Thursday, May 17, 2018

Arming Teachers

In reaction to the Parkland school shooting President Trump suggested that schoolteachers should come to class carrying pistols. Instead of using their free time to improve their command of their subjects or improving their skills as teachers, they should go to the shooting range to improve their aim. This proposal has proved to be quite popular in North America. 
But there is also significant opposition. Particularly teachers themselves have been very critical of this proposal. A number of mishaps involving guns in schools have shown that students are not safer in their classrooms, when their teachers or school police officers come to work armed. In Virginia a school police officer accidentally discharged his weapon sending a bullet into the adjacent middle school classroom. A California teacher demonstrating gun safety in his classroom accidentally put a bullet in the ceiling. Falling debris injured some of the students. A Michigan Sheriff left his loaded weapon in a locker room where a sixth grade student found it.

Since 2014, the Associated Press reported more than thirty mishaps involving weapons brought into schools by sheriffs or teachers. Thirty events endangering the lives of students in school.

The lesson is clear. Guns are dangerous. Bringing them into schools endangers students and teachers. Arming teachers may well decrease safety in schools rather than increasing it.
These are serious reasons for being distrustful of the President's recommendations to deal with school shootings. But there are other reasons behind the groundswell of opposition, especially among schoolteachers, against arming educators. This opposition has been immediate and emotional. It is not clear from what we hear why so many teachers refuse to consider bringing loaded weapons into classrooms.

The reason is, I suspect, that to the teachers carrying loaded weapons is a way of normalizing gun violence. While teaching algebra or history or English grammar, the teacher also conveys another lesson, namely that gun violence is a component of ordinary, normal daily life. You need to be prepared to respond to shooters bursting into your classroom. It is a part of ordinary everyday life that people pull guns on each other. Everyone must be prepared to defend themselves against such violent aggression.

Many Americans, many schoolteachers, want to resist this Wild West picture of normal life. They refuse to accept this narrative of life in civilized society being one of personal violence, of lethal aggression against which everyone needs to be ready to defend themselves. Social life where blazing guns are part of everyday life may describe accurately what it is like to live in Sudan or Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but ours, many Americans insist, is a civilized country. Gun violence is the exception not the rule. We have police officers specialized to deal with those exceptional situations. Ordinary citizens talk to one another. They may get exasperated and raise their voices. There may be fistfights at times. But gun violence is not normal; it is not acceptable. It should not be encouraged by arming more people to start shooting when they think their life is in danger.
Obviously Americans disagree about this. Different states have different rules about carrying guns, openly or concealed.

There are two very different pictures of what life in America is and should be like. There are those who believe that in public life violence is the exception and that means that only the police should be armed. Others think that gun violence is a daily occurrence. It is a normal part of life in this society and all must be ready to defend themselves.

The disagreement is fundamental. It is our heritage of centuries of violence against the native inhabitants of the continent. In the past, daily life could always erupt into violence, public forces to keep the peace were weak or nonexistent, and every citizen needed to be prepared to defend him or herself. The ubiquity of firearms, the streak of violence pervading our public life, a threat to pious Christians as much as to children in schools, is a part of this inheritance from previous generations. It is the price we pay for taking away the land from its previous inhabitants.

It is time to distance ourselves from this shameful past. A major element of this distancing would be to make an honorable peace with the descendants of those whose land we took. Another part of this distancing is to put an end to the culture of private violence, to ban weapons designed to kill human beings and to confiscate them from their owners. Our gun culture is profoundly uncivilized. It gives the lie to our claims to be a great nation that others should emulate.

Monday, May 7, 2018

    Presenting and Misrepresenting 
African-American History


    I spent the week in Washington DC being a tourist. One of the main goals of the expedition was to visit the National Museum of African Americans History and Culture. Admission is free but it is best to apply for a ticket ahead of time because the demand to visit is so great. The day I was there, there were a people of all ages and all colors, Americans and foreigners, but the preponderance were larger and smaller school groups with the majority being white students.

    The museum is quite wonderful. Instead of the many diorama's of old there was music, there were short and longer videos everywhere, there were some interactive displays. The history seemed fairly reliable. There was little attempt to whitewash the brutality of slavery. The presentation was quite explicit in attributing to white landowners the responsibility for embodying the difference between whites and Blacks in legislation at the end of the 17th century. Before then, white and black servants worked side-by-side, socialized and intermarried without any difficulty. By 1700, intermarriage was prohibited, Blacks were no longer allowed to vote, Blacks were not allowed to defend themselves against physical attacks by whites.

