Life ?

Life ?

May be an image of 5 people and people standingWhen Einstein gave lectures at U.S. universities, the recurring question that students asked him most was:  Do you believe in God?

And he always answered:  I believe in the God of Spinoza.

Baruch de Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher considered one of the great rationalists of 17th century philosophy, along with Descartes.

(Spinoza) : God would say:  Stop praying.

What I want you to do is go out into the world and enjoy your life. I want you to sing, have fun and enjoy everything I’ve made for you.

Stop going into those dark, cold temples that you built yourself and saying they are my house. My house is in the mountains, in the woods, rivers, lakes, beaches. That’s where I live and there I express my love for you.

Stop blaming me for your miserable life; I never told you there was anything wrong with you or that you were a sinner, or that your sexuality was a bad thing. Sex is a gift I have given you and with which you can express your love, your ecstasy, your joy. So don’t blame me for everything they made you believe.

Stop reading alleged sacred scriptures that have nothing to do with me. If you can’t read me in a sunrise, in a landscape, in the look of your friends, in your son’s eyes…  you will find me in no book!

Stop asking me “will you tell me how to do my job?” Stop being so scared of me. I do not judge you or criticize you, nor get angry, or bothered. I am pure love.

Stop asking for forgiveness, there’s nothing to forgive. If I made you… I filled you with passions, limitations, pleasures, feelings, needs, inconsistencies… free will.

How can I blame you if you respond to something I put in you? How can I punish you for being the way you are, if I’m the one who made you? Do you think I could create a place to burn all my children who behave badly for the rest of eternity? What kind of god would do that?

Respect your peers and don’t do what you don’t want for yourself. All I ask is that you pay attention in your life, that alertness is your guide.

My beloved, this life is not a test, not a step on the way, not a rehearsal, nor a prelude to paradise. This life is the only thing here and now and it is all you need.

I have set you absolutely free, no prizes or punishments, no sins or virtues, no one carries a marker, no one keeps a record.

You are absolutely free to create in your life. Heaven or hell.

I can’t tell you if there’s anything after this life but I can give you a tip. Live as if there is not. As if this is your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.

So, if there’s nothing after, then you will have enjoyed the opportunity I gave you. And if there is, rest assured that I won’t ask if you behaved right or wrong, I’ll ask. Did you like it? Did you have fun? What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn?…

Stop believing in me; believing is assuming, guessing, imagining. I don’t want you to believe in me, I want you to believe in you. I want you to feel me in you when you kiss your beloved, when you tuck in your little girl, when you caress your dog, when you bathe in the sea.

Stop praising me, what kind of egomaniac God do you think I am?

I’m bored being praised. I’m tired of being thanked. Feeling grateful? Prove it by taking care of yourself, your health, your relationships, the world. Express your joy! That’s the way to praise me.

Stop complicating things and repeating as a parakeet what you’ve been taught about me.

What do you need more miracles for? So many explanations?

The only thing for sure is that you are here, that you are alive, that this world is full of wonders.

 – Spinoza

 

‘Allergic reaction to US religious right’ fueling decline of religion, experts say

‘Allergic reaction to US religious right’ fueling decline of religion, experts say

Adam Gabbatt                            April 5, 2021
<span>Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP</span>
Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

 

Fewer than half of Americans belong to a house of worship, a new stud shows, but religion – and Christianity in particular – continues to have an outsize influence in US politics, especially because it is declining faster among Democrats than Republicans.

Just 47% of the US population are members of a church, mosque or synagogue, according to a survey by Gallup, down from 70% two decades ago – in part a result of millennials turning away from religion but also, experts say, a reaction to the swirling mix of rightwing politics and Christianity pursued by the Republican party.

The evidence comes as Republicans in some states have pursued extreme “Christian nationalist” policies, attempting to force their version of Christianity on an increasingly uninterested public.

This week the governor of Arkansas signed a law allowing doctors to refuse to treat LGBTQ people on religious grounds, and other states are exploring similar legislation.

Gallup began asking Americans about their church membership in 1937 – and for decades the number was always above 70%. That began to change in 2000, and the number has steadily dropped ever since.

Some of the decline is attributable to changing generations, with about 66% of people born before 1946 are still members of a church, compared with just 36% of millennials.

Among other groups Gallup reported, the decline in church membership stands out among self-identified Democrats and independents. The number of Democratic church members dropped by 25% over the 20-year period, with independents decreasing by 18%. Republican church members declined too, but only by 12%.

