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Fundamentalist Chickens Come Home to Roost

A lawyer lays out photos of a child who died at day care, as his father looks on. (Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star)

Here is a sad story, worth telling because one family’s tragedy is directly traceable to America’s so-called culture wars – which have nothing to do with whether you prefer Mozart, Gaughin or Woody Allen. Two parents in Indianapolis took their little boy to day care, just like millions of other parents do every day. Except this time the little boy didn’t come home.

Juan Carlos Cardenas, age 1, wandered off during lunch, but none of the adults noticed. When they finally went looking for him, they found him face down in the baptismal pool. He drowned.

Why was there a baptismal pool at the day care center? Because it was held at a church; specifically the Praise Fellowship Assembly of God.

The newspapers never have said, to my knowledge, how far away the baptismal pool was from the main day care area; or whether the pool was covered with a lid when not in use; or whether he had to climb up to get to the pool; or whether it was sunken into the floor, so that anyone could trip and fall into it; or how long Juan Carlos was gone before the adults noticed and went looking. The Indianapolis Star, whose story this is, has always been vague about the details – except for a very salient fact: day cares aren’t licensed in Indiana if they’re run by churches.

In Indiana church day cares are “registered,” not licensed. They are exempt from all the safety and staffing requirements state government imposes on commercial day cares and secular non-profit versions. The state legislature decided, after pressure from churches, that they didn’t have to comply with the legal requirements. The church-run centers have lower costs that way; the state doesn’t interfere with their “exercise of religion.” Juan Carlos sadly exercised himself all the way to the room with the baptismal pool.

How many staff were on duty that day? The Star doesn’t say, never has. I guess that’s up to the judge to find out, because a lawsuit’s coming – against the Indiana state government.

Thank you, legislators, so much.

By “registering” church day cares instead of licensing them, the state knows that they exist and takes a role in advising churches how a day care should be run. The state can even do inspections – but it can’t force compliance, because that would interfere with “religious freedom” – to run a day care that kills a kid.

But wait, there’s more: it turns out the state legislature decided, faced with the obvious need for more day care facilities, that it would give out vouchers to qualifying families to send their kids to day care – without requiring them to go to a licensed facility. The Cardenas family enrolled their son at the Praise Fellowship.

Thus the state is deeply implicated here, and probably liable to some extent, though a judge will eventually decide. The church itself has already settled with the family – and shut down the day care center by refusing to accept the vouchers anymore. The state didn’t order the shutdown, they left that to the church.

Indiana sent an inspector to examine the facility back in November, four months before little Juan Carlos was drowned. The inspector cited the facility for 18 violations. However, the church was exempt from complying. See how this works?

After the child’s death, the state sent another inspection team, but by then it was too late, and besides, the state couldn’t close what it never licensed to open.

All this so the Assembly of God, and every other congregation like them, could practice its religion.

No doubt they were well-meaning, but that didn’t keep the child safe. He wandered off and nobody noticed, probably because there wasn’t enough staff.

The Star has never said whether the baptismal pool was considered a violation. Pity the poor inspector whose hands were tied by the legislature. She was busy counting the number of marked exits and making sure the applesauce was refrigerated and not expired, but never got trained in what to do about a baptismal pool. Clearly baptism is a religious matter.

A rational state – New York comes to mind – would handle this differently, I suspect. There, if a church wanted to open a day care center, the state would have welcomed them with open arms – and then told them that religion notwithstanding, they had to be licensed. If they got licensed, they would be eligible for the state to send children there and pay for them.

Not in Indiana.

I hope the state pays through the nose for the parents’ loss. I wish, though it will never happen, that the settlement funds had to come out of the salaries of state legislators. They’re the ones who failed the kid by not requiring oversight.

Why did they do it? Because the churches wanted them to, and had a thousand reasons why they couldn’t comply with the regulations. These aren’t just day care centers, but “ministries,” and everyone knows you don’t mess with a ministry, no matter how wacky it is. Indeed, politicians are eager to do everything they can to help out churches – including giving them money to take in kids like Juan Carlos.

The stupidity of all this need barely be mentioned. A child is dead and politicians killed him. They didn’t mean to, the kid just wandered off.

Surely however we can see many connections between religion, politics and the nation’s problems. Are you worried about the budget deficit? Try paying for your wars next time. Whose wars? George W. Bush’s, the Lord’s Anointed. That’s what the Fundamentalists said; by invading Iraq, Bush was going to remake the Middle East, guarantee Israel’s safety and thereby usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

I’m still waiting.

