Monday, February 13, 2006

Better Dead Than Red

God! I worked on a dozen first posts--must make a good first impression or my potential audience is lost! However, everything I wrote smacked of self-consciousness or pretentiousness. Trashed all the drafts. Instead I will post below a discussion I had last night via email with a woman from my high school graduating class of 1965. The correspondence certainly does not reflect great writing skills--I do have some skill, if not great, but these emails were not about skill or style. What they can do is provide a composite of some of my most heartfelt political ideas and ideals. They reflect the frustration of a liberal who has lived his entire life in Alabama. They demonstrate a skeptic's emotions toward the fundamentalist, politicized Religious Right which so dominates the political landscape in Alabama. More importantly, the mindset that was once thought to be unique to the undereducated, rednecks in Alabama now has control of the White House, the Congress and too many judges and that is terrifying. Surely all Americans who can remember how the South and especially Alabama was perceived and judged by most Americans in the 1960s are stunned that this mentality now informs our national politcal process. So, in these emails you see my passion, a view of my ideas, a few ideals and several prejudices. I invite your responses and hope to engage you in an enlightening, witty, irreverent and sometimes serious way.

Just below is an email forwarded to me by my former classmate. It is a list of what turned out to be false statements about Social Security and the Democratic Party. Following the forwarded email you will find the correspondence.

Many years ago in Seattle, two wonderful neighbors, Elliott and Patty Roosevelt came to my home to swim
on a regular basis.

They were a great couple full of laughter and stories that
today I continue to marvel at. Both are now deceased, but their stories remain. During the years of our friendship we had many, many discussions
about his parents (President Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt)
and how his father and mother never intended for the Social Security
and Welfare programs to turn out the way they are today.

Elliott used to say that if his mother returned to earth and saw what the politicians had done to their programs
she would have burned all of them in hell. Here is a story I received today regarding the Social Security Program and I immediately thought of Elliott's comments. Hope you will read this and think about it. Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, introduced the Social Security (FICA) Program.
He promised: 1.) That participation in the Program would be completely voluntary, 2.) That the participants would only have to pay 1% of the first $1,400 of their annual incomes into the Program, 3.) That the money the participants elected to put into the Program would be deductible from their income for tax purposes each year, 4.) That the money the participants put into the independent "Trust Fund" rather than into the General operating fund, and therefore,
would only be used to fund the Social Security Retirement Program, and no other Government program, and,
5.) That the annuity payments to the retirees would never be taxed as income. Since many of us have paid into FICA for years and are now receiving a Social Security check every month -- and then finding
that we are getting taxed on 85% of the money we paid to the Federal government to "put away," you may be interested in the following: Q: Which Political Party took Social Security from the independent "Trust" fund and put it into the General fund so that Congress could spend it? A: It was Lyndon Johnson and the democratically controlled House and Senate.

Q: Which Political Party eliminated the income tax deduction for Social Security (FICA) withholding?

A: The Democratic Party.
Q: Which Political Party started taxing Social Security annuities?
A: The Democratic Party, with Al Gore casting the "tie-breaking" deciding vote as President of the Senate,
while he was Vice President of the U.S.

AND MY FAVORITE: Q: Which Political Party decided to start giving annuity payments to immigrants? A: That's right! Jimmy Carter and the Democratic Party.
Immigrants moved into this country, and at age 65, began to receive Social Security payments!
The Democratic Party gave these payments to them, even though they never paid a dime into it!
Then, after doing all this lying and thieving and violation of the original contract (FICA), the Democrats
turn around and tell you that the Republicans want to take your Social Security away! And the worst part about it is, uninformed citizens believe it! If enough people receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes will evolve. Maybe not, some Democrats are awfully sure of what isn't so But it's worth a try. How many people can YOU send this to?
My first reply to the email:
But, on the other hand, how many pieces of legislation that actually helped the poor and sick can you name that came from the Republicans? (I am not trying to be a smart-ass here--it is a serious question.)