    The same can be said about 19th century history, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the long hundred years of Jim Crow where racial divisions were enforced by lynchings. Few whites protested.  There seemed to be few attempts to moderate the horror of that history.

    In the 20th century there is elaborate coverage of the civil rights movement. But now the account begins to leave out important facts. For instance: when veterans came home from World War II a grateful nation passed the G.I. Bill which provided free higher education to all veterans and low-cost mortgages for veterans to buy bungalows in the new suburbs being built in large numbers. Black veterans, however, were excluded. The best universities and colleges refused to accept black students. Real estate agents refused to sell houses in the suburbs to black buyers. Only very small percentages of black veterans were able to take advantage of the benefits all veterans were in principle entitled to.

    Here was surely one of the sources of current inequalities. But this source was not mentioned because the museum is pretty silent about current inequalities. The killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer are there. But any extensive description of the disabilities under which black citizens suffer is missing.

    Here are some of the facts the museum does not mention:

    • In absolute terms, the median white household has, in recent years, $111,000  in wealth holdings compared to $7000 for the median black household. That includes homes, cars and savings.
    • 73% of white households owned their home as compared to 43% of black families
    • Unemployment among Blacks is twice the rate of unemployment among Whites
    • The poverty rate among Whites is less than 10% versus 27% among Blacks
    • Cancer is the second leading cause of death for both non-Hispanic Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites. In 2001 the incidence for 100,000 persons was substantially higher for poor Black females than for White females for certain cancers. All in all health for Blacks is significantly worse than for Whites.
    • Infant mortality rates in the US in 2013 was five per thousand births for white women and more than 11 per thousand for black women.
    • Five times as many black people are incarcerated as whites.

    The list of inequalities between Black and White is much longer. In the vast majority of comparisons Blacks are at a disadvantage.

    These omissions are not surprising once we look at the lists of large donors of the Museum. General Motors gave more than $1 million as did Goldman Sachs. The pillars of the current power structure will not want ordinary citizens to know the extent of the racial crisis. They don't want American schoolchildren to leave the museum wondering why the government and the very rich are content to allow these major injustices to continue.

    The relative honesty with which the early history of race relations in this country are treated makes the public trust all of the presentations and thus citizens go home thinking that police brutality towards young black men and women is the last remaining problem that Black people face.

    Downtown Washington DC is one tremendous propaganda effort. The National Museum of African-American History and Culture makes a significant contribution to that propaganda effort.

Surprise, surprise.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Are we civilized? Not really.