We could make long lists of the failed promises and lies of Fundamentalist preachers and politicians, but instead let’s ask another question: why and how did mainline Protestants let these goons take over in the first place?

Or: how are Episcopalians responsible for the wholesale theft of the Christian religion?

Fundamentalism is a 20th century movement, and its roots go back to developments in the 19th century, a period of great scholarly ferment among theologians. New methods of Biblical “criticism” arose, and many reactionary Christian leaders became alarmed. They launched a movement to stress the “fundamentals,” no matter what discoveries scholars made about the texts.

They decided to take over Protestant Christianity – and they did it, because Episcopalians didn’t want to dirty themselves fighting back.

They decided to write papers instead, and become even more scholarly. To the triumphant Fundamentalists, it meant God slew all the Amalekites. Piece of cake, really.

Now a hundred years later we are living with the results – when we’re not dying from them, like Juan Carlos Cardenas.

Does anyone realize how many state legislatures, like Indiana’s, Fundamentalist Christians now control?

Here’s a map of the 2004 presidential election results, which I submit as a proxy to answer the question. St. George the Bush won, of course.

It’s a vast swath of the United States.

But maybe you’d rather look at it by population; we’ve got a map for that too. This map is called a cartogram.

2004 presidential results, weighted by population.

 

That looks a little better perhaps and helps reveal the closeness of the popular vote and Electoral College. But it doesn’t do Juan Carlos or his parents one bit of good in little red Indiana, or a pregnant rape victim any good in Todd Akin’s Missouri.

God help you if you’re a Muslim in Murfreesboro, Tennessee or a Gay kid in Casper, Wyoming.

The unwillingness to fight of Episcopalians and others these past hundred years has real consequences. If the questions were only theological they wouldn’t matter so much. But Fundamentalist Christians want to make themselves the Established Church in the United States, and every other country they can get.

Christian Fundamentalists act just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the “ultra-orthodox” in Israel. They want to control everything and everybody, and they’ll happily use war to get it.

It’s that last part that freaked out the Episcopalians so much and paralyzed them. “These people are warlike!”

Well, d-uh. Memo to theologians and bishops: there’s no sense arguing when your enemy’s got a gun in his hand.

So they surrendered. They won’t admit that’s what they did, but the evidence is all around us.

Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri who’s “no abortion, no exceptions,” would have told my grandmother, “We don’t care if this pregnancy will kill you. Your maybe-baby is more important than you are.”

(My grandmother did die in childbirth. If she’d had a safe, legal abortion, I wouldn’t be here – and I still think she should have had a choice.)

As I consider my own Church, and how willfully useless it’s been in fighting for an accurate, balanced, faithful and intellectually respectable Christianity, I think back to the great heroes and heroines of the faith, who were never afraid to fight back. Our calendar of saints is filled with intrepid fighters, who didn’t shed blood but gave their lives combating heresy and preaching what the Church calls “pure doctrine.” We celebrate these people every day and every year. What made us so wimpy when challenged in our own time?

We’ll never fully know, and can’t turn back the clock, but here’s the good news: Fundamentalism can still be defeated, if we’ll take up the tools at hand and fight for the full, entire faith – including its nuances, doubts and contradictions too. I give credit to the 20th century bishops and theologians, they preserved and enhanced the faith for those of us inside the walls. That’s no small achievement. But it doesn’t bring back that little boy, either.

Fundamentalists don’t like the truth, and are afraid of it, so they rely on lies. This is a position of great weakness, because the truth can beat them every time, and the keyboard is mightier than the sword. Mine isn’t, but ours are; Leonardo Ricardo has pointed out the similarity between the Arab Spring and America’s future choices if the Fundamentalist-Tea Party-Republicans succeed this fall. We are not powerless, no matter how many billionaires line up for Romney. If the Assembly of God takes over the government, Americans won’t like it one bit. (In many places, when Fundamentalists have taken over the school board in one election, they’re thrown out the next. Even Kansas finally got rid of its militant anti-abortion attorney general once they saw what he was like.)

No side will ever win a complete victory. But we have power if only we’ll use it.

My hope for the Episcopal Church is that the next time we elect a Presiding Bishop, we’ll pick one who isn’t afraid to fight for the truth. Jesus doesn’t care if two men or two women get married, but he cares very much about how we treat women – children – the poor – the elderly – the sick – the homeless – the oppressed. Since Fundamentalists are intent on marginalizing powerless people, we can count on having his power on our side.++

Valentin de Boulogne, c. 1618: Take That, Goldman Sachs!

 

 

What Kind of Country Will the United States Be Next Year?

(Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. Whoopee! Conservatives say this is a game-changer, while liberals are licking their chops and going on offense.

