Five Fold Today
Our Happiness Is Declining -Trump Threatens to Unleash Paramilitary Violence in the US - Survival of the Richest - Uncle Sam Sent Me to Rehab for PTSD - Promises Come By Faith - Prepared For the Days Ahead - Christian Nationalists Have Made Trump Their Savior
March 29th, 2019
Our Happiness Is Declining By Rev. Erin Spengeman Hutchison What can we learn about justice and community from, say, New Zealand?
For the third year in a row, the United States dropped in its happiness ranking in a U.N. initiative´s World Happiness Report, released yesterday - via the Washington Post.
Jesus said, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ - John 13:34-35
What makes you happy? Hearing my children laugh makes me happy. Drinking my morning coffee makes me happy. Little things can make us happy - but truly living in a continued state of happiness is really more complicated than that, the 7th annual World Happiness Report explains.
The report examines 156 countries through the science of well-being,’ accounting for six key factors: social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption, and gross domestic product per capita. And, this year, the report focuses on happiness and community: how information technology, governance, and social norms influence communities.’ The United States has now dropped to number 19, and has never reached the top 10.
The report´s focus on community shows that Americans are becoming more isolated: both our stress and daily habits are driving us inward and toward an epidemic of addictions,’ which includes everything from substance abuse, excessive social media use (especially in adolescents), gambling, and risky sexual behaviors.
Interestingly, the report also notes that Americans are seeing a decline in confidence in government. It states that what governments do affects happiness and in turn the happiness of citizens in most countries determines what kind of governments they support.’ Furthermore, the report says that the idea that policymakers should aim for something beyond GDP is far from new, but a growing contingent of governments are beginning to focus their attention on the subjective well-being - or ‘happiness´ - of citizens.’ It is obvious that our current administration adversely affects the well-being of many Americans, particularly those of non-white races, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and Native Americans. (Heck, I experience increased anxiety due to this administration´s practices, even as a white, cis-gender person.)
The kind of policy that makes one American happy may not contribute to another American´s happiness - but we know that God gives us societal blueprints to aim for: justice, mercy, and care for the orphan, widow, immigrant, marginalized, and poor. Granted, while it is the role of people of faith, not governments, to enact the Way of God in the world, we must realize that results from policy can help enable God´s justice and peace to prevail. Love is not a nebulous goal; it embodies itself in tangible, caring, restorative ways. As Cornel West says, "Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.’
Bottom line: We belong to one another. We must care for one another. We must demand that our elected officials enact policy that contributes to the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of ALL Americans.
March 29th, 2019
Our Happiness Is Declining
By Rev. Erin Spengeman Hutchison
What can we learn about justice and community from, say, New Zealand?
If you need help for addiction, please seek help by calling 800-662-HELP.
If you are contemplating suicide, please call 800-273-TALK.
Remember that prayer has legs: Pray for someone who´s hurting or in need, and then REACH OUT to them! Call, text, send a card, take a meal.
Keep electing officials who seek the well-being of ALL people, and call out your representatives when they side with oppressive policy.
God of Tangible and Radical Love, give us the daily audacity to tangibly love all people, as you have commanded us to do. Give our lawmakers the daily audacity to enact policy that reflects your command to love all people. And, we pray that you, God, will have the audacity to unveil the president´s eyes so that he may no longer be blind to his sin and the needs of others. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 The Resistance Prays
Trump Threatens to Unleash Paramilitary Violence in the US
By Sasha Abramsky
This has been one of those whiplash weeks where so many particularly monstrous words have emanated from Donald Trump´s mouth and Twitter-fingers that it becomes almost dizzying.
Where to focus my outrage? Should I be most concerned about the fact that the supposed leader of the free world’ stumbled through a series of non-answers when asked about the growing threat of white nationalism in the wake of the grotesque massacre of scores of Muslims in New Zealand? Or the fact that last weekend, instead of tweeting sympathy to the victims of that massacre, Trump chose instead to tweet out insults and lies about a dead senator? Or the fact that he threatened to sic the Federal Communications Commission onto a comedy show he didn´t like, while at the same time stepping into the editorial fray to urge Fox News to stand behind two particularly noxious commentators whom he does like?