When families or single mothers are apprehended at the US border with Mexico, the Border Patrol agents will often take the children away from their elders and send them to a separate detention facility. These children do not have papers of their own. In the border crossing detention system they become anonymous and reuniting them with their parents becomes extremely difficult.
This story really stayed with me as an example of exceptional cruelty. Imagine managing to flee economic deprivation or continual violence in your home country, traversing several Central American countries and Mexico, succeeding to avoid police, and the military, and private parties preying on refugees. Finally you arrive at the United States borders where you hope to find work and security. But instead your children are taken away and cannot be found again. What a terrible fate.
The Border Patrol claims to follow this practice in order to protect the children. But that is so implausible an explanation; it has to be a blatant lie. In rare moments of frankness, officials of the Border Patrol have admitted that they are using this blatant brutality in the hope of discouraging others from Central America to try to enter the United States.
The story reminds us once again of the pervasiveness of cruelty in the world. Notorious examples are everywhere from the Nazi genocide of Jews in Europe to the oppression of Palestinians by Israelis, to the continued destruction of Syria’s towns and villages, leading mass deaths and deprivation of refugees from Syria, from Yemen, and from Somalia and many other places. Everywhere we see armies, civilian government bureaucracies use their power to injure and kill innocents. These cruelties are as old as humankind.
It is tempting to adopt anarchist beliefs that the state is by its very nature coercive and if we want to live in a world without constant brutalization of the weaker members of society, we need to build a society that has no state, no government, no bureaucracies, no standing armies that lord it over citizens.
But this grand project has serious shortcomings. We need bureaucracies to build roads, to install sewer pipes, water pipes, gas pipes. Someone needs to build and staff schools and many other public utilities. The initiative of individual persons does not suffice to provide the infrastructure for villages towns and cities. So it must be someone's job provided those infrastructures.
In addition someone needs to make rules and enforce them. We do not only need schools and teachers in the classrooms. We need to make sure that children go to school until their 16 (or older). And rules need to be enforced. Someone needs to make sure that food sold in stores is not adulterated or contaminated. Someone else needs to make sure that the gallon of milk you buy is indeed a full gallon and that the butcher does not have his thumb on the scale where he sells you a pound of meat. Someone needs to be available to make sure that the house you buy is safe and healthy.
Rules are needed; rules not enforced are useless. It is a waste of time to try to develop reasonable rules if no one is going to make sure that they will be observed. Making sure that the rulings are observed will involve coercion.
And here we face the terrible dilemma. A livable society appears to require rules and their enforcement through coercion. The institutions that administer coercion are the same institutions that act with terrible brutality such as the Border Patrol that tears families apart.
How can we control all the agencies established to enforce laws so that they will not be brutal and, for instance, murder unarmed young black men and women? The question does not seem to have an answer. The question does not get asked very often.
Our history documents barbarity in the treatment of one group by another. We regard ourselves as more civilized than many other nations or cultures but our behavior gives to lie to that claim. We are not merely as barbaric as any of our ancestors, but we are not even willing to consider how that barbarity may be reduced. We must not remain silent about the children taken from their parents.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Renters’ Woes and Citizen’s Rights

A recent newspaper story detailed the challenge faced by low income renters. Earning just enough to get from one end of the month to the next, any extraordinary expense—an unexpected illness, a car that will not start—will leave them short and unable to pay their rent, buy food, or clothing.

Renters who fall behind on their rent payments may suddenly be summoned to court for an eviction hearing. Many tenants in that situation face a choice of missing a day of work and with it a day’s pay but getting evicted anyway, or ignoring the court summons and being sure to be evicted. The tenants find themselves in a lose-lose situation.

Studies in different cities show that in Milwaukee one in fifty (or 2%) of tenants face eviction in any given year. The number is much higher in Richmond, VA where five in 50 or 10 % of renters in any year may find themselves facing eviction. Just in case anyone is tempted to call up the tired stereotype of the poor as people too lazy to go to work, the reader is reminded of the many people who earn minimum wage or less. In Worcester, MA where I live, an increase of the minimum wage to $ 15 would increase the income of more than forty percent of the workforce. More than forty percent of the men and women working earn less than $15.00 an hour or $600 a week, $30,000.00 a year. What happens, on that income, if a drunk runs a red light and totals your car, or when a family member suddenly suffers a serious health crisis not covered by your cheap health insurance? You may well miss one or two rent payments.

Now you receive a summons to appear in court for a hearing in front of a judge whom the landlord has petitioned to allow an eviction. The judge grants the landlord’s petition. You are forced to move, perhaps, to move in with relatives, or into a homeless shelter. Your children may have to go to different schools. Without a permanent address, you may lose your food stamps. The crew sent to evict you often puts all your possessions out in the street to be picked over by bystanders. You may lose possessions. Eviction means a lot more than losing your accustomed home. 

When your finances are on an even keel again and you are ready to rent another apartment for your family, you will have to be able to pay the security deposit plus first and last months’ rent. That is a serious amount of cash. It will take a while to save up that much on your income. But when you finally have the money landlords, you find, are reluctant to rent an apartment to you because you had previously been evicted. From the perspective of the landlords, you are a very poor risk as a prospective tenant.

Someone may acknowledge the troubles tenants encounter but point out that as long as we recognize the rights to private property and the additional rights to earn money by virtue of owning property, tenants may find themselves evicted if they do not pay their rent. It is no doubt true that some landlords do not maintain their property as they should just as surely as some tenants do not treat their rented property with respect. More energetic enforcement of relevant laws is definitely called for.

But this response overlooks the complexities of this situation. Yes, our society recognizes the rights to private property. But we also limit what sorts of things can be private property. The ongoing debate about “privatization” concerns these limits. There is, for instance, the continuing disagreement whether prisons should be privately owned and managed. For the longest time it was thought that it was one of the prerogative of the government to build, maintain and run prisons.