I’ll save my invective; I don’t see a need for it today. My sturdiest observation is that now the voters get to choose what kind of country we’ll be. We can pick Romney, Ryan, Adelson, the Koch Brothers, an end to Medicare and Medicaid, the EPA and financial regulation; or we can choose Obama, Biden, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Obamacare, clean energy and Dodd-Frank.

I’m rooting for the blue team, but it should be a good game. It’s the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys, no matter which side you’re on. We’ll all get to cheer the good guys and boo the bad ones.

Let’s hope the refs at SCOTUS don’t try changing the outcome again.

Coming off the bench, do you like Ayn Rand or Elizabeth Warren? Pick one.

Up to now the polls have shown Obama with a slight but clear edge, in the country as a whole and in each of the swing states. Unemployment is high and people seem to think Romney would be better at handling the economy. They like Obama better, though; they think he’s much more likable than Romney.

Almost 70% of people want to see higher taxes on the rich, like Obama does. Romney wants to cut taxes for the rich and raise them for you.

“Health care reform” as a concept is unpopular—but its component parts do win favor; insurance coverage for nearly everyone, no disqualification for pre-existing conditions, carrying adult children on their parents’ policies until the kids get older and can buy their own. People like those things, they just don’t like “Obamacare.”

They don’t like that Romney made his money buying up companies, laying people off, shutting down plants and moving them overseas. They don’t like that he doesn’t pay much in taxes, or takes a $70,000 deduction for his wife’s show horse. They don’t like that he has secret bank accounts overseas, but wants to be President here. Which is it, pal?

They don’t like his being a Mormon, but they didn’t like Jeremiah Wright either. So that’s probably a wash.

They don’t pay much attention to foreign policy; it’s “over there somewhere.” Some of them know that Obama ended the war in Iraq (more or less) and killed Osama bin Laden. And some know the war in Afghanistan is still going on, though no one can really tell you why. But by and large, people don’t really care—even though these wars, started by George W. Bush, have been tremendous drains on the national treasury, which a lot of people claim to be concerned about—the money, that is, not the wars.

We could save money by ending the war in Afghanistan.

Not many people know that Romney likes saber-rattling and threatening war with Iran. Nobody likes Iran, but neither can they find it on a map or tell you the difference between Iran and Iraq. Iraq’s the one with the Q in it; that’s about the level of our knowledge. Both of them are Muslim countries “over there” somewhere. Are Sikhs Muslims? Americans don’t know. Sikhs wear turbans, and anyway they’re all foreigners.

In short we’re massively ignorant in this country, and I find myself wondering, with such a stark difference between these candidates, which way we’ll end up going.

Will we finally see through Obama and find the socialist he really is? Or will we finally see through Romney and find an abusive capitalist who really couldn’t care less about anyone who isn’t a millionaire?

Will Adelson and the Koch Brothers succeed in buying the election? I wouldn’t put it past them, but on the other hand they haven’t so far. Adelson’s first choice was Newt Gingrich, who went over like a lead balloon.

This election will put to the test, once and for all, the conventional wisdom about democracy: namely, that you can trust the voters to make the right choice.

They didn’t in 2010; they didn’t this year in Indiana, when they voted out Senator Dick Lugar. But they did in 2008, I believe, when they voted for President Obama, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.

What we got from the 2008 vote was Obamacare—no small thing—and tourniquets to stop the economic bleeding. The patient hasn’t recovered yet but at least it didn’t die.

(I hated Lugar’s record on domestic votes, but support him on foreign issues. In his previous election Indiana Democrats didn’t even put up a candidate.)

The person I most trust on investments, John C. Bogle of the Vanguard Group, is a Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and is going to do it again this time. Bogle makes sense.

Trust the voters? That’s as much a crapshoot as buying stocks and bonds.

My frank belief is that the USA isn’t a democracy anymore. We’ve become a plutocracy instead. But that’s an unfamiliar word to Americans, so we’re not riled up at all. (It means government by the rich.)

If I’m right, this is our last chance at a fair election. With all the billionaires lined up against him, if Obama can pull this out, then power still rests with the people, at least for awhile yet. I don’t think democracy will last much longer, but I don’t want to see it die before I do.

We face a moral choice this year, more than an array of policy choices, which every election presents. Do we idolize the rich and demonize the poor, or do we give everyone a fighting chance?

Do people get rich because God blesses them with wealth? Many religious leaders teach this. Jesus didn’t, he taught the opposite, but he’s not on the ballot this year—and I’m not sure he’d win if he were.

