That confederate thing was about slavery

Being raised in the South, I was taught the Civil War was more about states’ rights and northern aggression rather than slavery. I saw a recent poll that showed 48% people believed that states’ rights was the principal reason for the war and only 38% said it was about slavery. This recasting of history by groups promoting white supremacy or merely teaching a white-washed message is influencing too many people. To be frank, of course, it was about slavery.

Why do I say that? One needs only to look at the formal declarations of the states who seceded from the United States of America (see the third paragraph from Texas’ declaration below*). In those documents, the words to preserve the right to own slaves (or something similar) can be consistently found. The states’ rights argument was used in support of the need to perpetuate slave ownership. If people think otherwise, let me speak purely in terms of economics, setting aside the important human argument.

In economic terms, the South quite simply treated slaves as assets to be used. Once the asset was purchased and maintained, the fruits of the labor went to the owner. Since slave owners were the wealthiest people in the South, as a result, they had the most to lose if slave ownership was done away with. Slave ownership was an economic boon for the South. It is that simple.

But, to get the white non-slave owners to fight, a good story had to be crafted. Politicians have done this for ages and still do. So, they told a good story that “we don’t want those folks in Washington telling us how to do things. We want to govern ourselves.” If they told these poorer whites what they were really fighting for, they may have been less enthusiastic participants. The pitch would have been, “come fight so I can still own slaves. And, maybe you can someday.”

I mention all of this as this fight over monuments is secondary to the renewed fight on civil rights. Many of these symbols were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era or the KKK’s fifty to ninety years after the Civil War ended. In fact, Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was finished in 1972, just 45 years ago. Very few of these monuments were erected just after the Civil War. The same goes for the Confederate flag, which became more prominent after the Civil War when carried by white men wearing white sheets and hoods. These monuments are more about honoring Jim Crow than they are the Civil War. As a result, they are an insult to our African-American citizens.

Slavery is evil. God had Moses lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, too many ministers seemed to overlook that part to reinforce why it was OK to own slaves. Then, it was continued to why the races should be segregated during Jim Crow and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. One only needs to listen to the haunting words of Billie Holiday as she sings “Strange Fruit,” to get first hand what the Jim Crow era did. Humans should not own other humans – it is wrong and sinful. And, per our Constitution, which has been improved several times since it was first written, every American has equal rights, not more, not less.

Scrolling forward to today, we seem to have groups that want to refight the Civil War and Jim Crow disparaging non-whites and non-Christians. White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis are hate groups stirring up racial tension. Do they have a right to speak in America? Yes, that is how it works. Do we have the right to say in rebuttal your words and actions are evil? You are damn right we do. Civil protest is the answer. Uncivil protest cannot be tolerated. If you bring a weapon to a protest, then you should be sent away or get a ticket voucher for the weapon as it is detained. But, it is more than OK to civilly protest evil words and actions.

America is about freedom and rights. There is a huge difference in those who say we are not being treated fairly from those who say to treat us better than they you treat others. Those missions are not the same. We all have equal rights, not more, not less.

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* Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

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Two movies, two thumbs-up

We caught two of the recent movie releases and can give them both a thumbs-up. They are two very different movies – “Blade Runner 2049” and “The Battle of the Sexes.”

“Blade Runner 2049” is a sequel of a cult classic movie with Harrison Ford. It was a dark futuristic movie and the sequel does justice to the original. Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright star along with Ford, but the other supporting roles add greatly to the movie, especially Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Jared Leto. If you did not like the first Blade Runner, you won’t like this one. But, it does have a good plot and theme. I would add what seemed so science fiction when the first movie was made in the early 1980s, seems less so now, which is a little unsettling.

Gosling plays his role quite well as does Hoeks. De Armas’ role is quite interesting too, and she is ideally suited for it. I will try to stay away from further reveals, but encourage you to watch it. Some have called the movie sexist given some of the roles. I understand their point and would agree that parts of the movie are. I would counter that Wright and Hoeks have a lot of screen time and play key roles, so I will let you be the overall judge.

“The Battle of the Sexes” is about the lead up to the famous tennis match between former men’s champion Bobby Riggs and current women’s champion and advocate for women, Billie Jean King. Riggs was a renowned hustler who loved to gamble in conflict with his wealthy wife’s wishes. At the age of 55, he saw a chance to make money by challenging King, who initially turned him down.

