Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Merry Digital Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Moving on in faith . . . and in life -- Part 5

This is a response to a question/objection raised by my brother Pete.

You can find this post--and the entire series--on my Forbidden Questions blog.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Don't wring your hands in despair; you CAN do something worthwhile (A different perspective on the killings in Connecticut)

One of my friends has posted several rather sad comments about the Newtown, CT, shootings. She says she just doesn't know what to do that might really make a difference other than pray for the people who have been so hurt by this evil deed, and to post articles about how guns hurt people and we need better mental healthcare.

Then I just saw an article by another friend titled A different perspective on the killings.

Yowza! I encourage you to read it.

One key section:
You wanna talk about the world going to hell in a handbasket? Let’s talk about Lenin and Stalin. Let’s talk about Mao’s China and his “Great Leap Forward” and his “Cultural Revolution.”

Those guys, in their quest for power, didn’t kill 27 innocent people every now and then. They killed 27 innocent people EVERY 15 MINUTES. FOR SIXTY YEARS.

Sixty million total.

Now here’s the punchline:

How did they accomplish this?

They accomplished it by exploiting peoples’ existing despair over their existing circumstances, convincing everyone that all was hopeless — hopeless without a fearless all-powerful leader who would finally and ultimately purge the world of the ‘bad guys.’

They received their power because hundreds of millions of ordinary people, who were really no different than you and me, GAVE UP and CAPITULATED TO DESPAIR and gave their assent to the idea that the world really was going to hell in a handbasket.

Long before they had guns and armies, power was literally surrendered to these tyrants by the people who listened to their words.

The common people were seduced by the power of despair.

That is why – no matter what your opinion about guns or mental hospitals or how we might have rescued some killer’s dying inner child – you must not give an inch to this creeping sense of helplessness and victimhood.
My friend makes some practical recommendations. I encourage you to read the rest of his article.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961


As I am looking for the best photos to go in my revision of Dr. Daniel Boorstin's The Landmark History of the American People, I came across an article that riveted me: Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961 from NPR. Truly astonishing the things various brave people have done for the sake of justice.

I put myself, in my mind's eye, on that bus as it entered Anniston, Alabama, on Sunday, May 14, 1961:
Hank Thomas did not recall seeing anyone on the streets. He did remember the strange feeling that he and the other Riders experienced as the bus eased into the station parking lot just after 1:00 P.M.

The station was locked shut, and there was silence — and then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a screaming mob led by Anniston Klan leader William Chappell rushed the bus. Thomas thought he heard Jones encourage the attackers with a sly greeting. "Well, boys, here they are," the driver reportedly said with a smirk. "I brought you some niggers and nigger-lovers." But it all happened so fast that no one was quite sure who was saying what to whom.

As the crowd of about fifty surrounded the bus, an eighteen-year-old Klansman and ex-convict named Roger Couch stretched out on the pavement in front of the bus to block any attempt to leave, while the rest — carrying metal pipes, clubs, and chains — milled around menacingly, some screaming, "Dirty Communists" and "Sieg heil!"

There was no sign of any police, even though Herman Glass, the manager of the Anniston Greyhound station, had warned local officials earlier in the day that a potentially violent mob had gathered around the station. After the driver opened the door, [two plain-clothes Alabama State Troopers (whose identities were unknown to the Freedom Riders] hurried to the front to prevent anyone from entering. Leaning on the door lever, the two unarmed investigators managed to close the door and seal the bus, but they could not stop several of the most frenzied attackers from smashing windows, denting the sides of the bus, and slashing tires.

"One man stood on the steps, yelling, and calling us cowards," [one of the Riders] noticed, but her attention soon turned to a second man who "walked by the side of the bus, slipped a pistol from his pocket and stared at me for some minutes." When she heard a loud noise and shattering glass, she yelled, "Duck, down everyone," thinking that a bullet had hit one of the windows. The projectile turned out to be a rock, but another assailant soon cracked the window above her seat with a fist full of brass knuckles. Joe Perkins's window later suffered a similar fate, as the siege continued for almost twenty minutes.