Romney’s crowd believes they’re rich because God blesses them—which means that anyone who isn’t rich doesn’t live right. That belief’s built right into Mormonism, and many Protestants and Catholics embrace it too.

I do not. To me, this is the most obscene photograph I’ve ever looked at.

That’s Mitt Romney, right in the front.

I ran it on dailyoffice.org during Lent, as an illustration of greed—one of the 7 Deadly Sins, you know.

It’s a promotional photograph for Bain Capital. It shows money coming out their ears.

Is that the kind of country you want to live in, where you elect a guy like that to rule over you?

Are dollars your God? Vote for Romney.

If God is your God, you cannot vote for Romney. You may not like Obama but you have to vote for him.

Who will win? I don’t know, but this election will determine what kind of nation we are forevermore.

I’m more optimistic about Obama than I am about the longterm future. I think we’ve already sold our souls to the devil, and that it started the day we traded “entertainment” for corporate brainwashing on TV.

Your cellphone is a tracking device. Big business wants to know where you are and what you’re doing at all times. Step out of line and the government wants to know too.

Your devices own you. You sold your soul already. Satan didn’t tell you the terms of the deal, but you didn’t ask. “Oh, look what this thing can do!”

Voting becomes less and less important than our daily choices. The guys who make money from those choices love this era we’ve entered. The rich get richer and you’re a chump.

People who live on the East and West Coasts know all these things, or sense them, but they don’t understand why “the heartland” doesn’t get it. Why, they ask, do non-millionaires vote Republican, against their own obvious self-interest?

Answer: people don’t pay attention anymore. They watch TV and soak up impressions. Obama is nice but “dangerous”; Romney is boring but “successful.”

Mostly they just vote the way their parents did. For “lesser offices” (no matter how important), they just vote the name they know.

They vote their emotions, which are mostly a product of TV.

Adelson’s putting $100 million into TV.

Obama may win this time, but I think the war’s already over. The United States got conquered by internal enemies, who work on a few streets in New York, Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

If Romney wins, we’re done. That’s what I think. So get yours while you can, I suppose. What else can you do when it’s “every man for himself”?

It’s human nature. There is no American Exception.

Love the one you’re with. While you can, anyway.++

Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith with her wife Tracey Hepner, a former Army captain. Smith just got promoted and is now the first openly-Gay general in U.S. history. Romney and Ryan would kick her out of the military, cut food stamps for the poor, and turn Medicare into a coupon program to limit health care for seniors and the disabled.

 

Government of the Rich, by the Rich, for the Rich

Unlike his predecessor, the sphinx Alan Greenspan, the current Fed chairman actually speaks to the public.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was on the “60 Minutes” teevee show last night, explaining why the Fed is spending $600 billion to buy U.S. debt, an untried strategy he hopes will prevent deflation – falling prices and wages like Japan experienced in its “lost decade” of the ’90s, and the U.S. went through as the 1929 stock market crash deepened into the Great Depression.

Economies spiral up and they spiral down; growth that’s too fast means that prices keep rising while wages don’t keep up. That’s called inflation and it’s bad, because a worker’s dollar doesn’t buy what it used to. Growth that’s slow or non-existent puts pressure on prices, including labor; employers cut paychecks, and even though a loaf of bread might turn a few cents cheaper, workers have less money to buy bread. That’s called deflation and it’s every bit as bad.

Steady growth that balances out prices and wages is the ideal, and that’s what Bernanke and the Fed are trying to achieve. However, his TV interview indicates this is a very tricky time for the world economy. Fed chiefs never go on TV; the last guy, Alan Greenspan, perfected the low art of using long words to say absolutely nothing in public. He didn’t have to; he was the chairman of the Federal Reserve, one of the most powerful men in the world.

So Bernanke’s appearance was fairly remarkable – less because of his immediate message about the $600 billion ploy, than because he also had to answer other questions from his interviewer, Scott Pelley of CBS News.

Bottom line:

• Unemployment is going to stay sky-high for years. (This cannot be good news for President Obama’s re-election plans.)

• The recent recession is over according to the economists, but another one, a double-dipper, can’t be ruled out.

• Education is key to an individual worker’s employment prospects; college grads have a 5% unemployment rate, while high school graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed. (Meanwhile states are cutting education funding and school districts nationwide are laying off teachers.)

• The Federal government’s budget deficit must be brought down – but not this year while so many people are suffering and deflation is the real scare.

Pelley couldn’t get Bernanke to condemn the Republican plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for millionaires – but the Fed chief did sound a mild alarm about the destruction of the middle class. To me, that was the most important part of the interview.