We would not (I hope) allow private contractors to run our elections and count the ballots and make that a worthwhile business by charging each voter a fee. The result would be that poor people would not vote and that is incompatible with our idea of political equality.

For similar reasons, we still maintain an extended network of public schools because we believe that every child has not only the right but even an obligation to be educated. We can strive for fulfillment of this goal only if there are schools accessible even for the indigent. 

Our belief in the legitimacy of using private property to enrich oneself is limited by the reluctance of the majority to allow basic rights to be compromised by turning needed institutions—elections, school-- into private property and private businesses.

The court system is another interesting example of our belief that the rights we ALL have as citizens should not be compromised by making them into private businesses. Every one is entitled to the protection of the law and that includes access to law courts. Courts are publicly financed; if you go to court you need not pay the judge or the court clerk. This is an especially interesting example because it shows not only that we believe that noone should be prevented by limited income from having access to courts and judges. At the same time we are sufficiently ambivalent about all this that we require the assistance of lawyers in most courts and yet make too few lawyers available for free for those who cannot afford paid legal assistance. 

The problem here is, of course, that citizens are very stingy and are not willing to pay the taxes needed to provide affordable legal care to all citizens even though we believe that poverty should not weaken protection by the law.

That ambivalence is also exhibited in the field of health care. Many Americans believe that health care is a basic right. Every person who is entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is entitled to health care, and that means is entitled to adequate health insurance. But most citizens are unwilling to pay for health insurance for those who cannot afford to pay for it themselves.

There is an important lesson in all of this: If we want to really have equal rights for all—without exceptions-- we have to pay for those who cannot afford the price of equality with respect to access to the legal system, with respect to health care, and with respect to housing. Lately the people and the government and legislators in the US become more and more reluctant to assure all that all citizens have full use of their rights. More and more rights are for those who can afford decent housing, adequate nutrition, legal advice where needed and full health insurance. We are less willing everyday to realize the belief we often rehearse that all humans are created equal. Equality is more and more the privilege of those who can afford it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Price "Greatness"?

The economy is booming. It is in better shape than it has been for many years. In many industries there is beginning to be a shortage of workers. People who have not worked for extended periods are going back to work. Unemployment at 4.1% is lower than a long time ago. Things in the economy are truly splendid.
We hear this message almost every day. But there is another message equally frequent: American workers have not gotten a decent raise in about 50 years. A few weeks ago the schoolteachers in West Virginia who make little more than $45,000 a year had to go on strike for nine days in order to get a 5% raise. Now teachers in Oklahoma are considering going on strike. In more than 20 states in the US, schoolteachers earn less than $50,000 a year. If they do not want to live in poverty, they need to have a second and third job. The time they spend away from school, they cannot prepare for their classes, think up new exciting projects for their children, and go and get advanced teacher training because they have second and third jobs just to make ends meet.
Health care is in crisis. Every week there are new plans to cut back health insurance for the poor and almost poor. The government does not have the money to ensure every American adequate health care.
There are significant number of Americans – many of them Americans of color – who are really poor, poor enough for them or their children to go without any food several times a month. If it were not for churches and other civic organizations who put up shelters and soup kitchens for the homeless, they would have to starve and freeze to death in the cold winter. The largest number of homeless persons are mothers with children fleeing violent husbands and boyfriends. Another large cohort are addicts. The government, let alone private institutions, do not have the money to provide enough beds in rehab institutions. There is no help for many addicts who would like to overcome the scourge of addiction. There is no money to build enough low-cost housing for people who cannot afford skyrocketing rents in urban areas.
President Trump was elected on the promise of rebuilding American roads and bridges and public buildings. The actual project as it now emerges is considerably more modest. The government has little money for infrastructure improvement. They can simply hope that private companies will manage to make money off some roads and some bridges and the other ones will simply have to wait – we don't know until when.
The government has cut back on support for scientific research; there is little money for dealing with environmental problems such as major floods, deforestation, and mudslides.
In short, the government is broke. It cannot afford to do a decent job at providing a good life, good education, good health care for all Americans.
The reason for this is obvious. More than half of our government budget of $1.11 trillion a year goes to the military, to a large standing army, to incredibly fancy and sophisticated weapons. It goes towards maintaining American military installations in 737 different locations outside the continental United States. The American military is everywhere. So are more less secret government agencies like the CIA maintaining black sites, secret prisons, and torture chambers in many places we don't even know about.
Spending all this money on the military we are slowly sinking into the condition of a developing country.
"But what would you have us do?" You might say. "Don't you want us to maintain our dominance as a world power? America is the most powerful country on earth and we need to maintain that."
Americans have said this for a long time and not only the man and woman in the street but also leaders like Pres. Obama or Hilary Clinton, let alone President Trump, have been committed to maintaining our preeminence in the world. But in their eagerness to maintain our military capacity, they have impoverished our nation to the point where our claims to dominance are becoming slightly ridiculous.
A country that is unable to feed all its citizens, that provides only a very second-rate education for many of its children, that is unable to house all its citizens at all, let alone decently, that is unable to provide good health care for all, a nation whose citizens die when they drive over bridges that collapse, or when they drive on really poorly maintained roads – can such a nation really claim to be preeminent?
A nation whose values are so mixed up that they believe themselves to be a great nation, although their citizens suffer, because they have military installations all over the world at the expense of a decent life for their citizens – such a nation nation is confused, not preeminent.
Very many Americans understand that in some way. They voted for a man who vowed to make America great again. They know that America is not great today in spite of our $600 billion a year of military budget.
We must take the next step and cut that military budget in half and keep cutting it every year until being an American, rich or poor, means having a decent life, getting enough to eat, living in decent housing. Being assured that your children get as good an education as they can and as good health care as possible – that is part of making America great, not having gold draperies in the Oval Office and people sleeping in the streets in the middle of winter.
A nation is not great that confuses military might with greatness, that cares more about wreaking violence abroad than promoting good lives at home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Myth of the Lazy Poor