All these are bad, but none is as bloody awful as his musings on unleashing paramilitary violence if things go too wrong for him in the political arena. In his trademark I didn´t say it’ way, Trump talked in a March 13 Breitbart interview about how he had the police, the military and the biker gangs in his corner and how wonderful it was that they weren´t violent for now; the clear nudge, nudge, wink, wink, subtext being that all he would have to do is give a signal, and his armed proxies would go after his enemies. A few days later, white nationalist Rep. Steve King, one of Trump´s closest ideological soulmates on Capitol Hill, forwarded to his followers a cartoon about the possibility of a modern-day U.S. civil war, and how gun-toting conservatives would have a field day shooting down wishy-washy liberals who couldn´t even work out what public bathrooms they wanted to use.
None of this stuff is remotely funny, and it has no place in a functioning democracy. Of course, many U.S. politicians in the past have called out the hard-hat brigade when it suited them; segregationist Southern governors during the civil rights struggle routinely stoked white mob violence in an effort to block reforms. In 1968, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley unleashed the police against anti-war protesters with the intent of busting open as many heads as possible. In the Tammany Hall days, machine politicians weren´t averse to making unholy alliances with street gangs. More recently, demagogues from Louisiana politician Huey Long to Red Scare architect Joe McCarthy have all-too-well understood the power of the crowd and the potency of the threat of political violence in an already combustible situation.
But for the most part, presidents have tended to stay away from such a dark and dangerous path. They have done so not necessarily because of moral scruples, but out of an awareness of the ferocious (and ultimately uncontainable) forces that can be unleashed when a person with the power and reach of the president of the United States abandons all pretext of democratic governance; of respect for the rule of law; and of an understanding that the game of politics has to be bound by a set of rules or else it will degenerate into strong-man rule, and, eventually, the unfathomable horror of civil conflict.
Trump has, since he first announced his candidacy back in 2015, shown little patience for the limits, the nuance and the necessity of compromise that constitutional governance necessitates. He has, from the get-go, shown himself temperamentally to be an autocrat, a man with dictatorial ambitions who is far more comfortable in the presence of rulers such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Brazil´s President Jair Bolsonaro, than democratic leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Over the last two years, the Trump regime and it is far more a regime than an administration has bent the GOP firmly to his will on this.
Were Trump´s outrageous comments about biker gangs and military intervention in domestic politics just the random utterances of an egocentric authoritarian, things would be grim enough. But over the last two years, various GOP organizations around the country have invited white supremacist groups including the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys to either provide security’ at their rallies or to spice up’ their events with speakers who advocate violence. All of these groups are paramilitaries-in-the-making; all are or at least were before being brought into the mainstream by Trumpite Republicans on the far margins of the political process, their worldview more closely aligned with fascist visions of society than with what passed as GOP mainstream beliefs in the pre-Trump era.
Over these last few years, the GOP has increasingly come to resemble a political party whose raison d´étre is simply to nurture the cult of the personality around Trump rather than to contribute anything genuinely resembling ideas into the political discourse; a political party willing to embrace the most violent and thuggish elements for partisan advantage. The scale of this degeneration was on display last month, when Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz publicly threatened congressional witness and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and then blithely claimed he was just contributing to the marketplace of ideas.’
Let´s be real. Publicly blackmailing a witness is no more about the marketplace of ideas’ than a mobster´s threat to make someone sleep with the fishes’ if they cooperate with the police. Using the presidential bully pulpit to goad an already angry and wrathful base’ to consider violence against political opponents is, again, no more simply part of the democratic rough and tumble, the contest for hearts and minds, than would be the burning of a cross on the lawn of a perceived enemy.
Unfortunately, history is littered with examples of power-hungry rulers turning to paramilitary violence when it was politically expedient. The Sturmabteilung (SA) were the backbone of early Nazi power in Germany. Their sadistic foot soldiers were unleashed against Jews, trade unionists, communists, LGBTQ folks, independent journalists, artists, academics and so on. In Latin America, paramilitaries were instrumental in the dirty wars that decimated a generation of progressives. Elsewhere, paramilitaries have been turned to in recent times by leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as by genocidal leaders such as those in Rwanda and in the Balkan states in the early 1990s.
In his powerful essay, In Defense of the Word,’ written during a decade when most of Latin America had fallen to dictators backed up by paramilitary forces, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote that the combination of authoritarian leaders and armed militias had paved the way for the development of methods of torture, techniques for assassinating people and ideas, for the cultivation of silence, the extension of impotence, and the sowing of fear.’
We think we are different; we are, after all, Americans, and in the U.S., we say to ourselves with a healthy dose of hubris, that we don´t do things that way. But how different are we really? How thin is our veneer? How vulnerable are we to the siren calls of political violence issued from the biggest dais on Earth and amplified by the instruments of social media?
