Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dustbowl

Henry Fonda

The Dustbowl

Dust Bowl - Pete Bernhard

"Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an'—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper's ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there."
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

   Have you ever read "The Grapes of Wrath?"
   The 1940 movie starring Henry Fonda was pretty good too.
   In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit John Steinbeck is my favorite author, however "The Grapes of Wrath," is not my favorite novel of his. "Cannery Row," is, although I admire Steinbeck's Dustbowl saga very much, and may read it again someday... if I feel the urge to depress my self silly.
   I don't even know what the title means, if it means anything at all. Here's the line it came from: "...and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage." WTF does that mean? No, please tell me, I really want to know.
   Of course he could have simply stolen it from the "Battle Hymn of the Republic":
    "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored"
   But I don't know what that means either.
   Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Hymn may have contrived "grapes of wrath," from a biblical reference, but the meaning, again, if there is one, just gets murkier and murkier.
   "The Grapes of Wrath" sure sounds good though. Just like "Of Mice and Men," which at least has something to do with that story's plot.
   Anyway, "The Grapes of Wrath," concerns the story of the Joad family, Oklahoma tenant farmers who grew cotton on their land until the drought of the Dustbowl made it impossible to grow their crops, which made it impossible to make the money needed to pay the bank for the use of the land and their home. Consequently, the family is evicted and they load up the family truck with  their possessions and head off to... here, in California. The land of milk and honey, or at least that's what they've been told.
   A lot of other people and families have been told the same thing, and the Joads join the largest migration in the history of the nation (for time of the duration).
   This isn't fiction. Although the story of the Joad family is fictionalized, what happened to them in the book happened to hundreds of thousands of Americans. Families and migrants left farms in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico, left their homes, either being forced out by the banks, like the Joads, or by the fact that they couldn't make a living anymore because of the prolonged drought, or because they didn't want to die of a disease endemic for the time and area... pneumonia... dust pneumonia, pneumonia contracted from inhaling dirt.
   The Great Plains cover parts of the states of Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Dustbowl area, centered around the Oklahoma panhandle, (in the past referred to as No Man's Land) is semiarid, receiving less than 20 inches of rain annually; this rainfall supports the shortgrass prairie that had been present in the area for hundreds of thousands of years, and which is suitably adapted to the region. This area also alternates between drought and extended unusual wetness, with each duration lasting at times, for many years. Wind speeds are often very high because the land is... well, flat.
   Humans have inhabited the plains for at least 10,000 years without any problems. They were Indians, and made their living hunting the animals that lived there, like bison.
   After the Civil War (American) cattlemen settled in the area, the shortgrass was well suited for grazing. The Homestead Act of 1862 brought settlers by the thousands, and farming was introduced to the area.  Overgrazing and a series of hard winters beginning in 1886 led to more land being cultivated. At the beginning of the 1900s the weather turned wet, and farmers increased their efforts believing erroneously that the weather would stay wet. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, prices for wheat skyrocketed, which further provided incentives for farmers to increase cultivation. The area of farmland doubled between 1900 and 1920, and land under cultivation more than tripled between 1925 and 1930.
   Agricultural technology was not standing still during this period. Gas driven tractors replaced horses as a means to plow the land, which allowed this preparation to be done faster and over greater areas. This virtually eliminated the native shortgrasses which held the soil in place and helped retain moisture, even during the long dry periods.
   And then the weather wasn't wet anymore. A drought, a dry period, a period without much rain, began in 1930 and lasted for the next ten years.
   1930. Hey, that was the year after the stock market crashed in October of 1929, signaling the beginning of The Great Depression, the worst economic crisis that nation has ever faced. That lasted until the U.S. entered World War II, in 1942.
   Both of these occurrences happening at the same time spelled big trouble for the farmers of the plains.
   The Depression caused wheat prices to fall, and the government requested farmers grow less crops. Framers responding by growing more, or trying to, as they reasoned if the price is lower the more I grow the more money I'll make. When prices were high their response was to grow more as well. Always the answer for the farmers was to grow more and more.
   The land didn't like that. The topsoil had became friable, which means reduced to a powdery consistency in many places, and without the shortgrasses in place, the high winds that commonly occurred over the plains created massive duststorms that marked the beginning of the Dust Bowl period.
   On November 11, 1933, strong winds stripped the dry topsoil off of the farmlands of South Dakota. On May 9, 1934, a strong, two-day dust storm removed massive amounts of Great Plains topsoil in one of the worst storms of the Dust Bowl. The clouds of dust blew all the way to the east coast, dropping 12 million pounds of Oklahoma dirt on Chicago. The same storm reached Buffalo, Boston, Cleveland, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Red snow fell on New England. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean.
   What became known as Black Sunday occurred on April 14th, 1935. The day began clear and beautiful, with no wind at all. The people of the plains took trips outside to enjoy the lovely weather. A funeral was to be held for a woman who had died from dust pneumonia. Children played.
   But it was not to be. Winds swept down from Canada, picking up topsoil along the way. The storm hit the eastern Oklahoma panhandle and northwestern Oklahoma first, and moved south for the remainder of the day. The clouds stretched 200 miles wide and 2 miles high. It turned day into night. Witnesses reported they could not see five feet in front of them at certain points. It is estimated to have displaced 300 million tons of topsoil from the Plains area.
   It was one of the worst dust storms in American history and it caused immense damage economically and to agriculture.
"On the 14th day of April of 1935,
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.
You could see that dust storm comin', the cloud looked deathlike black,
And through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track.
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line,
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande,
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom" --Woody Guthrie,  "Great Dust Storm"
   In a New Republic article, Avis D. Carlson wrote:
   "People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep. Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk…. The nightmare is deepest during the storms. But on the occasional bright day and the usual gray day we cannot shake from it. We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions."
   These were the big ones. Smaller ones happened often, with just as devastating consequences.
   The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres, 156,250 square miles , an area larger than the entire state of Montana, and a little smaller than California, centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.
   Can you imagine living in the middle of that? During the Great Depression?
   There was literally no end in sight.
   So people left. A lot of them here to California, where I'm ashamed to say they were not treated as best as they could have been. The Depression was affecting Californians as well, and a sudden and steady influx of migrants, no matter where they came from, were not exactly welcome.
   The folksinger and song writer, Woody Guthrie was one of those who moved. He left his wife Mary behind in Texas while moving to California to find work, joining thousands of others fleeing from the Dustbowl. Many of his songs are concerned with the conditions faced by those people. Guthrie found work here in L.A., gaining fame at local radio station KFVD. He soon made enough money to send for his family (he even got together with John Steinbeck, introduced by Grandpa Walton, Will Geer). Many were not as fortunate.
   So how did the Dustbowl end? Why isn't the dirt still blowing today?
   The dirt would have ran out by now, for one thing.
   Also, much to the disgust of the modern Tea party, the only entity large enough, and powerful enough to deal with the crisis, if it indeed could be dealt with, was the federal government.
   The farmers tended to be strong, independent men and women, reluctant to ask or receive help from outsiders. But their back was against the wall. They had no choice but to get help.
   Success was in no way assured. Several techniques and programs were initiated.
   "President Roosevelt ordered the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant a huge belt of more than 200 million trees from Canada to Abilene, Texas to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place. The administration also began to educate farmers on soil conservation and antierosion techniques, including crop rotation, strip farming, contour plowing, terracing, and other improved farming practices. In 1937, the federal government began an aggressive campaign to encourage Dust Bowlers to adopt planting and plowing methods that conserved the soil. The government paid the reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to practice one of the new methods. By 1938, the massive conservation effort had reduced the amount of blowing soil by 65%. Nevertheless, the land failed to yield a decent living. In the fall of 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the nearly decade-long drought ended, as regular rainfall finally returned to the region." --Wikipedia
   Within a few years, many of the farms had returned to normal. But the droughts had taken their toll. A large fraction of the families who chose to stay in the Dustbowl area received some of the first rural relief ever given out by the federal government. By the end of the drought, the government had awarded at least $1 billion (at 1930s value) in relief.
   Many of these techniques to end the Dustbowl are still in practice today, as they should be. There's still soil that can blow away, although not as much.
   But why do we care now? Why am I writing about something that happened 80 years ago?
   Because of human nature. It was shortsighted longing for short term profits that caused the Dustbowl, although the motivation to feed one's families was an honorable one.
   But that steadfast tendency toward shortsightedness remains.
   Even after the most debilitating effects of the Dustbowl had been mitigated by use of the techniques above, some farmers returned the deep plowing and torturing of the earthy soil in order to maximize their crop yields, and therefore profits. They forgot or choose to ignore what had caused their own downfall. Who knows what they were thinking. Maybe they thought that most others are using the new ways to farm the land, so if refuse to use them I'll get away with it, or who knows? The wind didn't stop for them though, and the dust began to blow again.
   But not as bad as before. Most of the farmers were using the new soil saving techniques. Another reason was simply that the federal government had purchased large areas of land that were allowed to return to their original, pristine nature.
   But this says something about us. Take global warming for instance. We have people like the Koch brothers, and the oil industry, and the politicians in Congress that they control, who only  see making money in the short term as the responsible course of action, at the expense of the entire planet, which in actuality is the most irresponsible path that anyone can take!
   We have the ability to look forward. We have the ability to learn from our past mistakes. I don't hear Republicans, or Charles and David Koch make fun of engineers who retrofit or design buildings that can withstand earthquakes that aren't happening in the present, but will surely occur in the future. We know they will come, so we take action to lessen the damage and loss of life that will happen.
   But Rick, we know earthquakes are real. We don't know that about global warming.
  Oh yes, yes, we do. The only people who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that global warming is real are those who profit from denying it, like the Koch brothers, and the oil and gas industry, and those they hire to discredit the science involved.
 Irresponsible Stewardship
   There are too many lessons that we, as responsible stewards of the present, can and must  learn from ourselves as we faced the Dustbowl, that we owe to those who will come in the future.  