David Campbell, professor and chair of the University of Notre Dame’s political science department and co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, said a reason for the decline among those groups is political – an “allergic reaction to the religious right”.

“Many Americans – especially young people – see religion as bound up with political conservatism, and the Republican party specifically,” Campbell said.

“Since that is not their party, or their politics, they do not want to identify as being religious. Young people are especially allergic to the perception that many – but by no means all – American religions are hostile to LGBTQ rights.”

Research by Campbell shows that a growing number of Americans have turned away from religion as politicians – particularly Republicans – have mixed religion with their politics. Campbell says there has always been an ebb and flow in American adherence to religion, but he thinks the current decline is likely to continue.

“I see no sign that the religious right, and Christian nationalism, is fading. Which in turn suggests that the allergic reaction will continue to be seen – and thus more and more Americans will turn away from religion,” he said.

The number of people who identify as non-religious has grown steadily in recent decades, according to Michele Margolis, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of From Politics to the Pews. More than 20% of all Americans are classed as “nones”, Margolis said, and more than a third of Americans under 30.

“That means non-identification is going to continue becoming a larger share of population over time as cohort replacement continues to occur,” Margolis said. But she agreed another factor is the rightwing’s infusion of politics with theism.

“As religion has been closed linked with conservative politics, we’ve had Democrats opting out of organized religion, or being less involved, and Republicans opting in,” she said.

Christian nationalists – who believe America was established as, and should remain, a Christian country – have pushed a range of measures to thrust their version of religion into American life.

You virtually have to wear religion on your sleeve in order to be elected

Annie Laurie Gaylor

In states including LouisianaArkansas and Florida, Republicans have introduced legislation which would variously hack away at LGTBQ rights, reproductive rights, challenge the ability of couples to adopt children, and see religion forced into classrooms.

The governor of Arkansas recently signed into law a bill that allows medical workers to refuse to treat LGBTQ people on religious grounds. Montana is set to pass a law which would allow people or businesses to discriminate, based on religion, against the LGBTQ community.

“Do not make me NOT do what my God tells me I have to do,” said the Republican Montana congressman John Fuller, a supporter of the law.

Alison Gill, vice-president for legal and policy at American Atheists, who authored a report into the creep of Christian extremism in the US, warned that the drop-off in religious adherence in America could actually accelerate that effort, rather than slow it down.

“Surveys of those who identify with Christian nationalist beliefs consistently show that this group feels that they are subject to more discrimination and marginalization than any other group in society, including Islamic people, Black people, atheists, [and] Jewish people,” Gill said.

“They are experiencing their loss of prominence in American culture as an unacceptable attack on their beliefs – and this is driving much of the efforts we are seeing to cling on to power, undermine democracy, and fight for ‘religious freedom’ protections that apply only to them.”

The influence of religion over politics is stark, Gill said.

“America perceives itself to be a predominantly religious society, even if the facts no longer agree. Politicians often feel beholden to pronounce their religious faith – and are attacked for a perceived lack of it,” she said.

While the danger of a rightwing backlash is real, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said that the Gallup data suggests the US is moving in a positive direction.

“We have this constitutional separation of church and state in America, and our constitution is godless, and it says you can’t have a religious test for public office, and yet you virtually have to wear religion on your sleeve in order to be elected,” Gaylor said.

“There is movement [away from religion], and we’re just delighted to see this. We think it’s great that Americans are finally waking up.”

The Rioters Hate Voting. Here’s the Only Way to Stop Them From Returning.

The Rioters Hate Voting. Here’s the Only Way to Stop Them From Returning.

Jessica Huseman                            February 24, 2021
Samuel Corum/Getty
Samuel Corum/Getty

 

The Senate hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was the blame game to end all blame games: The failure was within the FBI. Or maybe the Army. Or maybe the Capitol Police.

But the extremists’ deadly siege of Congress didn’t happen only because individual agencies failed to defend the building, and the riot was not just born of rage or blind allegiance to a defiant candidate. It was an attack on voting—the very heart of American democracy.

Just as the pursuit of an impeachment conviction against Donald Trump required members of Congress to regard the former president as “singularly responsible” for inciting the mob, yesterday we asked which agency should be held singularly responsible for the security failures. Those are the wrong targets.