King knew Riggs for what he was, a showman, and she was deep in the middle of the start of the women’s tennis circuit called the “Virginia Slims circuit” when they boycotted the USTA for the much smaller money being paid to women. Riggs did find another opponent in Margaret Court, who was married with one child, playing her on Mother’s Day. Although, the current number one player, Court was not prepared to play that day (and greatly underestimated the situation) and Riggs easily beat her, which drew a match with King.

I remember this national prime time match between King and Riggs, so the movie brought back a lot of memories. The other key subplot is King was dealing with her own Lesbianism which began to manifest itself during the Virginia Slims tour. To say, she was conflicted at this crucial time is an understatement. Her husband Larry stood by her for awhile, but to see his angst through this is also important, as she loved him and respected his input and support.

The movie stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Pullman and Austin Stowell also play key roles. Stone and Carell are excellent in their roles. Cumming, though, eats up the screen with his role, in my view.

Check them both out. Let me know what you think. Is Blade Runner too sexist? Do you remember the King/ Riggs’ match?

 

A few Sunday Questions

Given today is a day of religious reflection in many circles, let me ponder a few questions.

Today I read about the Values Conference where US evangelicals meet. At the conference, Steve Bannon, the nationalist editor of Breitbart and former Senior Advisor spoke of war on the parts of the Republican Party that are more reasonable and offer some needed sanity. Why should folks heed this man when he speaks against those who dare question the President, saying they are placing our military in danger? So, the President’s decrying diplomatic efforts is not doing that? It is our right to question our leaders.

At the same conference, Harvey Weinstein is being vilified, but the focus is on Hollywood not reining him in and the fact he is a Democrat funder. Whether it is Weinstein, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or Donald Trump, using one’s power to sexually harass, demean, use or assault women is criminal. The President is highly supported by this group, even with his lying, cheating, stiffing and assaulting of others because he said he would do their bidding. So, my question is if Harvey Weinstein was President and appointed a conservative Supreme Court Justice would that make his exploits OK as it does with Trump?

In my home town, there is a lawsuit by a gay married music teacher at a Catholic High School who was fired after he got married to his partner, officially coming out. The Bishop says they cannot support an openly gay employee. The question asked by a Catholic father of a gay son is why should the church stop there? Why doesn’t the church fire all women who use birth control, all people who have had affairs and all people who have divorced which also violate the church’s rules? The father noted his son said no one would choose to face the ostracism, hate and discrimination unless they felt they were being true to themselves by coming out.

I am a practical person of faith. I think the over arching instruction to treat people like we want to be treated is the most important mandate. In the Christian world, this mandate is even called The Golden Rule. It can also be found in other religious texts. We need to be tolerant of our differences. Bannon has the right to speak out, but he should not be denigrating the right for others to do so.

So, regardless of what political or religious tribe we belong to, we belong to an even bigger tribe that interacts with each other on a daily basis. Let’s do our best to treat others as Jesus instructed. That is worth talking about at a Values Conference.

Any more questions?

For over two years, I have been amazed at how a man, who is so consumed with himself and has given so little regard to the plight of others, can become the President of the United States. He convinced far too many people, whose voice has not been heard, that he was on their side. Unfortunately, they did not pay attention to his history which reveals he has only one cause – himself.

Yesterday, this man decided to kick poor people one more time, stripping subsidies under the ACA for deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance for those who qualify because of low wages. This man owns the imperfect, but working ACA. He has sabotaged it from the get go picking up the baton the GOP Congress gave him, so if the ACA fails as a result, it is on his and GOP leadership’s shoulders.

A few weeks ago, he rolled out the outline of his tax plan that uses sleight of hand with a small tax break for the middle class, while eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, Estate Tax above $5 million in value, and the ACA tax on wealthy people, while cutting the individual and corporate tax rates. This is a clear windfall for the “haves” with a little gain for the “have-nots.”

Next, we should consider his proposed defunding of programs to retrain displaced coal miners. At the same time, he was enabling coal owners to invest in digging more coal with fewer workers. An energy expert said, “Trump is not for coal miners, he is for coal owners.” The dilemma is the current and former coal workers don’t know this.