Lessons from The Dust Bowl with Ken Burns

This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."
Written by Guthrie in the late 1930s on a songbook distributed to listeners of his L.A. radio show "Woody and Lefty Lou" who wanted the words to his recordings.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Skid Row Diary 8

July 21   2003      Monday   Day 9   

   Next, the "frustrating implied angel who won't say what he really is," episode of the "Outer Limits." I mean you watch for an hour, until 1:00AM, and you at least want to find out what you've been watching! Not this, "I've already told you all you need to know. The answer is within you," crap.
   The original "Outer Limits" never did that! The writer's of the new "Outer Limits," might think they're being clever, but it's actually old, tired, and boring.
   I turned the television off and the radio on to Frank Sontag's "Impact," program that was just beginning it's second hour. I listened while drifting off to sleep again. Frankie was in a mood, fairly argumentative with his callers, the subject of conversation still being recent events in Iraq, and the Bush administration's handling of it.
   I fell asleep, trying to get back to Janeane and Uma, but they had gone home. Instead I was transported to just east of Ayres Rock in the Australian outback. It was dark, and sitting around a hastily made campfire were Laura San Giacomo and Linda Kozlowski.
   Both beautiful and talented actresses, Laura, star of "Sex, Lies, and Video Tape," "Pretty Woman." and "Quigley Down Under," Linda of the Crocodile Dundee saga. Laura was dressed in white shorts and a kind of reddish, orange top with white sleeves, while Linda wore a black cocktail dress with a white top. Wild dingos circled the fire, hungry and ready to pounce.
   "Here Laura, wear my coat. You must be cold," I told her. I was wearing a nice coat.
   She took it gratefully. "Thanks Ricky." She smiled at me.
   "Those dingos are getting closer," Linda pointed out, "and we only have three bullets left in the gun." She was holding a six shoot revolver.
   "What are we going to do?!" both ladies cried, looking at me for salvation.
   "No worries, ladies," I told them, filled with self assurance. "We'll just open up a few of these cans of 'Dingo Food,' here, and give it to them. That should keep them busy."
   Fortunately I had my can opener with me. I fed the dingos, and the girls and I huddled near the fire throughout the night to keep warm. I told them ghost stories.
   I woke around 3:00AM to Frank's arguing with a caller, still discussing Iraq. The caller was telling Frank about how much more he knew of the subject than Frank did, calling Frank a "young man," making it sound like an insult. Frank cut him off, saying he would have none of this condescending crap on his show, "especially tonight, old man!" Frank let the guy continue his argument anyway.
    I went back to sleep, rejoining Laura and Linda.
    I stayed with them until well after sunrise. We were happy. The dingos were happy. Everyone was happy...then Mark and Brian took me away from them.
   They were both talking about the British Open, which was not surprising, them being old geezers and all.
   Especially Brian.
    I kid them, but I do it with love... geez bastards.
    It was 7:00AM. I got up and showered. A black guy was just leaving the shower room as I entered. “The water’s just warm,” he told me. That too was not surprising for this late in the day. I was surprised the water wasn’t ice cold.
    Another black guy, the guy who stole my red soap dish, came in just as I was leaving. He had my soap dish with him, and I would have taken it back, but didn’t want to get into an altercation and get thrown out of the Weingart over it. The Weingart does not allow physical altercations between residents within the building’s perimeter, among other things. I let it go and returned to my room.
    Breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs and bacon. I gave my bacon away to yet another black guy. In this place whites and Hispanics are a minority. I don’t believe any Asians live here, which is interesting.
    Giselle was wearing pants yet again. That makes three days in a row now. This is getting out of hand. I’ve written the producers before concerning this difficulty. Don’t make me do it again Giselle.
    Fortunately, Desperita America weather lady, Jackie Guerrido, and my case worker, Labren Marshall, were wearing lovely short dresses.
    I’m so sick. Please help me.
    I saw Labren when I was in the lobby at the pay phone trying to get through to the food stamp people in Sacramento. After navigating my way through several automated systems, I was abruptly, automatically, told that all operators were too busy with other callers and for me to call back later.
    I was aghast! I decided to take their advice and call back at another time.
    Labren had just walked by headed for the day room. I asked her if she knew the password for the new computer.
    “You can’t have it yet,” she told me.
    I knew better than to ask why. The computer, given to us without the password, was an obvious attempt to test our sanity. I would have none of it and returned to my room.
    Kelly Gates, Mark and Brian’s lovely newslady, didn’t make it back from Vegas in time to get to work today. Her replacement, the lovely and virtuous Diane, stated that Cyndi Lauper would be on the show today. I waited around and listened until 9:00, but Cyndi never showed up.
    Where are you Cyndi? Are you with John Manzano?
     I had my 10:30 appointment for testing at LACC. I arrived 30 minutes early and waited on the steps of the library until called inside for the test. I began to read from Wurther until I realized that watching the students, mostly young kids, walk around, was much more interesting.
     At 10:30 we were called into the testing room. Myself and about 20 others.
     I only needed to take the math assessment test, which centered on algebra. I could of saved the testers and myself a whole lot of time by telling them I didn’t remember a thing from high school algebra, however it took only 10 minutes to prove my ignorance. The test consisted of 12 questions, and I had to guess the answers for each and every one. I was politely told that I was eligible for the pre-algebra class, Math 112, which I would need to take to prepare me for a real algebra class.
    And what the hell do I need algebra for anyway?! I didn’t need it in high school, I don’t need it now. I can’t think of one instance where algebra was imperative to maintaining my health and well being.
    I hate algebra.
    Oh well, we shall see.
     The next step in the matriculation process was to be counseled. Lord knows I could use it. However, I was told that I could not be properly counseled without the transcript I was waiting for from PCC. There was nothing for me to do but return to downtown to check my mail.
    The lovely Miss Tran had mailed a letter to me reminding me I was to be evaluated on August 5th at 1:00PM. She left a message on my voice mail as well, asking for my zip code so she could mail the evaluation letter to me.
    I think she just wants to get together with me, the poor, lonely girl. Little does she know that I am not on the market. I will have to let her down gently.
    I called her back and got her voice mail. I gave her my zip code so she could use it on the letter she had already sent to me.
    I was good and just used the computer at One Stop to look for a job. The thought occurred to me that if I kept this up I might actually find a job, which was unsettling. I’ve worked long and hard, abandoning personal and professional relationships, family life, children, to continue to be downwordly mobile. And just as I’ve nearly touched the bottom, and see the end to what I’ve strove toward all of these years, I may have to give it all up and rejoin the race of rats.
    Near 2:30 I left the One Stop, stopping at the indoor mall at 6th and Los Angeles to purchase a purple, 1 and 1/2“ tall, plastic Buddha figurine I’ve had my eye on for quite a while. I also bought a VHS copy of “Brother, Where Art Thou?” for $5, from a rather small Hispanic girl.
    John Manzano came up to me as I approached the entrance of the Weingart. He said that he hadn’t ditched me. He said that he had to take care of some personal business, needing to go away for a little while.
     Whatever. I’m not his mom. He said he’d be up to see me later, and I went to my room.
     I called the food stamp people who put me on hold for a half hour before letting me know my food stamp hearing had been scheduled for next week, the 29th, at 10:20AM precisely, at some address on Wilshire.
     “Why haven’t I received a notice of this?” I asked. “It’s almost a prerequisite for showing up.”
     My food stamp person didn’t know why.
     Chile dog for dinner. Hall and Oats on Charlie Rose. John Manzano came in at this point and started to give me hell for watching Hall and Oats on Charlie Rose instead of a sitcom that would entertain him.
    “What do you get out of this?” he asked. He didn’t really want an answer. He just wanted to bitch.
     I changed the channel to “Seinfeld,” his favorite, but it had been preempted by a Dodger game. I put the Simpsons on instead, and began reading the “Criminal Law Handbook,” about talking to police.
     This bored John, so he soon left, saying he’d see me tomorrow.
    “Until that time, John,” I said to him. “Until that time.”
    The Whistler was out there tonight, roaming the halls... whistling.
     I continued reading while watching the History Detectives attempt to authenticate a dirk that may have belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. I kept thinking about John Manzano. He was acting strange, and not a little bit odd. Was he worried about his kids? What could I do as his friend to help him? I didn’t come up with any answers.
     I got disgusted with the reception on my television while trying to tune into “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and turned off the set.
     I read an Amnesty International newsletter noting the 8 year anniversary of the massacre of up to 10,000 Bosnian men and boys in the aftermath of Serbrenica. 17,000 people in Bosnia-Herzegovina are still recorded as missing as a result of the strife.
   The letter also denounced President Bush's Patriot Act, noting that 6 detainees have been held without charge or trial. Amnesty International considers this to be a step back for human rights in the United States war against terrorism, "that will further undermine the U.S.'s claims to be a courageous champion of the rule of law."
   I put the newsletter away and went to sleep. Classical music pervaded throughout my little room.
   I dreamt I was in a log cabin in Alaska with Janine Turner, the gorgeous and talented star of "Northern Exposure." She was wearing a full length skirt and blue print blouse. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt with the words "Amnesty International" printed on the front. We were sitting in front of her fireplace and I was telling her of the benefits of becoming a member of Amnesty. She was very enthusiastic and receptive, and I got her to sign up for 3 years, after which we both went moose riding, off, off, into the vast sunset, never to be seen again.