They are wrong not because the impeachment failed to produce a conviction—that result was preordained by Republican fealty— or because we should not suss out the security failures, but because the fixation on Jan. 6 in isolation has led Congress, the media, and much of the nation to lose sight of everything else that sparked the “Stop the Steal” uprising. And now, a fixation on which security oversight to blame threatens to take us further away from realizing that the problem has been decades in the making, while we are doing almost nothing to stop it from happening again.

The roots of this crisis and where it will lead next are clear to me because I’ve had a front-row seat to this drama for four years. As ProPublica’s voting reporter, I took on an unusual beat for the 2016 election, tracking not the stakes of elections but the process of voting itself: seemingly mundane proceedings like poll worker trainings, county purchasing meetings about voting machines, obscure legislative hearings on voting laws. ProPublica’s idea was to pool 1,100 local reporters to document how the vote played out in the first election after the Supreme Court’s landmark revisions to the Voting Rights Act. Then, in October, the story began to change when Trump, then the Republican nominee, alleged widespread voter fraud.

Even after his 2016 victory, Trump continued the charade — sowing the seeds of doubt that would allow him to claim victory in 2020, even if he lost. Today, we connect his motivation with whatever personal demons make Trump unable to admit defeat, but what’s just as important to understand is that Trump had picked up a playbook that was years in the making by his party’s local leaders.

The first place I saw that playbook really clearly was in Texas, where I traveled in 2017 to explain how the implementation of the state’s new voter ID law had gone so disastrously the year before. The assumed goal of voter ID was a policy move to make it more difficult to vote as the state’s rapidly changing demographics threatened power long held by white Republicans. But what really made the party embrace voter ID was its power to ignite the base.

I was especially struck by Doug Smith, the Republican chair of the Texas House elections committee when voter ID legislation passed. He described how claims of voter fraud first levied after the 2000 election by George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Aschroft, ricocheted in Texas, becoming such an obsession of Republicans that by 2009 Smith concluded no legislative activity could proceed until lawmakers tackled voter fraud fears.

After studying Ashcroft’s investigation, which found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, Smith tried to craft moderate legislation. He eventually gave up after Tea Party organizing handed Texas Republicans a supermajority in the House in 2011.

A few years removed from elected office, Smith understood why his party had gone down such a dark hole. “If you persuade people that you are the party trying to make sure elections are controlled by American citizens, and that the Democrats are doing everything they can to make sure that illegal immigrants can vote by the busload,” he said, “that’s a good position to be in.”

And it is.

Fomenting anger based on election fraud claims proved effective in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Indiana, where voting laws were debated with increased fury and threats were made toward election officials. And then came Trump. The claims he made in the 2016 campaign aligned him early on with this lineage. Over the course of the 2020 election, Trump took fraud fiction to a new level. I increasingly found myself fielding phone calls from terrified election officials across the country. One Republican election official called me after midnight, a week before November 3, just to talk. She wanted to know what the country would be like after this election. I couldn’t find any words of hope to offer her.

I’ve been reminded again and again over the past four years of the major structural forces that made possible what we saw in January. One is the bigger shifts in voting laws that both opened the door to more restrictive voting laws and centralized voter-roll data, which conspiracy theorists and fraud commissions alike misinterpret to spin scary stories of illegal voting that appeal to the base foundations of the country’s ugliest, most racist roots. The other is changes in my own profession, the media itself.

The local news outlets my ProPublica colleagues and I worked with during the 2016 election were already husks of their former selves, poorly equipped to debunk the claims of vote fraud by local elected officials like Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. By 2020, many of those journalists had lost their jobs altogether.

It is no longer acceptable to pretend that we can cover claims about our election system without resourcing local reporters to examine and explain those claims thoughtfully and with nuance to local readers who understandably do not trust national sources. It is no longer acceptable to ignore the tedious and important work of our local election administrators, who are on the front lines of democracy.

As we move forward from the lowest point in modern American democracy, we need to reclaim a common understanding of truth. To do that, we need the journalism that helps voters understand the pivotal events just around the corner, whether bloody or not — from redistricting to legislative election reforms to whether to maintain vote by mail and early voting. That’s why I left ProPublica to join Votebeat, a new pop-up newsroom designed not only to support local reporters in covering voting and elections, as Electionland did, but to create full-time jobs to ensure somebody is doing that reporting.

The local and state level, after all, is not just where voter fraud claims began. It was also the early warning system for the Jan. 6 insurrection, with many reports of harassments of poll workers and death threats against election officials. And it is the stage where state Republicans first made national news for revealing their president’s illegal scheme to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory. Notably, it wasn’t Mitt Romney or a Cabinet member or a White House staffer who recorded and released a call in which Trump abused his power, seeking to falsify an election result. It was a Republican voting official in the state of Georgia.