Trump and his acolytes are now truly playing with fire. The more Trump´s legal woes mount up, the more he seems willing to embrace his own Götterdämmerung vision, a willingness to create maximum chaos simply to insulate himself from justice.
In an essay titled Fascism in Latin America,’ Galeano observed that, In the slaughterhouses of human flesh, the hangmen hummed patriotic songs.’ Trump, with his musings about the army, the police, the biker gangs, his literal hugging of the flag at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and his repeated conflation of dissent with treason, is humming loud and clear these days.
Sasha Abramsky is a freelance journalist and a part-time lecturer at the University of California at Davis. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, New York Magazine, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone. Originally from England, he now lives in Sacramento, California, with his wife, daughter and son. He has a masters degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, and is currently a senior fellow at the New York City-based Demos think tank.
Survival of the Richest
All Are Equal, Except Those Who Aren´t
By Nomi Prins
Like a gilded coating that makes the dullest things glitter, today´s thin veneer of political populism covers a grotesque underbelly of growing inequality that´s hiding in plain sight. And this phenomenon of ever more concentrated wealth and power has both Newtonian and Darwinian components to it.
In terms of Newton´s first law of motion: those in power will remain in power unless acted upon by an external force. Those who are wealthy will only gain in wealth as long as nothing deflects them from their present course. As for Darwin, in the world of financial evolution, those with wealth or power will do what´s in their best interest to protect that wealth, even if it´s in no one else´s interest at all.
In George Orwell´s iconic 1945 novel, Animal Farm, the pigs who gain control in a rebellion against a human farmer eventually impose a dictatorship on the other animals on the basis of a single commandment: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ In terms of the American republic, the modern equivalent would be: All citizens are equal, but the wealthy are so much more equal than anyone else (and plan to remain that way).’
Certainly, inequality is the economic great wall between those with power and those without it.
As the animals of Orwell´s farm grew ever less equal, so in the present moment in a country that still claims equal opportunity for its citizens, one in which three Americans now have as much wealth as the bottom half of society (160 million people), you could certainly say that we live in an increasingly Orwellian society. Or perhaps an increasingly Twainian one.
After all, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner wrote a classic 1873 novel that put an unforgettable label on their moment and could do the same for ours. The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today depicted the greed and political corruption of post-Civil War America. Its title caught the spirit of what proved to be a long moment when the uber-rich came to dominate Washington and the rest of America. It was a period saturated with robber barons, professional grifters, and incomprehensibly wealthy banking magnates. (Anything sound familiar?) The main difference between that last century´s gilded moment and this one was that those robber barons built tangible things like railroads. Today´s equivalent crew of the mega-wealthy build remarkably intangible things like tech and electronic platforms, while a grifter of a president opts for the only new infrastructure in sight, a great wall to nowhere.
In Twain´s epoch, the U.S. was emerging from the Civil War. Opportunists were rising from the ashes of the nation´s battered soul. Land speculation, government lobbying, and shady deals soon converged to create an unequal society of the first order (at least until now). Soon after their novel came out, a series of recessions ravaged the country, followed by a 1907 financial panic in New York City caused by a speculator-led copper-market scam.
From the late 1890s on, the most powerful banker on the planet, J.P. Morgan, was called upon multiple times to bail out a country on the economic edge. In 1907, Treasury Secretary George Cortelyou provided him with $25 million in bailout money at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt to stabilize Wall Street and calm frantic citizens trying to withdraw their deposits from banks around the country. And this Morgan did -- by helping his friends and their companies, while skimming money off the top himself. As for the most troubled banks holding the savings of ordinary people? Well, they folded. (Shades of the 2007-2008 meltdown and bailout anyone?)
The leading bankers who had received that bounty from the government went on to cause the Crash of 1929. Not surprisingly, much speculation and fraud preceded it. In those years, the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald caught the era´s spirit of grotesque inequality in The Great Gatsby when one of his characters comments: Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.’ The same could certainly be said of today when it comes to the gaping maw between the have-nots and have-a-lots.
Income vs. Wealth
To fully grasp the nature of inequality in our twenty-first-century gilded age, it´s important to understand the difference between wealth and income and what kinds of inequality stem from each. Simply put, income is how much money you make in terms of paid work or any return on investments or assets (or other things you own that have the potential to change in value). Wealth is simply the gross accumulation of those very assets and any return or appreciation on them. The more wealth you have, the easier it is to have a higher annual income.
Let´s break that down. If you earn $31,000 a year, the median salary for an individual in the United States today, your income would be that amount minus associated taxes (including federal, state, social security, and Medicare ones). On average, that means you would be left with about $26,000 before other expenses kicked in.