I have not had time to check all these "facts" but I know for a fact that people who have never paid into Social Security--whether immigrant or not--DO NOT get social security retirement benefits. That I am sure of. Also, what your friend says about social security now being a part of the general fund is not true. It is still in a separate fund. Knowing that, I am suspicious of some of the rest of her "facts." She is completely right in her implication that social security is in a huge mess but BOTH parties have failed at fixing it. Conservatives and liberals both are afraid to deal with it because even though everyone says the program is too big and in too much trouble, NO ONE, including the rich, are willing to have THEIR checks reduced. (Another thing about Social Security is that FDR thought it should be reserved for those who had worked all their lives but just weren't able to save as much as they needed but pressure from Republicans in Congress forced him to include the rich in getting payments. FDR wanted it to provide basic security for the working poor but the Republicans would not vote for it unless the rich also would get payments. The same thing is true with Medicare. It was meant to make decent health care available for all Americans but people like the Bushes, the Kennedy's and even the billionaires get free healthcare---because they would not vote for it unless they got it too.)

FDR would also be spinning in his grave if he could see the extent to which the Republicans are in cahoots with big corporations. FDR fought against that the whole 12 years. And, many of the limitations on what he could do with social security were a result of the fact that the US was in the middle of the worst depression in its history which had been the direct result of Republican economic policies under Coolidge and Hoover. (Especially the Hawley-Smoot Tariff which they passed after the Depression had started.)

The Democrats have certainly made their share of the mistakes--no one is innocent. BUT, they also DID: give women the right to vote, enforced the right to vote for African-Americans and got rid of the Republican laws passed under McKinley and Taft that made it impossible for poor whites in the South to vote. The Democrats increased support for public education in the South. The Democrats gave us minimum wage laws (which helped southerners a lot), brought the first electric power into most of the South long after most other parts of the country had it and provided mail service to rural farmers.

And, one last sermon from me (if you have not already hit DELETE!!) I am not asking you to tell me the answer to the following question, it is none of my business, but I hope you will think about it. Be honest now!! What would YOU be saying and thinking IF Bill Clinton had : persuaded America to get into a war saying all that Bush said about weapons of mass destruction, ties to AlQuaeda, nuclear weapons and all the rest in Iraq and then you found out none those facts were true.? What would you think if this war had happened under Clinton and then the corporation that Gore had been CEO of right before he became vice-president got over 60% of the reconstruction contracts? What if Clinton had spied on the American people even though there is a quite specific law saying he could not without a warrant? (Bush acknowledges the law but just said "that is an old law.") What would conservatives say if Clinton had promised to speed up relief to the Katrina victims and then cut FEMA's budget the next month? In the State of the Union speech Bush said that one of his major goals for this coming year was to speed up research for alternative fuels so that we would not need so much oil. The VERY next day, he cut the budget of HIS OWN commission that was looking for alternative fuels by 15%. If Clinton had done that, what would you say? If Clinton had said that the cost of the war would be 18 billion and that Iraqi oil would more than pay for it---and then the war has already cost over 450 billion and NONE of it is being paid with oil revenues--what would conservatives be saying? If Bill Clinton had come into office and the budget was balanced, the debt had been reduced by almost 33%, and there was 6 trillion dollar surplus predicted and 4 years later, the budget was more out of balance than anytime since WW II and the national debt was larger than it had EVER been, what would Republicans be saying? Now let me emphasize that I am not really asking about all the ins and outs and possible reasons for all these things. I am not even casting blame for all these things. I am just asking what you would think IF they had happened under Clinton.

End of Mason's preaching!!!! I really don't mean to preach but emails like what your friend sent you upset me because they either are outright mistakes or they mislead and they rely on the people not knowing enough history to properly evaluate the statements. It is true that FDR would be amazed at a lot of things that he would never have dreamed of 60 years ago but there is absolutely NO DOUBT which party he would support. His entire 12 years (domestically) were spent trying balance out the extraordinary power that big business and rich had over the rest of us.

He also would have been stunned that America went to war on a pre-emptive basis. He knew that Japan and Germany were going to do anything they could to take power from America but refused to ask for war until after we were attacked. (Remember, Iraq has never attacked us even on 9/11) Again, he may be the one who was wrong about that BUT since the email is talking about how shocked FDR would be about social security, it is only fair to make it fair and balanced.