The focus on fossil fuel and attack on environmental regulations is another slap at the disenfranchised. They tend to be the ones who feel the brunt of environmental rollbacks. A rancher in Montana, who has successively fought against the oil companies, notes that he cannot name one western town that has benefited long term after the oil rush abates. He said “all of the money goes back to Houston and Calgary.” The ranchers and farmers are left holding the bag to fix all the environment problems.

Speaking of environmental calamities, after much better responses to hurricanes in Texas and Florida, the response to the hurricanes which devastated Puerto Rico has been slow and fraught with problems. Yet, after pronouncing what a great job he was doing, Trump has continually harangued people in need, actually verbally and physically insulting them when he visited and afterwards.

Finally, the President’s attack on civil liberties, protest and free speech is the coldest dagger of all. He is basically telling everyone to “believe no one else but me.” His actions and words say he will squelch these unpatriotic troublemakers. To me, he is saying how dare they question what is going on in this country or what I am doing?

Well, I dare ask one question to everyone. Do you have any more questions about whose bread is being buttered by this President?

You’re not Vice-President of the United States

Eric Reid, a San Francisco 49er football player appeared on “The View” earlier this week. He was one of the players who knelt during the anthem at the game where Vice-President Mike Pence left in a planned protest.

It should be noted that Reid was the first player to kneel with Colin Kaepernick last year. His purpose of appearing was to regain the narrative on why African-American players are protesting. Reid, whose mother and uncles served in the military, said it is all about civilly protesting the treatment of Blacks by law enforcement. It is not about showing disrespect to the anthem, flag or military, which is why they are kneeling to at least be solemn.

Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan has joined “The View” as of this week. She noted if she had walked out like Mike Pence had would you have felt less of me. He responded that “You are not the Vice-President of the United States.” She said “Fair enough.”

Reid added this is all about leaders using their power to systemically oppress others. The Vice-President attended the 49er game with an intent to walk out. The President said as much. Reid said this oppression has been going in our country for a long time, so it was not just invented.

When asked about being called a SOB by the President, Reid said two interesting things. He said “The President should not call any of our citizens a SOB.” Plus, after Charlottesville where the Neo-Nazis killed one person and beat another, the President referred to some of them as “nice people.”

Hearing Reid articulate his rationale is compelling. When asked what he would do to fix things, he said he wanted people to know the reasons. When pressed about any laws he would like to see, he said we could start with police not using excessive force on an unarmed man.

Civil protest is done with the intent to make us feel uncomfortable. Reid said he is “somewhat grateful” the President has elevated the discussion, although that was clearly not his intent. I have written before, civil protest says a lot more about the greatness of our country than formal ceremonies ever could.

Drawdown – a detailed guide to reducing climate impact

Paul Hawken is an optimist about battling our climate change crisis. He is also active in planning to do something about it. But, who is he? Hawken is an author, advocate and businessman who is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown, based his book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Priposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

The book is based on the concept of drawing down the amount of carbon that is getting dangerously present in our atmosphere and warming the planet. It summarizes 100 solutions noting their cost, long term savings and estimated impact. Project Drawdown has an impressive Board of Directiors and research staff offering a seriousness of purpose.

Rather than list all 100, let me note the top ten solutions, which are interesting and makes one think holistically. And, some of these have small price tags.

1. Refrigeration Management: While the hydrocarbons that were hurting the ozone were banned, their replacement (HFCs) is warming our planet, much of it released in the last few years of life of the refrigerator. There is a plan to phase out HFCs from new refrigerators. It is also key to decommission old refrigerators earlier to prevent the greater release.

2. Offshore Wind Turbines: With the heavy ocean breezes, the offshore turbines have a huge upside on savings and impact. As with onshore wind energy, the cost has dramatically declined and wind energy is ready to replace even more fossil fuel energy sourcing. Offshore wind energy is being used significantly by other countries, with the first US development opening last December off Rhode Island.

3. Reduced Food Waste: Of all the issues, with relative little cost, we can make a huge dent in emissions from unused, rotting food. Between supermarkets, restaurants and homes, this wastage could be minimized with some concerted efforts which would not compromise taste. Better labeling on best-by dates, using imperfect looking food, better food planning at home, better gleaning of unpacked crops, using local produce more, etc. would produce dividends.

4. Plant Rich Diet: If cows were a country, they would be third largest abuser of the climate change impact. By shifting to more plant rich diets, we can reduce the amount of emissions leaked into the atmosphere and improve our own health.