Excerpt from The New York Times:

When asked about rising inequality in the United States, Mr. Bernanke offered a response that was likely to be embraced by liberals.

“It’s a very bad development,” he said. “It’s creating two societies.”

One rich, one poor.

The Times chose to couch this inappropriately, in my view, as a call for revamping U.S. tax policy to eliminate what Bernanke called “inefficiency” (and the rest of us know as deductions, tax breaks, subsidies and giveaways), so that overall rates can be lowered and more money can be raised. The Times’ analysis is Beltway-speak, as Bernanke appeared to endorse parts of the regressive platform of Obama’s own Blue Ribbon Panel in Charge of Screwing Americans, featuring such winning proposals as raising the retirement age Till You’re Dead.

It’s entirely possible to eliminate the deficit without screwing the middle class, but you’ll never hear that out of a Blue Ribbon Panel, because rational solutions don’t conform to the current media blare.

Still, Bernanke went on about the widening gap between rich and poor, now the largest inequality in the developed world and the worst in U.S. history:

Mr. Bernanke added: “It leads to an unequal society, and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion that we’d like to see.”

That to me is the point; we’re losing our middle class, and even the Fed chairman knows that’s a grave danger to America and the entire world.

So sort the wheat from the chaff; I wouldn’t give you a copper penny for the Simpson-Bowles blue ribboneering, for Beltway obsessions or faulty Villager-speak. The chairman of the Federal Reserve has admitted we’re destroying our country.

And we’re doing it under Barack Obama just as we did under George W. Bush. The incompetence of the Current Occupant is astonishing to me; I’m sorry I ever promoted him, but that’s water under the bridge now. What shall we do? Where do we go from here?

It leads to an unequal society.

I’d happily blame all the usual suspects, not just Obama but McConnell, Murdoch and Limbaugh, if not for the fact that both parties and a majority of voters have arranged all this exactly to their liking.

We’re now governed by the same corporations whose TV commercials we lap up like dogs at the feed trough.

The USA is no longer a democracy, it’s a plutocracy. The Fortune 500 runs everything, having bought the entire Congress.

And why not? It was there for the plucking, since Americans decided 30 years ago (shortly after the Watergate scandal) that we wouldn’t be caught dead financing political campaigns with tax dollars.

Who does that leave to pick up the tab? The people with money.

Democrats are as eager to spread their legs for campaign cash as Republicans are. So this is the result, government by Halliburton, Exxon and Archer Daniels Midland.

It’s simply “the free market at work” – the same people who’ve screwed you over and over and taught you to like it.

Nor is this a new phenomenon; the basic alignment of political parties today in the United States actually dates to 1896, when William McKinley sold the Republican Party’s soul to Wall Street while William Jennings Bryan pleaded with voters not to crucify workers on a “cross of gold.” It’s ancient dusty stuff from the history books, and if you’ve never heard of it no one can blame you all these years later.

But the die was cast, the storm was unleashed, and now we are inheriting the wind.

It’s December 2010 and Mitch McConnell effortlessly jumps through mental hoops to argue for extending tax cuts for millionaires, while middle class people are losing their homes by the millions.

Obama and the Democrats will go along with this, to get unemployment benefits of $250 a week extended yet again for the New Poor. It’s already been, what, two years since we shed ten million jobs?

Campaigning for the House and Senate is expensive work; D’s are as eager as R’s to sell their souls. There’s only one political party in America now, the Corporate Suckups; the libs and the cons may caucus separately, but for the most part they agree that whatever Murdoch says goes.

On the margins of political life – say, if you’re Gay or Hispanic, Native or Muslim or Black, military or female, sick or disabled – it matters very much whether the D’s or the R’s control Congress and the White House. But it doesn’t matter much to anyone else. So what if 80 House seats changed hands? So what?

The Voters are parked on their couches watching Unreality TV and soaking up corporate propaganda, thinking it’s entertaining. They don’t care that rich people are making big bucks selling them worthless products and inedible, dangerous food, as long as it all looks glamorous, numbs their brain cells and makes them smile.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Ben Franklin said we chose not a monarchy but a republic – “if we can keep it.”

We still have the outward form, but it looks to me like the republic is lost.

Americans are resilient, and in extraordinary times we’ve achieved amazing things. I hope we never lose that capacity. But I don’t see anyone leading us in any direction but corporate hell.

I hate to say it, but as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, this is the middle class’s own fault. They’re afraid of change (Gays in the military! Same-sex marriage!) and easily seduced to vote against their own best interest, thus enriching the wealthy to exploit them every damn time.

It leads to an unequal society.

And Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.++

We invented this character; now we get to live with the results.