“Hallelujah” Young Peoples Chorus of New York City

Young Peoples Chorus of New York City
We were so happy to see all the love our version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been getting on YouTube that we wanted to share it again here as well! We look forward to the day when we can all perform together in-person again.
(This video was recorded in 2019.)
YPC’s core mission and values are reflected in the voices in this video — children who represent the richness of diversity in our city.
“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen
Arranged by Jonathan Miller
Conducted by YPC’s founder and artistic director Francisco J. Núñez

US companies using pandemic as a tool to break unions, workers claim

The Guardian

US companies using pandemic as a tool to break unions, workers claim

Michael Sainato in Florida                        

 

<span>Photograph: Anthony Vazquez/AP</span>
Photograph: Anthony Vazquez/AP

 

Dalroy Connell has worked as a stagehand for the Portland Trailblazers since 1995 when the basketball team began playing games at the Rose Garden Arena. When the pandemic hit the US in March 2020, public events were shut down and NBA games were briefly suspended before the season moved to a “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, and the season recommenced without fans in July 2020.

Connell and his colleagues have been on unemployment ever since, but when the 2020-2021 NBA season began in December 2020, instead of bringing back several of these workers, the Portland Trailblazers replaced most of the unionized crew who work their games with non-union workers, even as their jobs running the sound and lighting equipment are required whether or not fans are in attendance.

Like many workers around the US Connell believes he has been locked out from his job by a company that has used the coronavirus pandemic as a tool to break unions.

“It’s a blatant slap in the face,” said Connell. “They’re using positions in the house, people who already work there to do things we normally do.”

The workers’ union, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 28, has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board and held protests outside of Portland Trailblazers home games.

Connell alleged management at the Portland Trailblazers has frequently fought the union over the past several years, with the latest refusal to recall union workers an extension of this trend.

“Here we are wasting a ton of money on legal fees just to give a few guys some work. It’s a five-hour job. It’s so easy to work this out,” he added.

The Portland Trailblazers and Rip City Management did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Lockouts are work stoppages initiated by the employer in a labor dispute where the employer uses replacement workers.

Earlier in the pandemic, some employers resorted to conducting mass layoffs of workers after union organizing drives surfaced, such as at Augie’s Coffee Shop in California and Cort Furniture in New Jersey. Several workers have claimed they had been fired in retaliation due to worker organizing efforts by employers such as Amazon, Trader Joe’s and most recently Instacart. Now some employers are beginning to use lockouts as a tactic to seemingly suppress organizing efforts.

“Lockouts are an economic weapon employers use to take the initiative in collective bargaining,” said Alex Colvin, dean of the school of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. “During the pandemic, lockouts pose a greater threat to unions due to the high unemployment rate and greater availability of replacement workers.”

According to an analysis by Bloomberg Law, no employer lockouts were conducted in 2020 during the first several months of the pandemic, but after previous economic recessions in the US, lockouts rebounded as disputes over wages and benefits became more intense.

“The intent of many lockouts is to actually try to break the workers’ unions by showing that the union’s position has led to the loss of work, and the only way to restore work is through unconditional surrender,” said Moshe Z Marvit, a labor and employment lawyer and fellow at the Century Foundation.

In Los Angeles, California, dozens of workers at Valley Fruit and Produce represented by Teamsters Local 630 went on strike in May 2020 in protest of intimidation of union members and efforts to decertify the union during new contract negotiations.

Amid negotiations to end the strike and bring back workers, Valley Fruit and Produce replaced several workers with non-union members, while the union alleges workers who did return to work were coerced into signing declarations against the union.

The union is currently pursuing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board for the produce distribution company circumventing the union to directly negotiate with workers, in addition to several allegations of intimidation and harassment.

“Through their union buster lawyer, Valley Fruit talked to foremen to call workers on the picket line, using intimidation and scare tactics to get them back to work., When workers went back inside, they were forced to sign documents to say they didn’t want to be a part of the union any more,” said Carlos Santamaria, divisional representative for Teamsters Local 630.