Hope I have not been too much of a jerk but my Daddy raised me to be a yellow dog Democrat!! (The South NEVER voted Republican until the Democrats started supporting Civil Rights.)

PEACE, my friend,
Thank god I did not make a total fool of myself even if your niece's reply is much better researched than mine!! And, the fact that you so quickly corrected your first impressions says to me that you are not like a lot of the Radical Right who just will NOT admit to anything ever being wrong. That is the part that boggles my mind. Liberals can really screw things up sometimes but I really do not think we liberals are as close-minded (I guess that is why we are called liberals!) When LBJ, Carter and Clinton messed up I criticized them just as much as I would a Republican. It seems like Bush people refuse to admit anything. The president just keeps changing what he says about Iraq without ever admitting that what he had said before was wrong-----and most people will not challenge him.

I believe that I have known you long enough to know that you are a caring person whose values and faith would never let you support anyone's efforts to harm the poor or the sick. I know that you care. I also know that you, like me, know what it is like not to have everything in terms of material goods that might have made life a little easier. And that is part of the reason that I resent what the conservatives do politically. They CLAIM to be supporting religious values and traditional morals and those are issues that you and all conservative Christians care deeply about. They rely on basically good people to believe them about their commitment to Christianity and then get you to support them politically about a lot of different things. They emphasize Clinton's sexual immorality---which I think was a horrible insult to his family and was major sleazy---BUT it had almost nothing to do with OUR lives. They turned him into Satan and then they almost had to seem better. The real truth is that the Bush administration has been one of the most corrupt and harmful that we have ever had. This next statement is NOT based on my politics but IS based on my formal training as a historian. These 8 years of Bush will go down in history as terrible years for the US. If you and I live out our normal lives, we will be able to see that. Bush has been a HORRIBLE conservative in almost every way. He has grown a huge debt that we cannot afford. Our grandchildren will still be paying off his debt. He has completely screwed up the war that he lied about to get us into. When Clinton left office (regardless of his suxual adventures) America had respect throughout most of the world. We had closer ties with Europe and South America than we had had in years. Now, Tony Blair is about the only friend we have and he is little more than a lapdog. Under Bush, the rich have gotten MUCH richer and their taxes have been cut every year. Have YOU gotten a lot richer? Have YOUR taxes really gone down? (People like you and me may have gotten a slight reduction in Federal taxes but Alabama state taxes have increased by 40% to make up for the money that we lost from the feds.) Medicare has gone up. Medicaid money has been cut. Funding for the schools has been cut. Funds for most scientific studies have been cut--except for defense projects, most of which Halliburton gets.

But Bush talks about Jesus while he is screwing us and people just turn a blind eye to what he is actually doing. I just cannot understand that. It makes no sense to me. I DO understand a person being a conservative even though I am very liberal but WHY do conservatives support someone like Bush when he lies and lies and screws up everything he touches. My heartfelt, true belief is that rich people support Bush because he gives them more money which HAS to come from those of us who are NOT rich. Then he gives verbal support to conservative Christians who then support him because he is so much more "Christian" than the Democrats. I cannot base my notions of Christian living on just the words they speak. I look to a person's actions and how they live out their Christian beliefs. Bush's real policies are very far removed from anything remotely Christian. Jesus was a man of action. He condemned the Pharisees for all their empty talk and their self-righteousness. I believe that today's Christian Right is the exact equivalent to the Pharisees of biblical times.

One thing that has ALWAYS confused me about the right-wing Christians is their obsession with prayer in schools. They claim to believe that the bible is the inspired word of God BUT, the Bible point blank says that we should not pray in public so that everyone can see and hear us (like the Pharisees). The Bible tells us to pray in secret and that God will hear us in secret. WHY does the right wing NOT mention that Bible truth? They get obsessed with the literal truth of the creation story and ignore the Bible about public prayer.

