Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pete Seeger -- Patriot

I just watched the most amazing program on public television - American Masters: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. The prgram described Pete Seeger as a great patriot and American -- a man who loved and devoted himself to this country. This was amazing to me because that is the way I always have thought of him, but it most certainly was not the way the powers that be, including broadcast television talked about him throughout most of my (and his) life. He was completely banned from broadcast television throughout my childhood and it was clear that the power structure thought of him as a dangerous subversive -- the opposite of a patriot.

But somehow people who think like me about Pete Seeger have gotten enough power and influence that suddenly he is being praised and hailed as a great American and patriot on national television.

I am sure this amazes me much more than it does Pete. He has always had faith the country would eventually come around to his way of thinking. He is indeed an embodiment of the best of America and now enough Americans have come around to his way of thinking that he is being praised on national televlision. Amazing!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

'Suspicious activity' turns out to be a 'misunderstanding'

An article in today's Dispatch/Argus reveals that we now know the identity of the men who some thought were 'Middle Eastern' looking and 'acting suspiciously' last Sunday at mass at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Rock Island. One of the men recently moved to Rock Island and the others were friends of his visiting because his father had recently died. They are all Catholics and natives of India and had the same purposes and motives for attending church that day as all the other worshipers. Read the newspaper article.

How could the actions of these men be considered 'suspicious' when the men had the same purposes and reasons for being there as everyone else? Apparently there are a lot of people around here whose fear of terrorism is so much greater than the actual threat that they see terrorists where none exist.

Obviously there are downsides to the Bush Administration's encouragement to us to be alert and afraid. Is there any upside? Has a hyperalert citizen noticed something and thereby averted a terrorist attack?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why are Americans more religious than Europeans?

Everyone knows that by any measure Americans are much more religious than Europeans. But have you ever heard anyone discussing how that situation came to be? I think I might have discovered a clue. I have been reading a recent English translation of a book originally written in German about a century ago: Letters of a German American Farmer by Johannes Gillhoff, translated by Richard Lorenz Augus Trost. Link

This is a book adapted from the letters a schoolteacher in the German town of Mecklenburg received from former students who had emigrated to America, mostly to northeastern Iowa. One of the many things that amazed the Germans back home was how involved with the church these new immigrants had become. Most of the poor people in Mecklenburg, including the families from which these immigrants had come, were not very interested in or involved with the church, even though they were forced by law to attend and pay taxes to the church. The reason for that was that the nobility had total control over the hiring and firing of priests and bishops. As a result the church’s theology and social consciousness reflected the needs and desires of the rulers – not the congregation. The result was a quietist version of Christianity that served the interests of the ruling class but did not speak to or for the common folk.

In America the immigrants discovered that there would be no church for their weddings, christenings and funerals unless they built it themselves. Once they built it they discovered they could have total control over how the church was run including the hiring and firing of the ministers. As a result the church, reflecting their interests and needs, became the center of their lives in a way that amazed their relatives back in Germany.

We now hear some American evangelicals talking about the Separation of Church and State as if it were a conspiracy against religion. They seem to think they want a Christian government, like the ones in Europe in the 19th Century, I suppose.

The phrase "Separation of Church and State" was first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a group of Connecticut Baptist clergy who were worried about state government's persecution of their churches. When that was their concern a complete separation of church and state was exactly what they wanted. Now that they no longer fear persecution by the government they think of that separation as being some sort of attack against them.

Eliminating the Separation of Church and State would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg for American religion.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why didn’t anyone talk to them?

Readers of this blog who do not presently live in the Quad Cities may not have heard about this incident which occurred at a church in Rock Island with a very distinctive appearance (quite photogenic in fact) which has caused quite a stir:

Police continue to investigate a report of suspicious activity at St. Pius X Church.

Rev. Mike Schaab sent a letter home to parents of Jordan Catholic School students Wednesday warning about "several men of apparently Middle Eastern origin" visiting a Feb. 16 Mass who allegedly took photographs inside the church and its exterior.

Parishioners contacted police with the license plate of one of the cars driven by the men, but Capt. Scott Harris said tracing the plate has been unsuccessful.

Rev. Schaab said he does not know what would lead parishioners to describe the men as Middle Eastern as he was not present at the Mass and said he does not think anyone could definitively report their nationality.

Read entire article

Apparently some men, who according to some observers looked ‘Middle Eastern,’ came to mass, took some pictures inside and outside the church and left, without anyone from the congregation talking to them. I am not sure which aspects of that situation the police are investigating but if I was a member of that church I know what I would be concerned about. Why didn’t anyone talk to them? Where was the Greeting Committee or the Welcoming Committee or whatever they call it there? What happened to our famous mid-Western friendliness? Those guys must think that the church has a nice looking building but the people are not very friendly.

Fear sometimes makes fools of us all, but come on people – get a grip. Not every stranger with a dark complexion is a terrorist. If you see a stranger taking a picture of your church hitting them up for a donation is probably a much better idea than reporting them to the police.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary – please stop

A determination to not quit when the going gets tough is, in most situations, an admirable quality. A never-say-die attitude is a common trait among successful people. So it is understandable that Hillary Clinton and her advisors, being people who have accomplished much in their lives, would not just give up when the tide turned against them in their quest for the presidency.