The Portland Trail Blazers meet the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA playoffs in Orlando, Florida, in August after the pandemic forced games to be relocated.
The Portland Trail Blazers meet the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 NBA playoffs in Orlando, Florida, in August after the pandemic forced games to be relocated. Photograph: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

 

“I’m disappointed in what Valley has done to all the workers,” said Rene Gomez, who worked at Valley Fruit and Produce for 21 years and has been locked out of his job since last year. “My family and I are having a hard time economically because of everything going on. We’ve gone to food banks. We’ve been stressed because we don’t know how we’re going to keep paying rent at the end of the month.”

Roberto Juarez, who has worked for Valley Fruit and Produce for six years before getting locked out of his job, argued the company has attempted to “destroy the union in the workplace”, through negotiating in bad faith by pushing for reduction in benefits, wage freezes, hiring union avoidance attorneys, while receiving between $2m and $5m in paycheck protection program loans from the federal government.

“When the pandemic started and hit hard, we never stopped working and we were working a lot of hours. We were exposing ourselves, coming to work, exposing our families, and they didn’t really care,” said Juarez.

Valley Fruit and Produce did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Earlier this month in Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago public schools district began locking out dozens of teachers who are being ordered to return in-person to schools, which have been conducting virtual learning since the pandemic hit the US in March 2020.

Kirstin Roberts, a preschool teacher at Brentano elementary math and science academy in Chicago, refused to return to in-person teaching due to unsafe working conditions, even as all of her students had opted to continue remote learning.

The city of Chicago remains under a stay-at-home advisory with travel restrictions in place to try to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Chicago public schools threatened to declare teachers ordered to work in school buildings who do not show up as “absent without leave”, and docking their pay.

Teachers across Chicago and the Chicago Teachers Union held a virtual teach-in protest of a return to in-person teaching outside of the board of education president’s home on 13 January.

Roberts attended the protest and taught on Facebook live because she was locked out of her Chicago public schools Google account, banning her access to continue teaching her students remotely and shutting her out of her work email account.

“They’ve been trying to impose conditions on the workforce without input from the union,” said Roberts. “Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, Chicago public schools is willing to use our students, hurt our students, and deny students things they need like access to their teachers in a game to one-up the Chicago Teachers Union and that’s ridiculous.”

According to Chicago public schools, 87 teachers and staff are currently considered absent without leave, with an attendance rate of about 76% of school district employees in attendance who were expected to return to work in-person, not including employees who had an approved accommodation.

“We are grateful to the teachers and school-based staff who have returned to their classrooms, and we are continuing to meet regularly with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU),” said a spokesperson for Chicago public schools in an email.

22-year-old Amanda Gorman becomes youngest to read poem at inauguration

22-year-old Amanda Gorman becomes youngest to read poem at inauguration

Katie Kindelan                               January 20, 2021

 

Amanda Gorman made history Wednesday as the youngest poet in recent history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration.

Gorman, 22, read her own poem at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The Los Angeles native told NPR she finished writing the poem, titled “The Hill We Climb,” on the night of Jan. 6, hours after rioters took part in a siege on Capital Hill.

PHOTO: Amanda Gorman recites a poem during the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

 

“I was like, ‘Well, this is something we need to talk about,'” Gorman told NPR’s Steve Inskeep ahead of the inauguration, adding it had been “really daunting to begin the poem” given how divided the country seemed after the 2020 election.

Gorman opened her poem Wednesday by saying, “We braved the belly of the beast.”

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is hours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished,” she said. “We, the successors of a country and a time, where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”

“And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect,” she said. “We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.”

“And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first. We must first put our differences aside,” Gorman said.

Gorman, who said she was not given specific instructions on what to write in her poem, follows in the footsteps of esteemed poets like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost in reading a poem at a presidential inauguration.

She also delivered her poem at a historic inauguration that saw Harris sworn in as the country’s first woman vice president and first woman of color to serve in that position.

Gorman arrived on the presidential stage after being named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 and the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate three years later.

Like Biden, who has been public about having a stutter, Gorman has had to work hard to overcome a speech impediment.

MORE: Garth Brooks on why he’s performing at Biden’s inauguration

She told NPR that because of her difficulty saying certain letters of the alphabet, she has to constantly “self-edit and self-police.”

“I would be in the bathroom scribbling five minutes before trying to figure out if I could say ‘earth’ or if I can say ‘girl’ or if I can say ‘poetry.’ And you know, doing the best with the poem I could,” she said, noting that other famous inauguration orators, like Angelou, have also overcome struggles.

PHOTO: National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman arrives at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

 

“I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle, a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage at inauguration,” Gorman told NPR. “So it’s really special for me.”