Jesus opposed war and violence every single time it came up. Yet, the Christian Right is almost always gung-ho war. Jesus says to love our enemies. We are killing Muslim civilians. The Bible tell us to turn the other cheek if we are attacked by an enemy. Why do conservative Christians ignore that? If they are talking about abortion, they say over and over that ALL life is sacred and created by God and that ONLY GOD can take a life. Then, when it comes to capital punishment, they support the death penalty. Why are THOSE lives not sacred and why do we not leave it up to God to take THEIR lives? (Right here I am not arguing for or against capital punishment. I just do not understand why life is sacred for some and not for others IF we believe that it all came from God.) The Bible tell us to feed the poor and the hungry and Jesus does NOT say that we should judge them first and make sure they are not lazy. It simply tells us to feed the hungry. With me, I KNOW there are welfare frauds and that there is a lot of wasted money BUT I would rather feed a few people who do not really deserve my help than to cut off one person who deserves help. Jesus said over and over that we should not judge other people because only God could do that; yet, the Christian Right attacks gays, immigrants, Muslims, liberals and many others. Why is the Bible ignored so much by the same people who claim they think it is so sacred that we ought to read it everyday in schools? They only care about it when they are trying to get votes.

Democrats are often wasteful. They are often disorganized and do not always succeed but they are at least TRYING to help the poor and the less powerful---the "meek". Again, I am asking a sincere question here: what can you think of about the Republican agenda that is not geared toward the rich? Over 80% of the tax cuts went to people earning over $1,000,000 a year. There is a bigger gap between the rich and the poor since Bush took office than at any other time in our history. Really, Janet, what have the Republicans done that has actually HELPED you and me? (The Un-rich if that is a word.) Am I wrong in your opinion, when I say that I think all the conservatives DO that appeals to a Christian woman like you is TALK about Christian values. Which of Bush's actual policies do you believe DO anything about serving Jesus? I have to believe that Jesus would never actually be a member of either political party but don't you think he would be ant-war, pro-aid to the poor, pro-adequate health care for all people, against corporate greed, against raw competition as the basis for our economy, would he condemn gays? He was almost run out his homeland for hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors and other "unacceptable" people. If he returned would he be at the Country Club talking about tax breaks and the stock market or would he be with Jimmy Carter building homes for the homeless. The Christian Right hates Carter. Yet, he has worked for world peace and worked for the poor his entire life. Why is he so hated????? They hate him because when the Shah of Iran was dying from cancer, Carter allowed him to come to America for cancer treatments and that led to the hostage crisis. They hate him because he "gave away the Panama Canal." A territory that WE stole from Central America so that we could have cheaper transportation costs and business could make more money. Which side of that debate would Jesus be on?

I apologize again Janet! I guess I am on a real roll because YOU ,unlike most conservatives I am exposed to, seem genuine and you seem to be willing to actually think about what you are saying and doing. I know you take your faith seriously so I am genuinely interested in what you have to say about the things I have written here. It really is frustrating to me that almost EVERY single political belief I have is based on my understanding of the teachings of Jesus--especially the Sermon on the Mount--even though I am not a religious person, certainly not a believer in ancient myths as scientific and historical truth!. BUT, Jesus was a liberal! That is the main reason the Hebrews wanted him killed. He cared more about the people, his people, than he did about their so-called sacred laws. He preached about observing the laws but every time that I can recall in the bible when a person's need conflicted with the law, he took care of the person. So, I have tried to keep my life committed to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and yet, to the Christian Right, I might as well be a Satan worshipper. Then they turn around and practically make a saint of a crook like Bush who robs the poor to give to the rich. Please explain that to me!! I am very serious. I hope you have at least a little time to think about some of my carrying on and that you can help me understand better. I will NEVER be a Republican nor a conservative--I honestly believe that they work against the kind of life Jesus taught us to live. But, obviously, some of you who also take Christianity seriously support this man and/or his party which seems to me to just the opposite of what Jesus taught. So, I could learn a lot--at least have a better understanding---if you could just simply tell me why you think things are the way they are. Neither one of us can ever be absolutely sure we are right so it is just a matter of what we believe and I would like to have your interpretation.
So, there you have my first post. Hope to God a few have made it this far. Future offerings will be better written, organized and perhaps more rational. Having done it this way, however, is a fairly accurate presentation of my political sensibilities on at least a couple of issues.
Mason Myatt
Birmingham, Alabama


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