July 22    Tuesday     Day 10

   I heard on the radio yesterday that some government or consumer agency advocated for the county's mental health resources to be proactive and help people rather than just medicate them. 
   I'm at least a day or two ahead of my time.
   Janine left me at about 2:00AM, saying she had to fly someone to Anchorage. I immediately entered into a nightmare. In it I was on a mission to rescue some people in a haunted land where strange, evil, creatures dwelt. A "Hellraiser" labyrinth landscape. I needed to get to a certain location, a mausoleum within a cemetery, where several paths led to several doors. I choose to leave my place of relative safety when there appeared to be no activity about, nothing moving within the shadows which might... treat me. I zipped along one of the concrete paths toward the house, a pillared, four story affair, a mansion really, made of stone and marble, but with wooden doors. I did not run, but carefully walked, looking about as I made my way. Nothing appeared, nothing made noise, but I knew something was out there, possibly watching. Finally I made it to the closest door. It was open, and I quickly entered. The people I was to rescue were there waiting. A family it looked like. A man, woman, and three children. My blood turned to ice as I heard an insane cackling from outside, from where I had just walked with impunity, and which now may be closed off to me forever. I opened the wooden door to look out into the night, and caught a quick glimpse, a glimmer, which quickly disappeared, what looked like a crazed man, except it had no eyes, and it's smile, it's smile was a perpetual grin filled with sharp, jagged teeth, it's arms as long as it's legs, naked, and doing backward cartwheels until it bounded out of my field of vision.
   I closed the door and locked it in five different places. I took several short breaths, wondering if the door would hold if attacked. Still, there was nothing else I could do about it. I was quickly running out of options.
   I froze as I heard giggling behind me, then slowly turned around. My skin crawled as my gaze fell on the man, woman, and children, that were no longer a man, woman, and children. Their eyes were gone and they grinned at me with jagged, sharp, stinking teeth. They began to move toward me, but my exit was blocked.
   Fortunately Bernadette Peters, the beautiful, sexy, and immensely talented star of stage and screen, popped in through a side door I had not seen, and beckoned to me.
   "Ricky! This way! Hurry or your dog chow!" she yelled.
   I followed her through the door and we were magically transported to her hotel in Atlantic City where she sang show songs to me for the rest of the evening, wearing the dress she wore on the cover of Playboy.
   I woke with a start. J.S. Bach's Rollerball Toccata and Fugue in D minor was playing on the radio. "Voyager," was just beginning. It was 3:00AM.
   I walked to the restroom and washed the flop sweat off of my face and upper, well muscled torso. I returned to my room and watched the rest of the "Borg attacks Borg dreamland," episode... Part 1.
   Mmm.... there was some "triaxelating modulation" going on in this one. Very exciting.
   I did yoga and other exercises during the second half of the show, and showered after.
   I wrote and wrote while listening to more classical. At 5:10 I meditated for 400 breaths. Mark and Brian kept talking about how hot Kobe Bryant's wife is, since they got a good look at her after the basketball star declared his innocence on national television last Friday, after being accused of sexually assaulting a 19 year old girl in Colorado. How could her cheat on her, they wondered.
   Personally I have no idea.
   Giselle was wearing a nice dress today. So was my lovely case manager.
   I wish I could find "Local Lente" (the Hispanic "Candid Camera") on my television schedule (according to Univision it is still being produced and aired) so I could be reunited with Odalys.
   Perhaps it is not meant to be.
   I had a good breakfast, eating with John Manzano. Grilled cheese. We discussed what he was going to do about getting custody of his two boys. He was going to make some calls today, to some social agencies, he told me. He believes his children are being abused by his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. I spoke to him about what to say to the police if they were to ever get involved.
   After breakfast I walked to the One Stop, passing the Flower Market on Maple. I was the first at the computers today. I immediately printed up some private files of mine which had absolutely nothing to do with getting a job. No messages on my voice mail. I received two confirmations on my Email that my resume had been received by Health Net and Paralyzed Veterans' of America. I then looked through the "Outer Limits" archives site to find Kate Vernon and Jessica Lundy, then to The History Detectives to find the name of my favorite history detective.
   My work done I walked to the Red Line station on 7th which had been restored to its Los Angelesness, after Spidy had finished with it.
   On to Trimar.
   I picked up some more tea and coffee at the 99 Cent Store, as well as a can of Beef-A-Roni, tuna, and mixed vegetables. Two cans of chicken noodle soup. A jar of sliced jalapeno peppers, lemon cookies, a blank VHS tape, and two 60 minute audio tapes.
   I would record music on these two tapes later.
   A fairly decent Bruce Willis movie was on at Trimar, "Tears of the Sun." I'd never seen it before, and besides the pretentious title, it was very good. I like any movie that brings up human rights violations throughout the world, in this case Nigeria during a civil war, while ethnic cleansing was put into use. And I like pretty much any movie with Monica Bellucci in it. I don't know why.
   My friend Aurica unstuck me today. I asked about her family and everyone seemed to be healthy and fit, even the little baby. Very good. She asked me if I was going to the movies after I left, and I told her, no, that tonight I would be seeing a play.
   I ate a nice turkey salami sandwich I had brought while waiting for the bus to take me back. It had sliced jalapeno peppers in it.
   No problems getting back downtown. I read from Wurthers love letters.
   At the 7th St. station, as I was riding up one of the escalators, I heard a female say this, "Excuse me," from just behind me. I turned around to see a pretty blonde lady looking up at me. "Do you know where Grand Street is," she asked furtively.
   She was wearing sunglasses, and dressed in blue jeans and a beige blouse. She resembled my last girlfriend, Julie Laughlin, who is truly beautiful, caring and kind, smart and funny, and who I love to this day, almost too well, and I had to take a closer look to make sure it really wasn't her. This girl was a little younger though, in her late twenties, and had Hispanic features. Her long hair was very blonde, and I don't see many Hispanic ladies with blonde hair. She resembled a cross between a Hispanic and Norwegian.
   Now I just happened to know where Grand Street was, so I said, "Why yes! I know where it is."
   I took her up to the street.
   "I have to get to the county doctor's office. Do you know where that is," she asked.
   "The county's doctors office? Do you mean the county hospital?"
   "No, the county's doctor's office," she insisted.
   "No," I answered. "I don't think I do." I didn't.