If your wealth is $1,000,000, however, and you put that into a savings account paying 2.25% interest, you could receive about $22,500 and, after taxes, be left with about $19,000, for doing nothing whatsoever.
To put all this in perspective, the top 1% of Americans now take home, on average, more than 40 times the incomes of the bottom 90%. And if you head for the top 0.1%, those figures only radically worsen. That tiny crew takes home more than 198 times the income of the bottom 90% percent. They also possess as much wealth as the nation´s bottom 90%. Wealth,’ as Adam Smith so classically noted almost two-and-a-half-centuries ago in The Wealth of Nations, is power,’ an adage that seldom, sadly, seems outdated.
A Case Study: Wealth, Inequality, and the Federal Reserve
Obviously, if you inherit wealth in this country, you´re instantly ahead of the game. In America, a third to nearly a half of all wealth is inherited rather than self-made. According to a New York Times investigation, for instance, President Donald Trump, from birth, received an estimated $413 million (in today´s dollars, that is) from his dear old dad and another $140 million (in today's dollars) in loans. Not a bad way for a businessman’ to begin building the empire (of bankruptcies) that became the platform for a presidential campaign that oozed into actually running the country. Trump did it, in other words, the old-fashioned way -- through inheritance.
In his megalomaniacal zeal to declare a national emergency at the southern border, that gilded millionaire-turned-billionaire-turned-president provides but one of many examples of a long record of abusing power. Unfortunately, in this country, few people consider record inequality (which is still growing) as another kind of abuse of power, another kind of great wall, in this case keeping not Central Americans but most U.S. citizens out.
The Federal Reserve, the country´s central bank that dictates the cost of money and that sustained Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 (and since), has finally pointed out that such extreme levels of inequality are bad news for the rest of the country. As Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a town hall in Washington in early February, "We want prosperity to be widely shared. We need policies to make that happen." Sadly, the Fed has largely contributed to increasing the systemic inequality now engrained in the financial and, by extension, political system. In a recent research paper, the Fed did, at least, underscore the consequences of inequality to the economy, showing that income inequality can generate low aggregate demand, deflation pressure, excessive credit growth, and financial instability.’
In the wake of the global economic meltdown, however, the Fed took it upon itself to reduce the cost of money for big banks by chopping interest rates to zero (before eventually raising them to 2.5%) and buying $4.5 trillion in Treasury and mortgage bonds to lower it further. All this so that banks could ostensibly lend money more easily to Main Street and stimulate the economy. As Senator Bernie Sanders noted though, The Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world... a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you're-on-your-own individualism for everyone else."
The economy has been treading water ever since (especially compared to the stock market). Annual gross domestic product growth has not surpassed 3% in any year since the financial crisis, even as the level of the stock market tripled, grotesquely increasing the country´s inequality gap. None of this should have been surprising, since much of the excess money went straight to big banks, rich investors, and speculators. They then used it to invest in the stock and bond markets, but not in things that would matter to all the Americans outside that great wall of wealth.
The question is: Why are inequality and a flawed economic system mutually reinforcing? As a starting point, those able to invest in a stock market buoyed by the Fed´s policies only increased their wealth exponentially. In contrast, those relying on the economy to sustain them via wages and other income got shafted. Most people aren´t, of course, invested in the stock market, or really in anything. They can´t afford to be. It´s important to remember that nearly 80% of the population lives paycheck to paycheck.
The net result: an acute post-financial-crisis increase in wealth inequality -- on top of the income inequality that was global but especially true in the United States. The crew in the top 1% that doesn´t rely on salaries to increase their wealth prospered fabulously. They, after all, now own more than half of all national wealth invested in stocks and mutual funds, so a soaring stock market disproportionately helps them. It´s also why the Federal Reserve subsidy policies to Wall Street banks have only added to the extreme wealth of those extreme few.
The Ramifications of Inequality
The list of negatives resulting from such inequality is long indeed. As a start, the only thing the majority of Americans possess a greater proportion of than that top 1% is a mountain of debt.
The bottom 90% are the lucky owners of about three-quarters of the country´s household debt. Mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit-card debt are cumulatively at a record-high $13.5 trillion.
And that´s just to start down a slippery slope. As Inequality.org reports, wealth and income inequality impact everything from life expectancy to infant mortality and obesity.’ High economic inequality and poor health, for instance, go hand and hand, or put another way, inequality compromises the overall health of the country. According to academic findings, income inequality is, in the most literal sense, making Americans sick. As one study put it, Diseased and impoverished economic infrastructures [help] lead to diseased or impoverished or unbalanced bodies or minds.’