Read Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem in full:

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world, when day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is hours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time, where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first. We must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true, that even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious, not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lighten the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made, that is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare, it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we stepped into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption. We feared — at its deception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So, while once we asked, “how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?”, now we assert, “how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?” We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be, a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation.

Because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain. If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birth right.

So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with, every breath from my bronze pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise through the gold-limbed hills in the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover, in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it

Who are you calling a socialist? Republicans are the real party of socialism in America

Who are you calling a socialist? Republicans are the real party of socialism in America

Steven Strauss, Opinion columnist               December 19, 2020

 

With Senate control on the line in two Georgia runoff elections next month, Republicans are claiming that President-elect Joe Biden and the Democrats are “socialists.” That’s their shorthand for government interference in the economy, corruption, failure to enforce the law, incompetence, and subsidizing people who should support themselves.

Let me suggest four areas where the incoming Biden administration, allied with serious conservatives, can fight “socialism” while upholding progressive values.

► Eliminate farm subsidies and farm support programs (which will cost $46 billion this year — up from $22 billion last year — and will account for about 40% of this year’s farm income) that interfere with agricultural markets. As Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute noted: “Agriculture is no riskier than other industries and does not need an array of federal subsidies.” Also from the Cato Institute: “About 97% of all farm households are wealthier than the median U.S. household. Farm income was 52% higher than median U.S. household income.”

I know of no progressive organization that supports these farm subsidy programs. However, America’s farmers are different from other Americans. They are 95% white and do one thing the majority of Americans refuse to do: Farmers overwhelmingly vote Republican (President Donald Trump may have gotten as much as 85% of the farm vote this year).

Tax subsidies that make no sense

► Eliminate the money-losing “socialist” National Flood Insurance Program. From the point of view of progressives (who believe climate change is a real and pressing concern), NFIP makes no sense. It encourages living in flood-prone areas (where progressives believe flooding will get worse due to climate change) by offering subsidized federal flood insurance. As the General Accounting Office noted: “NFIP premiums do not reflect the full risk of loss, which increases the Federal fiscal exposure created by the program, obscures that exposure from Congress and taxpayers …”

In 2017, Congress wrote off $16 billion in losses from this program. But by March 2020, it had already accumulated another $20 billion in losses. About 60% of NFIP policies were issued in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, which all voted for Trump this year.

U.S. Capitol building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Capitol building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

 

► Invest $10 billion per year to fund IRS tax enforcement, targeted at the very wealthy — those making over $1 million a year. According to a recent estimate by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, University of Pennsylvania law professor Natasha Sarin and former IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti, this investment would yield about $100 billion a year in extra Federal tax revenues.

If you’re a conservative who thinks defunding police enforcement is a bad idea, you should think the same about the recent defunding of IRS tax enforcement (by cutting the IRS budget). The IRS budget shrank 20% in real terms from 2010 to 2019, while in the same period the U.S. economy grew about 25%. The result is that the number of audits of Americans making over $1 million per year declined by about 75%. At the same time, the IRS was pressured to focus its scarce resources on auditing low income Americans. Notably, the main driver of this IRS defunding is the GOP.

► Make states routinely subsidized by the rest of the country get their act together. Most American states are roughly in balance between what their residents pay into the federal government and what they receive back. A few states (mainly Democratic) are “maker” states (among them Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York) that pay vastly more to the federal government than they receive.

‘Taker’ states do bad job for citizens

Then there are states that get back a lot more than their residents pay in taxes. These “taker” states are mainly low-income states in the southeast, most of them dominated by Republicans. Given our progressive tax system and safety net, federal money tends to automatically flow to these states.

If you’re a conservative, transferring money from “makers” to “takers” is generally frowned on. If you’re a progressive, it makes sense to ask some hard questions about what’s going on with these “taker” states. Because, despite all the money these states receive, they don’t do a good job for their citizens.

Mississippi illustrates just how bad this situation is. Annually, Mississippi receives $19 billion more from the federal government than it pays into the system. Despite this support, Mississippi has the highest homicide rate, highest infant mortality rates and lowest median household income of any American state.

No socialist nightmare: Georgia, if you’re listening, ignore conservatives peddling socialist Senate hallucinations

It’s time the leaders in these poorly run states make changes to improve the lives of their citizens — hopefully while reducing their hefty dole from the rest of the country. If they are unwilling to reform, maybe federal money and programs should be cut off.