   "Do you see that red signal light over there," I continued.
   Very uncertain, she looked for a moment, then nodded. Yes, she saw it.
   "Well, that's Grand Avenue," thinking that would be the end of it.
   But she continued to stand there as if not knowing what to do.
   "You don't know which way I go to get to the doctor's office?" she asked.
   I didn't, but I said, "Let's go over and take a look."
   "Okay," she said.
   We walked the block over to Grand.
   At about the half way point she said, "Thank you very much for helping me."
   "Ah, it's no problem," I assured her.
   "Nobody seems to want to help around here," she said.
   I looked at her. She was holding what looked like a black sweater in her hands, up close, near her face. It covered her hands in fact, and I thought I saw her trembling.
   "You're alright, aren't you?" I didn't know if I was asking a question of making a statement. "You're not hurt, are you?"
   "No," she said, "I'm just scared because I'm by myself. I want to get this over with and go home. I was assaulted a month ago and need to go to the county doctor's office."
   Jeeze! My heart melted toward this innocent victim, this sweat creature who looked so harmless, but to whom violence had been perpetrated. I felt like protecting her and if she had wanted I would have gladly escorted her to her appointment, and make sure she got home safe and sound.
   I didn't offer. She might have freaked by a stranger wanting to go with her.
   And since Grand turned out to be a one way street heading south, that resolved the problem of which direction she would be going.
   "Thank you," she said once again.
   "No problem. You take care now." I walked north, toward 6th St., but I looked back at her once or twice, until she disappeared into the crowd.
   I wished her well.
   I'd worry about her for the remainder of the evening.
   I returned to the Weingart and discovered someone had been in my room while I had been gone. I hadn't locked the top lock on my door when I had left for breakfast, and it was locked upon my return. Also the bottom lock had been disengaged from the inside.
   I wasn't too alarmed. The maid comes in once a week to change the linen and mop the floor. I have no claim to privacy here, and my room can be opened for inspection at any time.
   I carefully eased my door open in any case, and stuck a mirror through the crack, carefully looking for trip wires in case of booby traps. Fortunately there were none that I could ascertain.
   Whoever had entered hadn't moved or taken anything. Perhaps the hotel staff were just spot checking to see if the room was clean. Perhaps.
   I was mildly concerned because I store so much contraband in my room. Tools and other supplies that could be considered weapons. Knives and blow torches that could be considered as weapons. A bazooka and grenades that could be considered as weapons.
   My  FN F2000 assault rifle, which, by some, could be considered a weapon.
   My harpoon.
   We're not supposed to have weapons.
   Anything can be used as a weapon.
   And I sure didn't want anyone making off with my Odalys and Giselle posters. Oh no!
   At 4:00 I went to the training room on the ground floor. Ms. Jeeter was there this week, waiting. I was the only one in Phase II who showed, so the meeting was canceled again.
   "You've been to this meeting four times, haven't you Mr. Joyce?"
   "At least," I replied.
   "Well then," she exclaimed. "That means your ready for Phase three."
   So far I hadn't been to one meeting in either Phase I or II, that had actually been held. I didn't even know what Phase I or II meant.
   John Manzano had told me that morning that he would come to my room at 5:00, so I waited for him. He didn't show. I went to dinner and found him down there already eating.
   "Oh yeah," I said. "I'll meet your at your room at five."
   "I said I'd meet you down here."
   "No you didn't."
   "Yes I did."
   "No you didn't."
   :Yes I did."
   On and on.
   We returned to my room and watched the "Bud Bundy sex trial," episode of "Married with Children."
   Afterwards, John took a drink of water from my water bottle, got up, said he was going to go refill it, and didn't come back.
   I turned the T.V. on to Charlie Rose who was interviewing the director of the upcoming film, "Seabiscuit," and two of it's stars, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.
   John came about a half hour later with my water bottle.
   "What the fuck, man! You get lost?"
   He laughed. "I called my brother," he said.
   "You called your brother? You couldn't bring my water bottle back first? I was thirsty."
   "Christ! It's a good thing you weren't in the Normandy Invasion."
   "Why? What do you mean," he asked.
   "You would have landed in Portugal."
   We left the building at 7:07 and made our way to Pershing Square. We each possessed a 99 Cent Store plastic bag with cans of 99 Cent Store soup inside. That was the price of admission for this year's Shakespeare Festival's presentation of "The Merry Wives of Windsor." a play I was thoroughly unfamiliar with.
   John and I took seats at the edge of the lawn area facing the stage on the north side of the park, along 5th St. It wouldn't get completely dark for 30 minutes after we got there. The show started at about 8:30.
   Advertising for the event had stressed the resemblance of the plot to that of contemporary (relatively) television shows, especially "I Love Lucy," due to the shenanigans of the plays two leading ladies, Alice Ford and Margaret Page (Played wonderfully by Shana Wride and Judy Moreland). Music from sit-coms and comedy acts was played before the show started, from Laurel and Hardy to "Bewitched," and The Three Stooges. On and on.
   I enjoyed the play immensely, although my ass got a little sore sitting on cement for two hours.
   The story itself demonstrated yet once again how helpless males are constantly manipulated and abused by the dominant female race. I especially enjoyed one scene change where two of the prop people help themselves to a drink from the tavern's bar as the lights went up, and the scene didn't begin until they were finished and left the stage (I've had that job before and know what thirsty work it can be). The actors were all dressed in 1950s dress, although the dialogue, for the most part, remained that of Shakespeare's England of the 1600s.
   There was a commercial for a local pizza establishment just before the intermission, and three displays of magic. The Theme song for "Bewitched," (I admitted to John that I had seen the very first episode when it was first broadcast in 1964, the same night that Mel Brook's "Get Smart" premiered. I'm so old) was utilized in the last act, with a fair amount of magic nose twitching to boot!
   Very good!
   "Did you like that?" I asked John as we walked back.
   "It was okay," he said.
   He helped himself to a salami sandwich in my room before retiring, and I read from Al Watts Zen book.
   That night I dreamt that after I had taken my little blonde Hispanic, Scandinavian home in a giant laundry basket, seeing her safely to her door, I turned into a moose in the Fairywoods, and was pinched by Shana Wride and Judith Moreland, and a whole slew of fake fairies, ceaselessly and without mercy, until the sun once again rose above the towers surrounding Pershing Square.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Some Are More Poor Than Others