By the time the Anniston police arrived on the scene, the bus looked like it had been in a serious collision. Swaggering through the crowd with billy clubs in hand, the police officers examined the broken windows and slashed tires but showed no interest in arresting anyone. After a few minutes of friendly banter with members of the crowd, the officers suddenly cleared a path and motioned for the bus to exit the parking lot.

A police car escorted the battered Greyhound to the city limits but then turned back, once again leaving the bus to the mercy of the mob. A long line of cars and pickup trucks, plus one car carrying a news reporter and a photographer, had followed the police escort from the station and was ready to resume the assault.

Once the entourage reached an isolated stretch of Highway 202 east of Bynum, two of the cars (one of which was driven by Roger Couch's older brother Jerome) raced around the front of the bus and then slowed to a crawl, forcing the bus driver to slow down. Trailing behind were thirty or forty cars and trucks jammed with shrieking whites. Many, like Chappell and the Couches, were Klansmen, though none wore hoods or robes. Some, having just come from church, were dressed in their Sunday best — coats and ties and polished shoes — and a few even had children with them.

The whole scene was darkly surreal and became even more so when a pair of flat tires forced the bus driver to pull over to the side of the road in front of the Forsyth and Son grocery store six miles southwest of town, only a few hundred yards from the Anniston Army Depot. Flinging open the door, the driver, with Robinson trailing close behind, ran into the grocery store and began calling local garages in what turned out to be a futile effort to find replacement tires for the bus.

In the meantime, the passengers were left vulnerable to a swarm of onrushing vigilantes. Cowling[, one of the Alabama State Highway Patrolmen,] had just enough time to retrieve his revolver from the baggage compartment before the mob surrounded the bus. The first to reach the Greyhound was a teenage boy who smashed a crowbar through one of the side windows. While one group of men and boys rocked the bus in a vain attempt to turn the vehicle on its side, a second tried to enter through the front door.

With gun in hand, Cowling stood in the doorway to block the intruders, but he soon retreated, locking the door behind him. For the next twenty minutes Chappell and other Klansmen pounded on the bus demanding that the Freedom Riders come out to take what was coming to them, but they stayed in their seats, even after the arrival of two highway patrolmen. When neither patrolman made any effort to disperse the crowd, Cowling, Sims [the other Highway Patrolman onboard], and the Riders decided to stay put.

Eventually, however, two members of the mob, Roger Couch and Cecil "Goober" Lewallyn, decided that they had waited long enough. After returning to his car, which was parked a few yards behind the disabled Greyhound, Lewallyn suddenly ran toward the bus and tossed a flaming bundle of rags through a broken window. Within seconds the bundle exploded, sending dark gray smoke throughout the bus. . . .
The story continues. Not only about the Greyhound bus in Anniston, but about the fate of the Riders on a Trailways bus that wound up in Birmingham. (Horrifying.)

But I began this post with a comment about brave people seeking justice.

How's this for a 12-year-old girl in Anniston as she reached out with basic human kindness to the victims of the bus bombing? I haven't quoted the discussion of the choking smoke that filled the bus as the menacing mob seethed outside.

When one of the bus's gas tanks exploded, the people on board finally tumbled out.

I'm skipping more of the story, more gory details. But then there was this:
One little girl, twelve-year-old Janie Miller, supplied the choking victims with water, filling and refilling a five-gallon bucket while braving the insults and taunts of Klansmen. Later ostracized and threatened for this act of kindness, she and her family found it impossible to remain in Anniston in the aftermath of the bus bombing.
I am humbled. Would I exhibit that kind of bravery?