5. Tropical Forests: We have greatly reduced our carbon eating forests, which has changed the equation dramatically. The planet used to be covered 12% by tropical forests, but it has declined to 5%. By replenishing tropical forests, the trees can have a positive impact on the environment and absorb more carbon.

6. Educating Girls: I have been an advocate of this for civil rights and economics, but it has a significant impact on climate. Hawken notes through education, girls can enter womanhood on their own terms. Now, too many girls are married at very young ages and never have a chance to consider a career. The younger they are married, the more children they have. Also, more educated women, means more intellectual capital to solve problems.

7. Family Planning: This goes hand in hand with the education of women. Larger family size is highly correlated with increased poverty. It is also highly correlated with a larger carbon footprint. Our planet also does not have unlimited resources, so we need to use what we have more efficaciously. If all people consume like the average North American, we have 2X too many people already.

8. Solar Farms: The cost of solar has dropped dramatically and jobs are growing  at an annual double digit rate for the past several years. Solar farms are much cheaper to build than a power plant and will continue their growth rate as battery storage improves.

9. Silvopasture: What does this mean? It is an ancient practice of integrating trees and pastures for crops and livestock. The symbiosis of the two better controls carbon absorption in a sustainable way.

10. Rooftop Solar: Putting solar panels on rooftops scares utility companies as it changes their model. Solar energy need not be done only through big projects to be effective. It can be very decentralized, Utilities are pushing back in several states to buy surplus electricity at a lower rate than they sell it when you need it at night. As battery storage improves, solar power will be even more integrated and expansive.

Hawken says we need to be alarmed by what is happening by climate change, but we should plan to act and then act. While discouraged by the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he said the positive is far more Americans are aware of climate change and cities, states and businesses are acting in lieu of the void caused by the federal government.

I have been encouraged by this renewed vigor in addressing climate change. There are many good things occurring in the US and abroad. We can no longer wait and should celebrate, focus and leverage these solutions.

 

 

When is the right time?

We should mourn the loss of innocent American lives at the hands of one shooter. We should offer our prayers, thoughts and support to the victims, injured, caregivers and their families and friends. And, we should demand from our lawmakers to act like parents and grandparents and to stiffen our gun governance.

NRA funded politicians, who unfortunately include the leaders of the two chambers of Congress and the White House, say now is not the time to discuss gun control. When is the time? The NRA is likely horse whispering in their ears to stiff arm the gun control proponents until the crisis abates. Then, lip service will be given to the subject as it is defeated once again, given the NRA’s ability to highly mobilize its confederation of zealous followers, even though they are small in number.

Speaker Paul Ryan has noted that it is more than a gun issue, it is a mental health issue. Two comments – it is a mental health issue, but make no mistake about it, access to guns is an issue. As an aside, there is an obvious disconnect between saying it is a mental health issue and supporting legislation that would kick twenty million Americans off their health plans, which include mental health benefits.

Now is the time to address better gun governance. It is actually passed time. Gun homicide deaths per capita in the US dwarf that of other western and non-western countries. When suicides are factored in, we look even worse.

I have written multiple posts over the years about better gun governance. Before summarizing them yet again, let me add what I have mentioned before – it is a mental health issue, it is a civil discourse issue, it is a safe gun storage issue, it is a violent entertainment issue and it is a drug crime issue which has infiltrated places of poverty. On the gun control side:

– background checks on all weapon purchases are essential,

– elongated waiting periods are also key, as this will help with suicide prevention and give time for authorities to track purchases – the Las Vegas shooter bought 33 highly lethal weapons in one year,

– finger printed trigger mechanisms (or the like) would prevent accidental deaths by kids and teens,

– ammunition needs to be coded so that bullets used in crimes can be traced, and

– like the expired Brady Law (another NRA victory), automatic assault weapons (and devices to convert semi-automatic weapons) have no place in non-miiitary settings.

The sad truth is the significant majority of Americans want the first two items to occur. Yet, nothing happens. Not only that, actions have been taken to make it easier to buy guns (if mental health is a concern, why did this Congress take people on Social Security disability for mental health reasons off the watch list for gun purchases?).

Now is the time. And, when you hear people say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” the response is no “people with access to guns kill people. No gun, no gun death. No automatic weapon, fewer multiple gun deaths.