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Jeanette Riffle: Free Meals to Go Vote

The Free Press WV

We got out to vote at the Church of Christ on Rosedale Rd. this past week and saw some friends that we hadn’t seen for a long time. My husband was telling me about the antique ballot box he has that was left over from days of old when the voting precinct was held at the Shock one room school house. It was a black metal box back then.  Uncle Fletcher Stout offered free meals at the Shock log cabin if people would just come and vote.  Word got around and people came from far and near on horseback and even on foot to get in on that feast. There were no restaurants around and people were tired, hungry and thirsty by the time they got here. Uncle Fletcher hired other women to come and help Duane’s aunt, Susie Riffle Perrine, do all that cooking. He remembers a big dish pan full of potato salad, fried chickens, biscuits and some of everything in the cellar. Cakes and pies for dessert and coffee or water to drink. She didn’t make iced tea. If they had tea, it was hot tea for breakfast, sometimes. Uncle Fletcher didn’t bribe them with money or alcohol and tell them who to vote for as some men did, but he just wanted them to come out and vote.

There was a wash pan on a stand by the kitchen door, on the back porch, and a bucket of water with a dipper. A tea kettle was kept simmering on the back burner of the cook stove all day and the cold water could be tempered with that. Water was hand pumped up from the well.  A cake of soap and clean towels were provided for the men to go wash up before going inside to the big wooden farm table.  After they had eaten until they could hold no more, some of those old fellows would put down a quarter or whatever they could afford. The meals were free but some of them wanted to leave a little something anyhow. I suppose that if free meals were offered at or near the precincts nowadays, there would be more people showing up to vote still yet. I think my parents voted at the Normantown High School.  Back then, you couldn’t vote until the age of 21 and I wasn’t old enough. I got married after I turned 18 and we went to Maryland where my husband got work as a pipe fitter at the Sparrow’s Point Shipyard.

By the time I was old enough to vote, there had been a lay off at the shipyard and we were back home a year. Jobs were scarce and hard to find. A couple of Dad’s brothers were home on model changeover from General Motors of Detroit one summer and they got Duane on with the old Fleetwood plant where he trained in as a welder.  Back then you could just walk in off the street and get a job there.  Until next time, turn up the heat and put on some extra blankets. It got down to 16 degrees here in the valley at Shock last night.

Take care and God bless!

The American Taliban

The Free Press WV

If you believe in the separation of church and state, then you probably think that evangelicals exert far too much influence on American life, our politics and culture. When I remarked to a friend that evangelicals are the America’s answer to the Taliban, he thought the comparison was too harsh. After all, he said, “Evangelicals don’t go around killing people.”

Maybe not, but the beliefs they hold and the positions they take can have deadly consequences. Take the evangelical position on abortion, which has had a major effect on national foreign policy.
The Helms Amendment, first enacted in 1973, provides that no US funds “may be used to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” What a strange dichotomy. Abortion is legal in the US and available to all our citizens, yet we will not allow its practice in developing countries. And what is the consequence? According to Sneha Barot of the Guttmacher Institute, every year, millions of women suffer serious injuries from unsafe abortion, and 47,000 of them die—almost all in the Global South.

I don’t know anyone who likes the idea of abortion, but most objections to it seem based on a religious belief that the soul enters the body at conception, something for which there is simply no proof. And because there is no evidence, it should have no bearing on our laws or national policy. People everywhere must be free to make their own decisions on abortion, decisions based on personal beliefs. If one’s religious convictions tell her or him that abortion is wrong, then it is clearly wrong for that person, but it does not follow that it is wrong for anyone else.

Evangelicals have a right to think abortion is wrong and to try to persuade others. But if we live in a society that is truly free, that belief cannot be imposed on others, including non-believers. Doing so necessarily infringes on others’ rights. We have lived in a culture that encourages honest debate. Perhaps through debate, the pro-life faction can convince the pro-choice side that they are right, and abortion clinics will cease to exist for lack of interest, or perhaps not, but our laws need to be silent, structured to neither require nor prevent abortion. Yet today evangelicals rejoice at placing Brett Kavanaugh on our Supreme Court, trusting that Roe v Wade will at long last be overturned, while others fear that personal freedom will become constrained by a religious belief.