I urge you to read the rest of the article for yourself. Very powerful.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

We're not in Kansas anymore: US National Debt and the Fiscal Cliff

I saw this in my inbox this morning. Combined with Jeff Opdyke's commentary about the difference between a real social safety net and the Social Security system the United States (and virtually every other western country) has today, and Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns's The Clash of Generations, and I think my own views concerning the current so-called "debate" between Democrats and Republicans are coming into sharp focus.

I see so many of my Democratic friends touting the "compassion" and "love" being shown by their favorite politicians, and I think: "Really?"

It's all well and good to speak of compassion. But who can pay for this so-called compassion--much less who is willing to pay for it (with their own money)? Please don't talk to me about your great compassion when you are willing to saddle future (not-yet-able-to-vote and/or not-yet-aware-enough-to-vote) generations with massive debt that they will never be able to repay [that's the message I get from Kotlikoff and Burns; good summary of their book here]. And please don't talk about compassion when the supposed social safety net is being used, today (and for the foreseeable future--unless Congress decides to change the system) as a primary vehicle of retirement funding [the message I get from Jeff Opdyke's article].

The following, by Alexander Green of InvestmentU in last Friday's Investment U Plus newsletter, provides further perspective, I think:
Imagine that your 18-year-old son goes off to college for the first term of his freshman year. You are happy to pay for his education costs - room, board, tuition, books, etc. - but you also give him a credit card "in case of emergencies."

When he comes home for Christmas, you discover that he has run up $70,000 on his MasterCard. You hit the roof and demand an explanation.

"Now hold on, Dad," he says. "Before we start talking about how much less I might spend, let's talk about how much more money you [really ought to be giving] me."

Consider your response - and whether it would be printable in a family paper. Yet Congress makes our hypothetical spendthrift look like a piker.

Most reasonably well-informed Americans know that our $16.1-trillion federal budget deficit is now larger than the nation's GDP. But what most don't realize is this figure doesn't include the unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Prescription Drug Benefit. That's another $121.6 trillion. [According to Kotlikoff and Burns, it's actually more than $200 trillion. But what is $80, $90, or $100 trillion between friends? --JAH] Combine the federal budget deficit with the unfunded liabilities for current entitlement programs (excluding ObamaCare) and it comes to a mindboggling $1.2 million per taxpayer.

Some will argue that this is exactly why we need to stick it to the ultra-rich, an approach that has clear populist appeal. But here's a bit of perspective. Less than a hundred years ago, the nation's richest man, John D. Rockefeller, could have written a personal check and paid off the entire national debt, every penny accumulated since 1776. Today the government could confiscate the entire net worth of the nation's wealthiest man, Bill Gates, and it wouldn't pay six weeks' interest [NOTE: That's interest! --JAH] on the national debt. . . .

Writing in The Wall Street Journal this week, former Congressional Committee Chairmen Chris Cox and Bill Archer note that even if the government confiscated the entire adjusted gross income of every individual and corporation in America, it still wouldn't cover U.S. entitlement obligations. Yet the first order of business according to President Obama, Senator Reid and Mr. Buffett is not to reform entitlements or rein in spending but to raise tax rates? You might as well try bailing out the Pacific Ocean with a teaspoon.

Congress has a world-class spending addiction, but then so do most other Western democracies, including Canada, Britain, Western Europe and Japan. In every case, politicians on both sides of the aisle have learned that promising lush government benefits paid for by "someone else" is a big winner at the polls.

As for the current fiscal cliff negotiations, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that raising the top marginal tax rate to 39.6% - as Obama proposes - would generate approximately $70 billion a year. That's not an inconsequential sum. But it won't come close to fixing this year's $1.1-trillion federal budget deficit. Where would we get the other $1.03 trillion?
And why did I title this post "We're not in Kansas anymore"? 

Because I get the impression that the American empire has run its course. It can no longer maintain the illusion. Reality is beginning to set in. The U.S. cannot continue to inflate away its debt problems and expect its citizens not to feel the impact. We all--wealthy and poor--are going to experience the results of almost  three decades of spending beyond our ability to pay.