Some of what I’m proposing will require legislation, and the devil’s in the details. But if you’re an ideological conservative, you should be willing to work with the Biden administration to implement some or all of these proposals.

If you’re a hypocritical member of the GOP (that is, you want to keep using federal tax dollars to buy the farm vote for Republican candidates), and-or a Trumpist, you probably loathe everything I’ve proposed. But it’s time for the incoming Biden administration to pull back the curtain on which is the true party of socialism in America.

Steven Strauss is a lecturer and visiting professor at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

Edmund Fitzgerald crew memorialized across Great Lakes 45 years after ship sank

Edmund Fitzgerald crew memorialized across Great Lakes 45 years after ship sank

Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press                   November 10, 2020

The 29 men who died when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank 45 years ago are being memorialized this week throughout the Midwest in events from Detroit to Whitefish Point to Two Harbors, Minnesota.

The Rev. Jeffrey M. Hubbard, rector of the Mariners’ Church of Detroit, said so many Michiganders still remember the Fitz — out of thousands of Great Lakes shipwrecks — because the story is part of our collective consciousness.

“It’s stuck in the memories of folks in Michigan, and the Great Lakes are so integrally connected to our area,” Hubbard said. “Hearing the story of the brave men who lost their lives resonates with people.”

A 1959 file photo shows the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which disappeared Nov. 10, 1975, in a storm on Lake Superior.
A 1959 file photo shows the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald, which disappeared Nov. 10, 1975, in a storm on Lake Superior.

 

The tragedy, he said, is embedded in our history from the initial reports of the massive freighter battling high winds and waves on Nov. 10, 1975, to the beautiful, but haunting, Gordon Lightfoot song released a year later.

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down / Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee,” Lightfoot sang. “The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead / When the skies of November turn gloomy.”

Sunday, the Mariners’ Church held its annual memorial service. The gathering, which started 45 years ago to remember the crew, was live-streamed this year for the first time on Facebook.

Two events are planned at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle.

From 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the museum plans to hold a lantern vigil at the Edmund Fitzgerald anchor followed by the live Honor Guard escort of a memorial wreath to the Detroit River.

A performance by Lee Murdock, a Great Lakes balladeer, also is scheduled and a talk about how storms have claimed the lives of Great Lakes sailors by Valerie van Heest, an underwater explorer and maritime historian.

On Saturday, the museum is set to hold a radio event from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to also commemorate the Fitzgerald’s sinking. The Livonia Amateur Radio Club will operate Special Event Station W8F.

When launched in 1958, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship on the Great Lakes, and is still the largest to have sunk there. The freighter sank in a terrible Lake Superior storm.

More than 10,000 lives have been lost in 6,000 wrecks on the Great Lakes, sometimes called the inland seas because of their rolling waves, high winds, strong currents, great depths, and distant horizons.

In fact, earlier this year, the state launched and interactive map, Michigan Shipwrecks StoryMap, and app to help you find Great Lakes shipwrecks and learn about the mystery and tragedy surrounding them.

At Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, the lighthouse will hold its annual remembrance from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday on Facebook to commemorate the sinking of the Fitzgerald, and all the other vessels lost on the Great Lakes.

The lighthouse flashed each night at 10-second intervals for 20 miles of Lake Superior’s waters, but now, the beacon is only used for ceremonial purposes, such as the event Tuesday.

“It’s important to remember those men who passed away on that ship,” Hayes Scriven, the lighthouse site manager, said. “We have to keep in mind Lake Superior is a giant lake and it’s a very dangerous body of water.”

Remembering the past, he added, helps prevent future deaths by encouraging others to continue thinking about what could go wrong and keep making safety improvements that could save other lives.

At Whitefish Point, within 15 miles from where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society also is planning a memorial ceremony that also can be seen virtually.

The society operates a Shipwreck Museum, which, among its exhibits includes the 200-pound bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald that was recovered from the wreckage and meticulously restored.

“The incident reminds us that man is not the controlling force on earth,” said Sean Lay, the historical society’s development officer. “Nature has a mind of her own, and that’s what the loss of the Fitzgerald was all about.”

Tuesday’s anniversary event is expected to include some of the crew’s surviving family, a performance of Lightfoot’s song and a Call to the Last Watch.

In the Last Watch ceremony, the Fitzgerald’s bell will toll 30 times, 29 for each man lost, and a final time for all who died on the Great Lakes.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.