Evangelicals claim that the constitution was inspired by Christ, and is based on Judeo-Christian principles. But not all of the founding fathers were Christian. Many, like Jefferson, were deists, and some, like Franklin appear to have been atheists. But all of the founding fathers realized and understood the dangers posed by both monarchy and theocracy and wisely chose to separate religious belief from our government and to base our laws on reason, not scripture. The words Christ and Christian do not appear in our founding documents.

Nonetheless, theocratic government is an area where evangelicals and the Taliban have something in common. For the Taliban government and religion are one and the same. While here in the US they are separated, there are many in our government who would set aside the Constitution in favor of biblical teaching. Most recently attorney general Jeff Sessions quoted from the bible to justify separating children from their parents, and Judge Roy Moore was sanctioned twice by our court system for basing judgments on the ten commandments and displaying the commandments in his court house. No, we are not a theocracy, but can anyone doubt that if the Judge Roy Moores had their way we would become a Christian theocracy?

Roy Moore is not an aberration. Our equally extreme evangelical vice president Mike Pence also believes our laws should be based on the bible. And he opposes abortion, Planned Parenthood, gay rights and stem cell research. Moreover, he denies climate change, and promotes the false equivalence of creationism and evolution. Religious belief blinds him to the mountains of evidence that have shown us how truly fascinating and marvelous our real world is. A closed mind one step away from the presidency is truly alarming.

Evangelicals believe the bible, as the Taliban believe the Koran, to be the true word of their one god. And evangelicals point to the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies and miracles as proof, a circular logic that does could not meet any scientific standard. And while there is no scientific proof of ancient miracles, the ancient writers would consider many things that are commonplace today as miraculous—cancer cures by radiation or chemo treatment for example. Far more “miracles” have been produced by modern science and medicine than were ever conceived in the bible or produced by prayer. What is certain is that the rejection of science in favor of ancient scripture already inhibits research and the development of new drugs and medical procedures, which have dire consequences, as it has in the Islamic states.

The philosopher Spinoza, one of the most brilliant minds of the seventeenth century, was raised in the Jewish faith. He recognized inconsistencies in the bible, and became a critic of Judaism, and in fact all organized religions, for which he was labeled a heretic. Nonetheless, he believed in a god and that the one true, consistent and important message of the bible was “love thy neighbor.”
Spinoza also understood the danger posed by theocracy and explained that theocratic governments fail because their leaders are motivated by personal interpretations of scripture, rather than doing what is in the public interest. Such subjectivity inevitably leads to disagreement. The thousand-year violent and bloody struggle between the Sunnis and Shiites is the most glaring example, but there are many examples of similar conflict between Christian sects, the Church of England and the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry the Eighth for instance.

Spinoza also believed that a democratic society, with laws based on reason and evidence, like the society we enjoy in the United States, offers the greatest potential to serve the public good. But we live in a time when our American democracy is threatened. Evangelical support of national leaders who choose to ignore evidence, refuse to reason and attack our democratic institutions should alarm every American. Blind adherence to the bible promises to be as damaging to our way of life as the Taliban’s blind adherence to the Koran has devastated Afghanistan’s once thriving culture. The vision of Spinoza and our inspired American way of life are at stake.

~~  Bob Topper is a retired engineer ~~

Trump’s Kristallnacht

The Free Press WV

We are now moving past “mere” voter suppression and voter intimidation. We have arrived at voter assassination.

It was almost exactly 80 years ago that the Nazis made their first serious move against their own citizens who happened to be Jewish. It was November 9 and 10, 1938.

The Sturmabteilung, that is, the paramilitary Brownshirts, sort of like the Proud Boys plus Robert Bowers plus Cesar Sayoc, ideological killers of Jews and other targets, pulled off the 1938 Kristallnacht, the attack on synagogues and Jewish businesses. They were far more prolific than Trump’s crew, destroying some 267 synagogues located in Sudetenland, Austria, and Germany. Estimates of murders of Jews were 91 at the time but that figure rose later, with more investigation.

Trump’s invective, identity attacks, slurs on his critics, and tolerance and even encouragement for physical violence against his opponents are one big permission slip to his more rabid supporters, Sayoc most obviously and Bowers (Tree of Life synagogue attacker) in all likelihood.