Then there´s Social Security, established in 1935 as a federal supplement for those in need who have also paid into the system through a tax on their wages. Today, all workers contribute 6.2% of their annual earnings and employers pay the other 6.2% (up to a cap of $132,900) into the Social Security system. Those making far more than that, specifically millionaires and billionaires, don´t have to pay a dime more on a proportional basis. In practice, that means about 94% of American workers and their employers paid the full 12.4% of their annual earnings toward Social Security, while the other 6% paid an often significantly smaller fraction of their earnings.
According to his own claims about his 2016 income, for instance, President Trump contributed a mere 0.002 percent of his income to Social Security in 2016.’ That means it would take nearly 22,000 additional workers earning the median U.S. salary to make up for what he doesn´t have to pay. And the greater the income inequality in this country, the more money those who make less have to put into the Social Security system on a proportional basis. In recent years, a staggering $1.4 trillion could have gone into that system, if there were no arbitrary payroll cap favoring the wealthy.
Inequality: A Dilemma With Global Implications
America is great at minting millionaires. It has the highest concentration of them, globally speaking, at 41%. (Another 24% of that millionaires´ club can be found in Europe.) And the top 1% of U.S. citizens earn 40 times the national average and own about 38.6% of the country´s total wealth. The highest figure in any other developed country is only’ 28%.
However, while the U.S. boasts of epic levels of inequality, it´s also a global trend. Consider this: the world´s richest 1% own 45% of total wealth on this planet. In contrast, 64% of the population (with an average of $10,000 in wealth to their name) holds less than 2%. And to widen the inequality picture a bit more, the world´s richest 10%, those having at least $100,000 in assets, own 84% of total global wealth.
The billionaires' club is where it´s really at, though. According to Oxfam, the richest 42 billionaires have a combined wealth equal to that of the poorest 50% of humanity. Rest assured, however, that in this gilded century there´s inequality even among billionaires. After all, the 10 richest among them possess $745 billion in total global wealth. The next 10 down the list possess a mere $451.5 billion, and why even bother tallying the next 10 when you get the picture?
Oxfam also recently reported that the number of billionaires has almost doubled, with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018. They have now more wealth than ever before while almost half of humanity have barely escaped extreme poverty, living on less than $5.50 a day.’
How Does It End?
In sum, the rich are only getting richer and it´s happening at a historic rate. Worse yet, over the past decade, there was an extra perk for the truly wealthy. They could bulk up on assets that had been devalued due to the financial crisis, while so many of their peers on the other side of that great wall of wealth were economically decimated by the 2007-2008 meltdown and have yet to fully recover.
What we´ve seen ever since is how money just keeps flowing upward through banks and massive speculation, while the economic lives of those not at the top of the financial food chain have largely remained stagnant or worse. The result is, of course, sweeping inequality of a kind that, in much of the last century, might have seemed inconceivable.
Eventually, we will all have to face the black cloud this throws over the entire economy. Real people in the real world, those not at the top, have experienced a decade of ever greater instability, while the inequality gap of this beyond-gilded age is sure to shape a truly messy world ahead. In other words, this can´t end well.
Nomi Prins, a former Wall Street executive, is a TomDispatch regular. Her latest book is Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World (Nation Books). She is also the author of All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power and five other books. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer´s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
Copyright 2019 Nomi Prins
Uncle Sam Sent Me to Rehab for PTSD
Major Danny Sjursen
I arrived an absolute mess; most of us did. Bloated cheeks, sunken eyes, wearing my PTSD and depression on every inch of my face. I can´t say I really wanted to be there, even if I had volunteered. Ironic, wasn´t it?
This, a civilian treatment facility in nowhere, Arizona, was to be my last official duty as an officer in the U.S. Armyan ignominious end to a once-bright career. Still, the truth is I needed it: After several years of treatment for post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, I wasn´t getting any better. The Army saw it and decided to retire me a few years early. Over the last year, my life ran off the railsself medicating, spiraling, the standard drill for a broken vet.
Only those closest to me saw it; however, these were the very ones I´d hurt, who couldn´t take it anymorewith the fallout of bridges burned and relationships sabotaged. Nonetheless, most of us remain publicly functional long after these afflictions have taken the wheel. The frightening paradox of it all was that while my writing only improved, my emotional health deteriorated. That said, kudos to the Army, I suppose, for footing the bill and offering the opportunity for inpatient treatment on my way out the proverbial door. That´s how they do it: Ask the impossible, shatter a life, send for help when you´re too far gone to be of much use any longerthe assembly line of endless wars and the unfortunates who fight them.