But Hillary needs to stop, look in the mirror, and ask herself what she really believes. Does she really not believe in hope or in the power of words and ideas to inspire and unite? [Hillary claims that words don’t matter. Hillary campaign charges Barak with plagiarism.] Does she really want to still be the nominee if she is not the choice of most of the people who participated in the Democratic primaries and caucuses? [Hillary campaign talks about stealing Barak’s delegates.] Does she really not care whether or not the Democratic nominee wins in November if she is not that nominee? Does she have any principles left or is it now all just about winning?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Surge is NOT working

John McCain was on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos this morning. Once again he claimed the Surge is working in Iraq but said that we cannot draw down the number of our troops there without all the violence returning. Those two statements are in glaring contradiction to each other and only someone who has forgotten how the Surge was supposed to work and what was promised about it when it started would fail to see that contradiction.

The Surge was supposed to be a temporary increase in the number of US troops that would give the Iraqis time to reach political reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shia. Once that political progress was made then the US could reduce the number of troops without the violence returning. If that political reconciliation has not happened, if we cannot reduce the number of troops without a return to violence then the Surge has NOT worked.

The military leaders were telling us that the number of troops pre-Surge was unsustainable. The current levels of troop deployment are doing severe damage to our military readiness and are causing extreme hardship to our military families. John McCain appears unconcerned about the damage being done to our military. He said that withdrawing our troops would allow Al Qaeda to say that they had won – obviously something McCain thinks is worth any price to prevent. Is that how you feel—that we must continue to pay trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in order to prevent someone somewhere from saying something?

The consequences of our abandonment of care for the mentally ill

My brother Dan, who is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and now lives in nearby Rockford, was inspired to write the following by the recent tragic shooting there. He invited me to edit or rewrite it but I could not find any way to improve it:
Tragedies like those at Virginia Tech. and Northern Illinois University stand as horrific monuments to the folly of our country abandoning its mental health care system. We hear the word “senseless” used again and again by a sadly uninformed news media as they search blindly for meaning in these grotesque acts of violence. But for all of us who remember the near complete dismantling of our mental health system by Reagan conservatives during the 1980s, these horrible acts do indeed make sense, they are but a part of a steady stream of violence and tragedy that is filling our prisons with the victims of mental illness. Today’s “prisoners” were once considered “victims,” they were patients cared for and protected from self destruction by our mental health system.

My mother and father are an example of the millions of citizens caught in the middle of our nation’s mental health tragedy. During the great labor shortage caused by the Second World War, my parents responded to the cries for help coming from State Hospitals. They became mental health workers. Indeed they met and married during war time working at a State Hospital. Following the war my father became a Methodist minister but soon returned to join my mother in their newly chosen work as mental health nurses. They planned to devote their lives to this important work.

The 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw great improvements in mental health care and treatment. There was every reason to believe that the 1980s, a time of great national prosperity, should have been a time of even greater progress in mental health. You can imagine the crushing blow felt by my parents and mental health professionals around the country as the Reagan revolution cut off this flourishing progress and indeed caused the closing of mental health facilities and programs around the country. Most of Illinois’ mental hospitals were closed and then reopened as prisons. My parents were forced to find nursing jobs outside of the mental health system and eventually took jobs as nurses at Menard State Prison.

I leave it to the reader to guess at the motivation of Reagan Conservatives for abandoning the nation’s victims of mental illness. It certainly was no great surprise that no money was saved by this vicious backlash against mental illness and the mental health care system. The results were as predicted. Those suffering from mental illness who did not become homeless street people soon found their way into our nation’s prisons where their mental illness was finally confronted (not dealt with) at a much, much greater cost to society.

Today, the typical inmate in U. S. prisons is suffering from mental illness and the percentage of mental illness in our prison population continues to rise. Every study clearly shows that it would cost our society far less money to be proactive than to allow these suffering victims to sink into helplessness and eventually run afoul of the law. Like the now infamous college gunmen, mental illness is nearly always recognized long before these troubled individuals turn their cries for help into acts of violence.

My parents were once a part of an effective mental health care system that was developing and building a support structure for those in our society, like today’s college gunmen, who’s cries for help today echo as the sound of gunfire and senseless death.
-- Dan Barrett

Sunday, February 03, 2008

How Republicans really feel about illegal immigrants

If John McCain becomes the Republican nominee for President what does that say about how the voters really feel (as opposed to what they say) about how the United States should deal with illegal immigrants? Both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, presumably in response to their perceptions of how the voters feel on the issue, have over the last few months hardened their positions against illegal immigrants. As governor neither of them instructed their state’s employees to spend very many state resources to ferret out and deport illegal immigrants. Quite the contrary in fact. But on the campaign trail, presumably in response to voter outrage over the issue, both men seemed to be competing with each other over who could sound tougher on the issue.

And yet they have been losing the primaries to John McCain, who still supports providing a path to eventual citizenship to otherwise law-abiding, hard-working illegal immigrants who have established roots in our communities. Obviously not very many voters in the Republican primaries are making getting tough against illegal immigrants their top priority – despite what they may have been telling Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

We have been hearing talk in the media about a supposed effect noted in previous elections in which white voters were more likely to tell pollsters they supported a black candidate than actually voted for that candidate. Apparently that has not been happening very much this year. Perhaps we need a name for the dynamic in which voters convince the media and candidates that they support getting tough and deporting illegal immigrants and then don’t vote for the candidates who espouse that position.