The Trump administration has recently suggested that recipients of Medicaid – health insurance for the poor – be forced to have a job or go to school if they want to retain their health insurance, however limited. This revives a theme which has been current in American mythology for a long time. The story is that the poor are to be blamed for their own poverty. They are poor because they refuse to work. Poverty is not anyone's fault except for the poor and their laziness.
People actually believe this, however incredible that may seem. But look at the plain facts: Beginning January 1, 2018 workers on federal contracts must be paid at least $10.35 an hour. If someone works a 40 hour week that amounts to $414. On an annual basis this would amount to $20,700.00. Federal guidelines defined a family of three persons as poor if they are earned $20,780 or less. If two parents have one child and one partner works 40 hours a week all year they are still poor. If two parents both go to work who will take care of their child and how much will that cost them? But what if they want two children?
Disneyland in Anaheim, CA employs more than 30,000 workers. Half of them earn $15.00 an hour or less. In Anaheim, in Orange County, the cost of living is exceptionally high. It takes $33,000.00 for a single person to live, to pay rent, buy food, insurance and maintain a car. If you earn $ 15.00 an hour your annual income is $ 30,000.00. Many Disneyland employees live in their cars or trucks.
People are not poor because they are too lazy to work. They are poor because their earnings are very low. This story about the poor who only have themselves to blame is a myth propagated by employers who pay minimum wage. "It's not our fault" they say, "it's the fault of the poor people themselves." But as we can see there is no truth to this.
Some time ago, I published a blog that dealt with an aspect of these questions. I pointed out that making poor people work for public housing, or Medicare, or food stamps or what have you is often defended on the grounds that everyone ought to work. Against that I argued that it matters a lot what sort of work people are made to do. There is work that is mind numbing and destroys the soul. No one should be forced to do that sort of work. In fact no one should have to do that sort of work. If people were offered work that is interesting, that makes one happy, few would have to be forced to do that.
But now an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Aaron E. Carroll, MD "The Problem with Work Requirements for Medicaid" February 20, 2018, page 646) examines the facts bearing on this project.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 80% of Medicaid recipients "are from working families." This breaks down as follows: 42% work full time, 18% work part-time, 14% do not work at all because they are disabled or ill, 6% attend school. That leaves 19% of Medicaid recipients who do not work at all. Of those 12% are caregivers for ill or disabled family members. Of all Medicaid recipients 7% are not working at all. Among those remaining 7%, some are looking for work and can't find any, and others are retired and or elderly. There remain about 3% of Medicaid recipients who could be described as "able-bodied adults" who choose not to work. This is a very different picture from the "lazy poor" narrative promoted by employers and their advocates among politicians.
Dr. Carroll's article quotes two other studies which find a higher numbers of able-bodied non-working Medicare recipients but those usually include older Americans or Americans who are in some way disabled. There is no evidence that there are a large numbers of poor people who refuse to work. In fact, there are probably more rich people who inherited large fortunes from their parents and grandparents, who are not working than people who live at the edge of poverty. Why allow the rich to be idle and keep bearing down on the hard working people who get paid so poorly that they remain in poverty?
The wealthy who can leave large fortunes to their children and grandchildren often acquire those fortunes by paying poverty wages to their workers. That is a pretty shameful way of making money. Instead of recognizing the immorality of that and paying workers a living wage, many employers use some of the money made by paying too little to live on to get politicians to repeat the myth of the lazy poor.
Do not be taken in by their lies!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Future of White People