It was a strange place, this facility on the outskirts of Phoenix. And expensive! Some 60 percent of the clients’ (as the staff unnervingly referred to patients) were wealthy professionals, well-off white folks with afflictions ranging from depression to suicidal ideation to personality disorders to heroin addiction. Some had Cadillac health insurance plans; a surprising number paid cash, a cool 60 grand.
The rest, well, they were veterans, active or retired, from every branch of the service. Tricare, our (ironically) socialistic government insurer, footed the bill. These men and women, my peers, looked and spoke differently from the civilian clients’ at the center. A microcosm of the select class of volunteers that fight America´s hopeless wars, they were generally enlisted, younger, browner, poorer, less educated and more rural than their civilian counterparts. God, you could just feel the distance that separates military from civilian society in the 21st-century United Statesthe chasm between polite society and an increasingly unrepresentative military caste.
Perhaps you´re wondering just who these kidsactually, they ranged from 20 to 50 years oldwere, what they were in for,’ what they were like. While omitting their names, as is customary when reporting about mental-health matters, let me provide a snapshot, a representation of a generation of damaged warriors the U.S. government has lately produced.
Every morning the lot of us would circle up and publicly announce our name, claim and affirmation. The name was just a given one with a one-letter last initialanonymity was a way of life in recovery. The affirmation was a positive statement about ourselves meant to rewire the brain to think happy thoughts. Most interesting was the claim, the list of problems that each vet suffered from. Among the civilians, the claims were fairly diverse, but among my fellow veterans, almost everyone claimed what I took to calling the Military Big Four’: depression, anxiety, PTSD and alcohol abuse.
See, the formula is as simple as it is dreadful: The military takes these kids, trains ‘em for a few months, then sends them off to some unwinnable war (Iraq and Afghanistan are the current go-to spots). There, they´re sometimes killed or mutilated, but more often than not they suffer PTSD and moral injury from what they´ve seen and done. Then they go home, released into the wild of some shitty garrison town. At that point, the trauma begins to manifest as major depression and crippling anxiety. Finally, just to function, or in order to fit into society, the vet begins self-medicating; alcohol is most common, but opiates, and eventually even heroin, are also prevalent. If they spiral too low or consider/attempt suicide, well, then, they end up along with yours truly in an inpatient facility.
Some, and I met more than two dozen like this, are there by mandate, as part of an impending punishment for some alcohol-related’ incident like a fight, hospitalization, arrest or DUI. Make no mistake, our punitive military is still grappling with the correct balance between discipline and treatment. Punishment they know, it´s comfortable; actual treatment, that´s another story.
It´s ironic, though, this obsession with stamping out alcohol-induced incidents.’ After all, the military in which I served supported a culture of alcohol abuse, of binge drinking at every major unit affairand we had lots of them. Then, back in their modest homes, it was no big secret that troopers from the ranks of private to major general regularly abused substances to numb combat trauma. Just about every vet down in Arizona fit this disturbing profile.
There were other unsettling trends. Perhaps 25 percent had attempted or seriously considered suicide just prior to intake. That shouldn´tbe surprisingafter all, military suicide is a veritable epidemic, with an average of 22 successful veteran attempts on the dailybut I bet it still is for many uninformed civilians.
Then there were the female vets. I hadn´t served with many of these during my time in pre-integrated combat units, so even I was a bit shocked by what I found. No less than half the military women in the facility were victims of sexual assault while in the service. And, though the active military touts its recent successes on this front, the disreputable patterns persist. Statistics indicate that one in four female veterans report at least one sexual assault during their term of service. Despicable.
Meeting these women in person, I couldn´t help but wonder if Democratic presidential hopeful and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is right: The military might not be capable of processing and prosecuting these cases fairly, and it´s time for civilian arbiters to take over. This, of course, rates as blasphemy among my fellow officers, who guard their authorities with special care, but my time in Arizona indicated the status quo is irreparably broken.
Consider a few final vignettes about my peers in the facility, many of whom are representative of thousands more similar cases. There was my Air Force buddy from whom I´d become inseparable and who´d served a tour in mortuary affairs cleaning and processing the bodies of young American troopers. His dreams haunted by that experience for years, he turned inward, to the bottle, and, eventually attempted suicide. The poor guy just wanted out of his contract, but the Air Force wouldn´t let him go.