Cesar Sayoc’s van is plastered with pro-Trump posters and stickers, which is a more-or-less normal position of favor for a politician, but it’s his other signage, his hate posters for Hillary Clinton and Michael Moore and others—all with crosshairs over their faces—that really set him apart. The rage is palpable, visible, and sure enough, he acted on it, sending pipe bombs to that Jew, George Soros, and others.

Meanwhile, Trump equivocates, as usual, hinting with no respect for the truth that it’s all the fault of the media, and of Democrats. After the synagogue shooting he was even more outrageous, directly and insanely blaming reporters for the attack. That darn media keeps quoting him, reporting on his tweets, and playing actual recordings of the things he says. How biased! How uncivil! His handlers try to keep him on script and attempt to cage him into sounding momentarily presidential, but it’s buck naked obvious when he is reading someone else’s words—mostly because they are multisyllabic and sensible to a degree. When he’s off script again he’s wildly spouting hate and nonsense, back to his affinity for Alec Jones Infowars derangement.

Yes, deranged. That is uncivil but accurate. Who besides a seriously sick individual would claim that schoolchildren were not shot at Sandy Hook, and that the pipe bombs discovered addressed to Trump opponents are “fake”?

The only case for criticizing “the media” if we are interested in facts is to take much of what is coming out of Fox News with a block of salt. They routinely hint at the sort of disinformation that Trump more actively promulgates. While they are far more sophisticated than Alec Jones the thrust is pretty similar and, since they reach so many, actually much more dangerous to women, to Jews, to elected officials who prefer a social safety net, to Muslims, to patrons of nonviolent resistance, to Mexicans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans in flight from horrific violence, and so many others.

For many years many of us have been warning about the deadly potential for political violence when we have more than one gun for every American and political rhetoric in social media is unrestrained hatred and violent ideation. Now we see it.

Your vote for anyone who can help slow, stop, and reverse this decline in decency and erosion of democracy was never more important than right now.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court

One Law to Rule Them All: Thou Shall Not Kill

The Free Press WV

Routine mayhem in America is the “new normal?”  Not only is it not “normal” it is not “new.”  The soul searching and despairing cries of “Why?” echo again across the nation.  The blood of one group of victims is not even dry before the next massacre occurs.  How to account for it?

The calls go out for new laws, new law enforcers, new punishments, increasing use of the “death penalty.”  None has worked in the past, but no matter, the devolution into insanity proceeds apace on all sides of the debate, at least as defined by Albert Einstein, if apocryphally: “doing the same things over again and expecting a different result.” 

I have a radical suggestion:  try something different.  Once, long ago, the evolution of humanity threw up a supreme law, one that ought to rule all laws, if the heaving mass of animalistic proto-humans were to rise to human being.  Thou shall not kill.

That is and must be the first law.  It must rule all other law.  All other law must be subordinate to it, and must be interpreted and applied consistent with it, or all law fails its task of approaching justice.  Why?

If killing is not repudiated, it invites more killing.  Revenge cycles abound.  Killing, ironically, is pregnant, not with life, but with more killing.  Pregnant with death. Once killing is embraced as justice, there is no end to killing but in the silence of the universal graveyard.  This was the ancient wisdom revealed in this one law to rule them all: start with no killing and the rest of justice may follow.

America’s cries of confusion amid the bloodletting, the desperate chest pounding, hair tearing grief and accusations arising on all sides, pointing one at another, resound yet again.  But the answer is clear, it stares us in the face, as a nation, as a people, we have abandoned the one law to rule them all.

Americans embrace killing both at home and abroad.  It is our law that authorizes it. It is our armed forces that stand athwart the world daily killing.  It is our allies we empower and enable to commit genocide.  It is Americans who espouse mercenary armies to make killing our nation’s business. It is our arsenals of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons armed and triggered in constant readiness that threaten the death daily of all humanity.  Our laws drip with blood, death penalties, police shootings without accountability, and mass incarceration of our fellow citizens to spirit killing prisons, destroying lives, families and communities, a living death. 

Has god turned his face from America?  Or has America turned its face from god?  It matters little which, or, if both, are true.  The only thing that matters is that America awakens to the ancient truth for every person everywhere:  one law must rule them all—thou shall not kill.

Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters, including some desperado nuns, in court for decades and will on occasion use blunt force satire or actual legal arguments to make a point

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