   I've been on welfare before here in California. A couple of times. Here it's called General Relief, or GR. The process was relatively simple. You go to the office of the Department of Public Social Services, or DPSS, get in a line, fill out some papers, and basically wait all day. Eventually you get your picture taken and thumb printed. They will give you emergency food stamps if required and a voucher for a place to sleep that night, again if needed.
   In a week or two you come back and attend a mandatory orientation meeting for the GROW program. General Relief Opportunity for Work, a welfare to work program. You are told that you must seek work for as long as you receive GR benefits, which is fine, you want to find work because life on GR is somewhat... restrictive. You receive something like $226 a month, plus about $110 in food stamps. There is no housing assistance for the homeless. In other words life isn't exactly a bowl of cherries. 
   You are given a form to fill out and return every month which tracks the places you sought employment. You will not receive benefits unless that form is turned in on time. There is what I call a forced work requirement, of 10 or 15 hours or so. I worked here downtown at the Hall of Records, performing various menial tasks.
   This was a major change in welfare benefits due to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which was part of President Clinton's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (which promised to "end Welfare as we know it" which doesn't mean anything really, does it, and may not necessarily be a good thing), the title of which is insulting to those seeking assistance due to a situation that was most likely no fault of their own, the name implying those on welfare are not responsible.
   That's pretty funny considering Washington allowed Wall Street to go wild and wreck the economy, sending the nation into a recession, which caused national unemployment to skyrocket, then when people couldn't find work they are considered slackers and irresponsible for being out of work by the government that was so irresponsible it allowed the nation to go into recession to begin with.
   This perception is perpetuated into the general populace (like the nonexistent "Welfare Queen" of Ronald Reagan) as the 3rd picture above indicates. Well what I have to say to people who agree with the sentiment of that picture: Quit working and stop paying taxes if you feel so strongly about it. You guys more than likely identify as being Christian as well, except when it comes to actually providing assistance to others in need... all talk... no walk. There are hundreds of things I don't like paying for with my taxes. I don't like paying for unnecessary wars. I don't like paying money to Exxon in the form of corporate subsidies. I don't like paying taxes for drone strikes that kill innocent children, and women, and families in Yemen and Pakistan. Unfortunately I don't get to pick and choose where my tax money goes to. And neither do you, so just quit bitching and shut the hell up!
   But I digress.
   States are allowed to set their own welfare limits and qualifications within guidelines set by the TANF program, and paid for jointly by the state and federal government.
   Pretty much the same qualifying routine goes with unemployment benefits which I've also received on occasion when I was eligible (laid off). You receive a cash amount tied to a percentage of what your income was before you lost your job. The amount of time you can receive unemployment payments varies from state to state (chart above). Unemployment insurance is a federal-state program jointly financed through federal and state employer payroll taxes. The Internal Revenue Service collects unemployment taxes from employers which are then returned to the state for administration and dispersal.
      So it's up to each state to administer their own welfare and unemployment programs within certain federal guidelines which provides states with a broad latitude in which they are free to set their own rules on time limits, grant levels, and work requirements for those seeking help. In other words each state can make it as easy or difficult as they wish to grant assistance to those who qualify.
   Here in Los Angeles you can receive GR payments for 9 months out of the year. After a 3 month period of no payments, said payments can be resumed for another 9 months.
   In California you may receive a maximum of 73 weeks of unemployment benefits after which you get nothing... unless... those benefits are extended under special circumstances, such as recession.
   In Georgia, they inexplicably elected a Republican as governor, who of course immediately waged war on the states welfare recipients.  The states poverty rate ranks 6th in th nation, with 300,000 families living below the poverty line ($23,050 a year for a family of 4), yet only 7%, 19,000 families receive TANF assistance.
   "New applicants soon found themselves being handed flyers emblazoned with slogans like "TANF is not good enough for any family," "TANF = work now," and "We believe welfare is not the best option for your family."
   WTF?! If I needed a lecture I'd go to my girlfriend's house.
   "Local offices were really taking a lot of steps to dissuade people from applying—or once they had applied, they were doing things to make the process really cumbersome and difficult," recalls Allison Smith of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, whose office began documenting troubling reports of welfare applicants being discouraged from applying for benefits by any and all means necessary: "Making them go through 60 job searches a week, or come to 8 orientations." One woman in her seventh month of pregnancy was ordered to take a waitressing job that would require her to be on her feet all day. Another was told that if she applied for TANF while living in a shelter her children would be taken away. Smith recalls, "Some of the stuff that was said to individuals was pretty awful—'If you can't find a job, we'll have you shoveling shit at the dog pound.' "
   Thanks to Neil deMause for this info. Here's his article:
   Why would the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, set this policy? He's a Baptist, and therefore should follow the teachings of Christ.
   "Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'"Matthew 25:34-36 
   Because he's a Christian in name only, and a contemporary Republican, which by definition means nasty, political, asshole, sociopath.
   He is using and spreading the perception that welfare recipients are lazy, no good, deadbeat, freeloading parasites on society... Romney's 47%. He is demanding that those in need get jobs before welfare when there are no jobs. He's a dick, and he's working against his own, and his states best interest, and those that elected him (the first Republican governor in Georgia since the end of the Civil War) are getting what they voted for.
   You see there's a reason we have these social safety nets... welfare and unemployment insurance, and food stamps, etc. It's because it's the right thing to do (I'm not Christian, and even I know that).
   But beyond that simple fact, these programs keep people out of poverty, and they inject money into the economy. These programs act as a stimulus to the economy, locally (as in a state like Georgia) and nationally. People who receive welfare and unemployment don't stash that money into bank accounts like the wealthy do with tax breaks. They spend it, they buy things immediately. They pay bills. They buy food, they pay their rent.
   Food Stamps for example have been determined to be the best economic stimulus that there is. For every dollar spent on that program $1.73 is generated throughout the economy.
   Economist Mark Zandi: "If someone who is literally living paycheck to paycheck gets an extra dollar, it's very likely that they will spend that dollar immediately on whatever they need - groceries, to pay the telephone bill, to pay the electric bill."
   Tracking that dollar spent through the economic chain shows what economists call the ripple effect, Zandi said. That dollar spent at the supermarket helps pay the salary of the person at the cash register, which helps to pay the people who haul the food to the store, which lastly goes to pay the farmer who produced whatever it was you bought.
   A similar result goes for unemployment benefits. For every dollar spent here, the economy would see a return of $1.64.
   Think of it as a business investment. For every dollar invested you get a 64% profit. That's a pretty good deal.
   What's the alternative, the road on which Georgia's Governor has decided to take?
   Instead of stimulating their economy, they are depressing it by sending more people into poverty, which drain the local resources of entities such as emergency medical care facilities, jails, food banks, churches... on and on
   Republicans can't seem to get this through their tiny little heads.
   Their not very bright.
   Guess what? If the Republicans don't pass some kind of spending/revenue deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff by next Tuesday, 2.1 million unemployment recipients will lose their benefits.
   At least House Republicans have their priorities right. They weren't able to pass Speaker Bohner's Plan B compromise bill, but they were able to pass a measure diverting the cliff's automatic spending cuts from the defense budget to domestic programs. More bombs, fewer jobs.
   Do I feel bad about receiving the help I got? Nope.
   The money did what it was supposed to do. It helped me get buy until I was able to get a job and back onto my own two and a half feet. It kept me out of poverty as a drain on society.
   And when I was able to... I paid it back.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Talking to God Part 2