Then there was the former army infantryman, wounded in a bomb attack, crippled by chronic pain after retiring. He turned to opiates for relief, then to cheaper heroin, and finally, to more powerful synthetic fentanyl. He overdosed, found himself in the emergency room a time or two, and awoke in Arizona.
I remain haunted, too, by the ever-so-young serviceman who checked in for alcohol abuse and depression but was actually suffering as a closeted homosexual. Despite the Obama-era repeal of don´t ask, don´t tell’ restrictions on gays in the military, neither the kid´s family nor his still-patriarchal and homophobic military peers were accepting. He came out before our eyes in a highly emotional way. I´ll never forget it.
You see, it was the very youth of so many of these men and women at the time of their trauma that was striking. Here we all were, at the funny farm, but I started to realize that so many of these oh-so-publicly adulated veterans arrived crazy by design.’ After all, the military grabs kids, purposefully, before their brains have fully developed, when they´re physically and emotionally pliant. Many, I´d guess a disproportionate number, enter service with a history of childhood trauma and hail from families positioned on the bottom half of the economic scale. Our government then uses and abuses them, ships them off to wars that can´t be won (and that Congress never even authorized) and implants emotional grenades in their psyches. That´s the last the American people usually hear of thembut I spent a month with those for whom the grenade has finally exploded.
Such is the tragic reality: The military breaks us and then kindly allots 30-45 days to get right.’ The outcomes, I fear, will be less than hopeful.
I´ve left now, with Arizona in my rear view, never, I hope, to return. Nevertheless, part of me stayed there, just as pieces of my soul still roam Baghdad and Kandahar. Something about the latest experience sticks with me; I can´t shake the thoughtsperhaps some inherent meaning that´s all in the mind. Anyway, heck, I´m a writer. May as well write about it.
Here it is: I´m left with the profound, if hopeless, wish that every American voter and aspirant adolescent soldier would spend a moment with the veterans in rehab across this country tonight. To know what I know, to see what weall of ushave allowed to happen in our names. There´s romance, and naivety, in that wish, I know, but I wish it just the same.
But oh, the satire of it all: I hadn´t wanted to go to that loony bin’ in Arizona in the first place, but there I eventually stood, crying in the airport on my discharge date. I fell in something approaching love, literally and figuratively, with some of my peers, friends I hope, in the program. In treatment I was safe, and healthy, and authenticthe so-called crazy clients, especially the band of broken vets, really got me. The outside was terrifying; maybe it should be.
Then it hit me. This transition, out of the madhouse and into the world, was bigger than my own manageable diagnoses. It was the typical discomfiting journey of the professional soldier back into a society that is no more ready for us than we are for it. Think on that for a moment.
No amount of yellow ribbons or thank-you-for-your-service salutes can alter an unmistakable reality. Our countryyour countryhas waged perpetual war, across the globe, against an ill-defined enemy and with scant hope for victory,’ for nearly two decades. It´s cost some 6 trillion tax dollars, sacrificed 7,000 soldiers and contributed to the killing of perhaps 500,000 foreigners, including 240,000 civilians. It has done so with a professional, volunteer military, one that´s disjointed from the populace and largely operates in the shadows. Through it all, you´re no safer nowmaybe less sothan on 9/11, when many of the damaged vets I met were just children. America, your government owns the fractious world it helped create, andlike it or notowns the hundreds of thousands of PTSD-afflicted vets living within its borders.
Even if the wars ended tomorrow (they won´t, by the way), American society has another half-century ahead of it, laden with the burden of these unnecessary disabled veterans. It´s inescapable. Would that we´d learn from the tragedy of the forever war as it´s been waged, but chances are our leaders, current and future, will be far too obtuse for all that.
So on the war machine rolls, flattening all before it. Still, the invisible wounds are suffered at home, by my friendsthe men and women I slept, ate, laughed and cried with in nowhere, Arizona. I´m tempted to (fruitlessly) plea with the American people: Watch how you vote! Skip the next war! Support your vets by creating fewer of them!
After all, they´re the heart and soul, the best I´ve ever seen. Some will recover and lead happy, meaningful lives. Most won´t, statistically speaking. Alas, they matter.
I wish only this: that you´ll see them, as they saw meand, perhaps, spare them a sincere thought now and again.
Major Danny Sjursen, a regular Truthdig contributor, is a retired U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.’ He lives in Lawrence, Kansas. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his podcast Fortress on a Hill, co-hosted with fellow vet Chris Henri’ Henrikson.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen
Promises Come By Faith
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspringnot only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all (Romans 4:16)
The Apostle Paul has just spent the past 16 verses making the case that righteousness cannot be earned. He says it in so many ways that hopefully we´ll start realizing that this right standing with God only comes by faith. Then he turns a sharp corner so all of us reading this letter will have an amazing, jaw-dropping Ah-ha’ moment! Here it is:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed ’
Did you know that God´s promises are guaranteed?
