a renowned history buff), put him in the same class as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

These positive evaluations rest on Jackson’s pivotal role as anti-secessionist defender of the Union during the “nullification” crisis, his successful fight against financial monopoly during the so-called Bank War, his literal and symbolic advancement of American democracy and the common man, and his presiding over the creation of one of our two major political parties. He also earns credit for expanding the powers of the presidency through his groundbreaking use of the veto.

Nevertheless, there are minuses in the Jackson record, magnified in modern times by the habit of viewing everything political through the prism of race. The first is Jackson’s insensitivity and lack of moral leadership on the question of Indian removal. In this instance, he uncharacteristically bowed to political pressure from state governments and adhered to the public opinion of his time, which demanded the fulfillment of America’s expansionary Manifest Destiny at the expense of native peoples.

The second is his position as a slaveholder. In the words of his most recent biographer Jon Meacham, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (Random House, 2009), Jackson was “blinded by the prejudices of his age” and viewed slavery as “an accepted part of life.” He was not alone.

Contrary to retrospective wishful thinking, most Americans of Jackson’s generation, North and South, were not against slavery; they were either favorably disposed or neutral on the subject, a mindset that didn’t begin to change until late in the antebellum period. During Jackson’s era (he left the White House in 1837 and died in 1845), abolitionist sentiment had not yet reached critical mass; abolitionists were a courageous, enlightened minority, but one whose political influence remained minimal.

The inconvenient truth is the US was founded as a country for propertied white males. The operative word is “propertied;” if you had no tangible assets (land, for instance), you couldn’t vote. It’s taken two centuries to build a fairer, more democratic society, and we’re not there yet. The process is a gradual one, and Jackson’s historical role in that process was to open up the system to poor, propertyless white men.

None of this is to suggest that slavery was not an unmitigated evil, or that the Civil War should not have been fought to eradicate it; it is to say that all the problems arising from contemporary American racism should not be laid at Andrew Jackson’s doorstep. Jackson was a great man, who also happened to be a flawed human being.

Orono, Maine

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2015


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