Picture Legend
1. Talking to God
2.  Sandy Hook
3.         "
4.         "
5. Robertson
6. Hagee
7. Falwell
8. Huckabee
9. Dobson
10. Fischer
11. Morris

   On the 12th of January, 2010, at about 4:53PM, the Caribbean nation of Haiti, one of the poorest nation's in the world, experienced a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake, affecting an estimated 3 million people, killing an estimated 316,000, injuring another 300,000, and causing 1 million to become homeless. The government also estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged.
   The next day our old friend Pat Robertson, chairman of the  Christian Broadcasting Network, and host of "The 700 Club," which gives him a daily national forum, proclaimed the quake was caused by the Haitians' "pact to the devil," to gain independence from France  in the early 1800s.
   The Haitians "were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the Third and whatever," Robertson said on his broadcast. "And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other."
   That's true. Haiti is prone to earthquakes. It also suffers from massive poverty, corruption, hurricanes, disease outbreaks, and flooding, among other things, all most likely due to the nation's desire to be free from colonial rule and that pact with the devil, according to Mr. Robertson.
   Haiti occupys the western part of the island of Hispaniola. The eastern two thirds of that island is occupied by the Dominican Republic. They're kind of attached to each other.
   The Dominican Republic used to be called Santa Domingo, and had been colonized by the French, Spanish, and Haitians, before gaining independence in 1844, for all we know without making a deal with Satan, yet it has experienced political strife, natural disasters, pollution, and the very same hurricanes that Haiti experiences, as does Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe, Martinique, The Bahamas, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Aruba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Virgin Islands, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, The Cayman Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, The Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, Florida, and the entire east and southeast coasts of the United States.
   It seems the Haitians pact has spilled over onto all of us.
   But Pat has an answer for this strange phenomena.
   "We have killed over 40 million unborn babies in America," Robertson said on his September 12, 2005, broadcast of "700 Club," two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall over New Orleans.
   "I was reading, yesterday, a book that was very interesting about what God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood. And he [the author] used the term that those who do this, 'the land will vomit you out.' ... But have we found we are unable somehow to defend ourselves against some of the attacks that are coming against us, either by terrorists or now by natural disaster? Could they be connected in some way?"
   Here's another explanation for Katrina:
   "All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens,” John Hagee, a Texas-based evangelical pastor who leads the Christian Zionist movement in the United States, said after Katrina. "I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are – were recipients of the judgment of God for that."
   Well, which is it? Baby killing in the United States, or sin just in New Orleans? Please tell me. I really want to know.
   Personally I think one explanation for Hurricane Katrina might be a storm system characterized by a low-pressure center surrounded by a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain.
   But that's just me... oh, and the Newsroom:
   How about 9/11? One explanation could be 19 terrorists from the Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda hijacking four planes to use as weapons who tragically struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon because of U.S. policy in the Middle East (don't tell me they attacked us because they hated our freedom), or as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell postulated, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen. God will not be mocked."
   He later recanted this statement... sort of...  stating that forces trying to secularize the U.S. “created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812."
   Like many during the 2008 and 2012 election, I guess Mr. Falwell didn't consider Hawaii and Pearl Harbor as really being part of the United States.
   Abraham Lincoln, the vampire slayer, considered God intervening in human affairs during the Civil War, and why so much loss of life was necessary. He wrote at this time that God "could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."  In his last speech before his assassination he framed the war as divine punishment for slavery.
   At least Mr. Lincoln was considering and not proclaiming.
   On and on.