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his recent book We Were Eight Years in Power, professes to be an atheist. By that he does not mean that he does not believe that God exists. He means that for him and for other African-Americans there is no hope for a better world. The book is an extended meditation on the eight years of the Obama presidency and his conclusion is very dark: there is no prospect for significant change for the lives of the majority of Black Americans.
The background to this way of talking is not unfamiliar. Most people's religion in our world involves belief in a deity who is a person. We can pray to God, we can ask for God's help in great life crises. We can celebrate the life events – births and deaths – of this personal God. This God is a creator. He shall be referred to as male – we say "God, he…" Most white people certainly think of this God as white. Being a person, God has the attributes of person s. He is kind, he is powerful, he did not only make the world but he can change the course of events for faithful who pray really hard.
But many people have trouble with that sort of conception of God. We are told that that God is good but all around us people suffer terribly. Many people work too hard, many die of terrible diseases, many are left alone when parents or spouses die. There are the victims of wars, of droughts and famines, of hurricanes and tsunamis. If the world we live in is the work of a benevolent God, we must conclude that this God is terribly incompetent or simply does not pay any attention to us. What ever super human powers this God may have, judging by the state of the world, He does not care to use them in favor of the millions and millions who faithfully pray to Him.
One way to escape these difficulties and doubts is to deny that God is a person. Yes there is a spiritual dimension to our lives. Many of us may believe that the world is capable of amelioration, that it makes sense for us to struggle to improve the world in this way or that. There is hope. Looking at the actual state of the world at the half million Syrians killed in the civil war in that country, to mention just one of many examples, having hope for a peaceful future may well require an act of faith. But sometimes human beings do well and are chartable to each other. It is not time to give up hope.
But according to Coates this is not true for African-Americans. Having been exploited and oppressed by Whites for 500 years, since the early 1600s, Coates denies that there is hope for Black Americans. Their situation seems hopeless to them. In spite of centuries of brave and dangerous struggle for freedom and equality, he tells us, there is no hope for them and for that reason he calls himself an atheist.
For white people it still makes sense to have hope. It makes sense for them to be politically active, to spend their time and energy supporting improvements, agitating for a more perfect democracy, defending the rights of those two are being threatened by the forces of political reaction. Since these possibilities of improvement are open, we have an obligation to work towards a better world, a world that is kinder, more peaceful, more generous in opportunities for everyone.
But this openness to betterment is not guaranteed. It is possible for us, at least for white people, to ignore our obligations to better the world until life for everyone becomes a grim and more often than not hopeless struggle for survival. It is easy for us to destroy its natural processes which now allow us to grow food. If most of the globe is made infertile by extended droughts and other regions become uninhabitable from extreme heat or extreme cold or regular deluges of rain, we will loose the power to improve our lives. The possibilities we now have can easily disappear or if we take measures utterly hostile to our continued existence.
If we follow the theology that Coates hints at when he declares himself to be an atheist, we do indeed have an obligation to use all our powers to make this world better, to fight against the people who praise ignorance, who ignore facts in order to enrich themselves, against the owners of coal mines who deny that burning coal destroys our environment, against the growers of tobacco who deny that smoking causes many terrible diseases. To be religious is, in part, to believe that there is a better future ahead. But this future is enormously precarious. We are close to destroying it. We are well on the way of making our situation as hopeless as we have already made it for many people of color.