   I was shocked and deeply saddened upon learning of the mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I abhor violence, especially against women and children.
   Two weeks ago today, Adam Lanza, age 20, an honors student with no prior criminal history, shot his mother four times in the head while she was lying in bed with one of her own guns, he then drove her car to Sandy Hook, shot his way through a locked door into the school, and was confronted by the school's principle and psychologist, both women, who he immediately shot and killed. He then went on a rampage, killing in all 20 children between the ages of six and seven, and 4 other adults, all women who died trying to protect their charges as best they could. Upon the arrival of first responders Lanza shot himself in the head and subsequently died.
   The nation reacted sharply, with anger, sympathy, sorrow, and quite possibly a new found determination to finally buck the hold the National Rifle Association has on our government and culture, and pass some meaningful gun legislation (the NRA's answer to the problem, voiced by its executive vice president and gun manufacturer front man Wayne LaPierre, was as expected, more guns, in the form of armed security guards at each of the nation's 98,706 public schools and 33,740 private grade schools (hopefully colleges can fend for themselves)). I myself, just about an hour ago, would have happily signed a petition sponsored by my Senator, Diane Feinstein, which would help reinstate a ban on assault weapons... if only her website had been up and running.
   Maybe later.
   We have no explanation on why this shooting occured. We will never be able to delve into the mind of Adam Lanza. Obviously he was mentally disturbed and may have been autistic, and the two may have nothing to do with each other, but still, we will never, ever know.
   Except for some who talk to God... or at least speak for him, which implies communication.
   Squirrel cooker Mike Huckabee claims  that Americans have “systematically removed God from our schools” and thus shouldn’t be surprised when violence occurs there (clip above), referring to the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States...
   "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
    ... which prohibits  conducting religious observances such as prayer in our public schools. By this Huckabee means we've removed God from them.
   Now remember:
   "God usually refers to the single deity in monotheism or the monist deity in pantheism. God is often conceived of as the supernatural creator and overseer of humans and the universe. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. The most common among these include omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence." -Wikipedia
   Which makes me wonder how we would have the power to remove an entity such as that described above, from anywhere! Omnipresence implies God is everywhere, whether we want God there or not.
   But we'll get back to that.
    Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, spoke on his radio program, "I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn't exist... And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed [this Newtown massacre] judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on."
   So according to Dobson everyone must believe in God as he does or that omnibenevolent diety will cause someone like Lanza to shoot us.
   Monger of fear.
   Bryan Fischer of the American family Association agrees with Huchabee that God doesn't protect those who who don't pray, and because prayer was prohibited at Sandy Hook, these children were killed.
   "The question is going to come up, where was God?,” Fischer said. "I thought God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here's the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted... Now we have spent since 1962 -- we're 50 years into this now--we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don't want to pray to you in our schools, we do not want to pray to your before football games, we don't want to pray to you at graduations, we don't want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech... In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God's word out of ours schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. I am a gentlemen."
   God's a gentleman. All of these guys know that God is a male, so of course they are on a first name basis with him. And this omnipotent being needs our invitation or permission to provide services rendered, like protecting us from mass murders... kind of like how vampires (real ones, not those fakes in the Abraham Lincoln movies) need to be invited before they can come in.
  Old Paths Baptist Church's Rev. Sam Morris claims the number of mass shootings are escalating because of schools were government “mind-control centers” that teach "junk about evolution" and "how to be a homo."
   "We get all up in arms about 20 children being shot in a day care but we don’t give one good-glory rip about the 4,000 that were removed violently from the wombs of their mothers [in abortion procedures] the same day," he explained. "I believe they use children and Christmas and all that to pull on our heart strings about gun control. That’s what it’s all about."
   Well, here we have a whole potpourri of reasons God is killing us off. We're teaching evolution in our schools, oh yes, and how to become homosexual (I for one have never seen that particular class offered... but my scholastic experience is limited I have to admit), abortion is legal in this country, and some of us want tighter regulations for guns.
   I had no idea God was a gun enthusiast! Who knew? Certainly not me.
   I could go on and site further examples, but these people make me ill.
   Clearly these men are promoting their own agenda, and are not above exploiting tragedy in doing so. They claim to have some special connection to God, that you and I do not, which allows them to know God's mind and He/She/It's plans for us. They are special. They get to talk to God and receive answers, and we non-special people don't.
   The problem is millions of people in this country may believe them. As we discussed in Part 1, Gallop polled Americans on this issue (June of last year) and more than 9 out of 10 people believe in God in this country, and these gentlemen above have large public forums to make their nonsense known to these 9 out of 10. And that's a danger.
   What about their case? Why is it false?
   First off they all make the proposition that there is such an entity as God, but offer no verifiable proof of He/She/It's existence. Hey, it's not me making the claim, so it's not my job to prove that God does not exist. It's their burden to prove the He/She/It does. Until they do they can't be taken seriously.
   I know, millions of people, the majority of Americans agree with them, and believe that God does exist. As a matter of fact I don't personally know anyone who agrees with me that God does not, not personally.
   And I know that this belief is entrenched, and that it offers individual support to people at trying times, like all of those pastors and practitioners of the different faiths that presided over the memorial service for the victims of Sandy Hook. And I also know that a belief in God allows those to hope for eternal life, and the meeting of our loved ones who have already died.
   But that is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence.
   And the majority is often wrong. The majority at one time thought that the Earth was flat, that the Sun revolved around us rather than the other way around, and that we were created in 6 days 10,000 years ago.
   Further, these men above claim different motives for God's actions. Why would that be if they were all communicating with the same diety? Why?
   Gun violence is killing 87 people a day across America. These people don't get the attention that the children and teachers of Sandy Hook received, but what about them? What was their offense against God?
   I think these men are using God to manipulate religiously oriented gullable people. They may in fact be true believers, but they have perverted their messages with their own biases and ignorance. Their message is nothing but their own desires for how the world should be, and how they would want everyone else to believe as they do.
   Their message is hogwash.
   Here's what we really know about God if He/She/it truly exists... God's knowable attributes: He/She/It is incredibly shy and steadfastly refuses to interfere, intervene, or manifest them self in the affairs of humans in any way, shape, or form. God displays total indifference in what we do.
   How can you say that Rick? Aren't you afraid of dying?
   We die a little each night when we go to sleep, that's what I expect dying will be like... an endless, dreamless sleep.
   And as Tommy Lee Jones said in the film "The Fugitive," "I need the rest."
   But still, I'll try and put that long rest off for as long as possible.
   This brief period of life that we are so lucky to experience should be cherished and appreciated.
   And we do mourn those who have gone before us, some of us, needlessly.

Thanks to Dan Gilgoff of CNN and Frank Schaeffer for source material.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Frankenstein's Monster and the Tea Party

"It's Alive!"


Tea Party


   Remember the good old days when Tom "The Hammer" Delay, ruled the House of Representatives as Republican Majority Leader during the Bush (George W) years?  He would cajole, bully, and threaten members of his own party to get bills passed, often just by one vote (in the 108th Congress, a preliminary Medicare vote passed 216-215, a vote on Head Start passed 217–216, a vote on school vouchers for Washington, D.C. passed 209-208, and "Fast track", usually called "trade promotion authority," passed by one vote as well. Both political supporters and opponents remarked on DeLay's ability to sway the votes of his party, a method DeLay described as "growing the vote" -Wikipedia) He would have lobbyists help write bills. He would threaten other Republican House members with primary challenges for those members if they would not vote the way he wanted. He would force members to take turns voting on bills that might be unpopular in their home districts in order to garner enough votes to get that bill passed.  And he raised a lot of money for his fellow Republicans candidates.
   As biological anthropologist and science communicator Greg Laden points out:
   "An anchor was pressing the two guests about this difference in strategy, challenging them with the idea that the Republicans were better at this sort of thing because they were coordinated and in lockstep. The word “lockstep” was used. Every single Republican will vote the same exact way on the health care reform bill (against health care). The Democrats, on the other hand, will be more diverse in their voting patterns and are currently more diverse in their arguments and positions on various aspects of each issue.
   I made the point in an earlier post (Discordant Democrats vs. Republican Dittoheads) that Republicans work in lock step and simply do whatever they are told. I’m not talking (necessarily) about the average Joe the Plumber Republican. I’m talking about elected officials with law degrees. The average United States Senator or Representative who happens to be a Republican needs not think, read, or consider."
      Personally I find Mr. Delay an incredibly loathsome individual, barely above "monster" status (I don't care how well he can dance ( )) due to his work in 2000 regarding human rights offenses toward workers in the Northern Mariana Islands.
   Nationally known columnist and commentator Mark Shields,  wrote for CNN:
   "Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed...
   Because they were produced in a territory of the United States, garments traveled tariff-free and quota-free to the profitable U.S. market and were entitled to display the coveted "Made in the USA" label.
   DeLay traveled with his family and staff over New Year's of 1997 on a Jack Abramoff scholarship endowed by his client, the government of the territory to the Marianas, where golf and snorkeling were enjoyed.
   DeLay fully approved of the working and living conditions. The Texan's salute to the owners and Abramoff's government clients was recorded by ABC-TV News: "You are a shining light for what is happening to the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America and leading the world in the free-market system."
   Conservative Republican Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Frank Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas, which the Senate unanimously passed, but which Delay shot down for consideration, and later blocked a fact-finding mission planned by Rep. Peter Hoekstra by threatening him with the loss of his subcommittee chairmanship.
   Nice guy.
   Currently he is appealing a conviction for money laundering and a three year prison sentence and free on bail. He was indicted in 2005, found guilty in 2010, and still free. For some Texas justice is very slow.
   I'll celebrate when they finally get around to locking him up.
   But I digress.

   Well the good old days seem to be long gone, at least for the Republican leadership in the House, thanks to the Tea Party.
   Polls tend to show Tea Party supporters as being mainly white (as a matter of fact it was considered exceptionally difficult to find any people of color at the early Tea Party protests) and slightly more likely to be male, married, older than 45, more conservative than the general population, and likely to be more wealthy and have more education (although slogans on signs at rallies like "Keep your government hands off of my medicare" tend to discount the later). The idea was a grassroots movement advocating some type of strict constitutionalism (I guess they didn't think the Supreme Court was doing a very good job), reducing the size of government, its spending, lowering taxes, and it was definitely against Obamacare (although reducing the federal deficit should be a stated goal, which the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will accomplish (The 2011 comprehensive CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimate projected a net deficit reduction of more than $200 billion during the period 2012–2021. CBO estimated in March 2011 that for the 2012–2021 period, the law would result in net receipts of $813 billion, offset by $604 billion in outlays, resulting in a $210 billion reduction in the deficit).
   Since its inception the Tea Party has been usurped by groups like Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers ( ) and FreedomWorks (also funded by David Koch), so it's claim to be a movement of and by the people is dubious at best.
   The Occupy Wall Street movement is a grassroots group, of and by the people, but unlike the Tea Party it had, and has, seemingly no political agenda. The Tea Party however, almost totally identifying with the Republican Party, sent it's members to Congress.
   In the 2010 midterm elections Tea Party endorsed candidates upset established Republicans in several primaries, such as in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Nevada, New York, South Carolina, and Utah. 138 candidates backed by Tea Party support ran for Congress, 129 were running for the House and 9 for the Senate, with 32 percent winning seats, which gave them approximately 14 percent of the seats in the House, a significant percentage.
   The newly seated Tea Party candidates first made themselves nationally known during the mid -2011 debt ceiling crisis, in which these elected officials refused, under principle, to extend the governments ability to borrow funds to keep the government running and paying it's debts. Then Presidential candidate and Tea Party Caucus founder, Michelle Bachmann, actually advocated for the House to let the government default on its payments for the first time in the nation's history, and it almost did, causing  Standard & Poor's credit rating agency to downgrade the long-term credit rating of the United States government also for the first time in its history, from AAA to AA+, leading to the Sequestering agreement that has led to our current so-called Fiscal Cliff  crisis.
   This wasn't exactly the outcome the established Republican leadership, in the form of Speaker of the House John Boehner, was hoping for.
   What he was hoping for was some measure of control over his supposedly party membership that other speakers had enjoyed up until then. But he had none. What he had was 14 percent of the House that were complete ideologues pursuing their own agenda without regard to their party or the country as a whole. If the country went down the financial tubes, so be it, as long as taxes were not raised and the government's ability to borrow money was curbed, and subsequent spending by said government was lowered. They considered no actual real world consequences to their actions. They were like little kids, completely and totally irresponsible. What Boehner had was 61 identified Tea Party Representatives (25% of Republicans), out of 242 Republican seats, with 193 Democrats who were unlikely to help him very much
   What he had was a Republican Frankenstein's Monster, created from a frustrated and angry Republican electorate, which once brought to life, turned against its master, creating nothing but chaos and turmoil within its wake.
   I doubt that even Charles and David Koch anticipated this happening. As a matter of fact I know they didn't, considering the lowering of the countries credit rating wasn't good for their own bottom line.
   Since the last election the Tea Party has lost influence ( ), but it can still screw up the Speaker's plans.
   A week ago Speaker Boehner was trying to pass his "Plan B" resolution to the Fiscal Cliff problem we're still facing. It was a mostly symbolic attempt to place the onus of solving this issue back on the Democrats because once sent to the Senate it had absolutely no chance being taken up, let alone passing.
   But he couldn't even get his own Bill passed through his own Republican controlled House.
   " House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a vote on the bill after they failed to rally enough votes for passage in an emergency meeting about 8 p.m. Within minutes, dejected Republicans filed out of the basement meeting room and declared there would be no votes to avert the “fiscal cliff” until after Christmas. With his “Plan B” all but dead, the speaker was left with the choice to find a new Republican way forward or to try to get a broad deficit reduction deal with President Obama that could win passage with Republican and Democratic votes.
   What he could not do was blame Democrats for failing to take up legislation he could not even get through his own membership in the House." -Jonathan Weisman, New York Times.
   Plan B apparently called for ending the Bush (George W) tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million, which the Tea Party members of Boehner's party could not stomach, so they refused his entreaties to get it passed, turning on their leadership, and putting the Speaker's job at stake when he comes up for reelection next Thursday.
   Like the monster in Mary Shelley's Gothic novel, the Tea Party may cause the death of its own creator, or leader.
   And it certainly isn't doing the country any good either.