They are absolutely ours in Christ Jesus. Paul wrote the Corinthian church, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes´ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen´ is spoken by us to the glory of God’ (2 Cor. 1:20).
In other words, God wants us to experience all the amazing things He´s promised us (Heb. 6:17-18). So to make sure this happens, He devised a fool-proof way for us to access them: faith.
But here´s where it gets tricky, as faith is like a muscle, and sometimes we have to work at it and learn how to exercise it before seeing any results. This is why this account of Abraham is invaluable. In my opinion, it is the best case study of faith accessing a promise from God. It is a formula that we, too, can use to see the scriptures´ promises come to pass in our own lives.
Here´s what Abraham did to obtain his promise that he would have a son and bless the entire world:
He started speaking in faith and understanding that God creates life where none existed (Rom. 4:17).
He left natural hope behind and got himself some supernatural hope in order to believe this outrageous promise (Rom. 4:18).
He faced the reality of his situation (Rom. 4:19).
He started rejoicing in the midst of his pain (Rom. 4:20).
He was fully persuaded that God would do what He promised (Rom. 4:21).
He saw the promise fulfilled (Rom. 4:22-23).
We are eventually going to examine all of things in detail, but today let´s revel in this amazing, jaw-dropping declaration by Paul that God´s promises are guaranteed by faith because God is so gracious and full of grace toward us.
So let´s prepare ourselves for what´s coming in the next verses:
Do you know a promise from God´s Word for any situation you are facing?
Where are you struggling to believe a promise from God´s Word?
What are the things that affect your ability to believe this promise (i.e., waiting, unsure that it´s God will for you, etc.)?
Prepared For the Days Ahead
The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night [suddenly]’ (2 Peter 3:10). God uses faithful servants sometimes those with national pulpits and at other times humble, unknown, hidden watchmen to deliver his words of warning. Only those who are not in love with this world and yearn for the coming of the Lord will have the message ring true in their hearts.
God warns his faithful ones so that when sudden disaster strikes, they are not swept away with fear. When dreadful events occur, God´s people must know that what has happened is not an accident or a random act. They are to have the peace of Christ in their hearts, knowing that our God is still master of the universe. They will not panic when other men´s hearts are failing them for fear at all the frightful things they see coming on the earth.
Peter goes on to say, The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up’ (3:10).
To whom is the apostle Peter addressing these words? The answer is found in 2 Peter 3:1: Beloved, I now write to you.’ He is addressing the faithful remnant of believers. Whenever we hear words like Peter´s, our first response is to recoil. There´s too much bad news today. Why do we have to hear this message now? Why not just let it happen?’ But Peter had a reason: Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness’ (3:11).
In light of the sudden dissolving of all things, God´s beloved people ought to check their own behavior. Those who look for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy ought to be conformed to the image of Christ, in conduct, in conversation and in thought. Make no mistake, the fire is coming. And for that reason, we are to be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless’ (3:14).
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Christian Nationalists Have Made Trump Their Savior
A few months ago, Katherine Stewartwhose reporting focuses on the intersection of politics and religionwrote something pretty jarring about the white evangelicals who dominate Trump´s base.
As the Trump presidency falls under siege on multiple fronts, it has become increasingly clear that the so-called values voters will be among the last to leave the citadel. A lot of attention has been paid to the supposed paradox of evangelicals backing such an imperfect man, but the real problem is that our idea of Christian nationalism hasn´t caught up with the reality. We still buy the line that the hard core of the Christian right is just an interest group working to protect its values. But what we don´t get is that Mr. Trump´s supposedly anti-Christian attributes and anti-democratic attributes are a vital part of his attraction.
Today´s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America´s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king.
Stewart wrote that in the context of noting that some white evangelicals have compared Donald Trump to King Cyrus, who ruled the Persian empire in the 6th century BC.
Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.
Now we learn that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is comparing Trump to another biblical figure.
In an interview in Jerusalem, the Christian Broadcast Network´s Chris Mitchell asked Pompeo, could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?’ Esther is the main heroine of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which was celebrated this week.
As a Christian, I certainly believe that´s possible,’ Pompeo said.
Pompeo added that he is confident that the Lord is at work here’ when he sees the remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration´s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains.’
According to the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, she became queen of the Persian Empire during the 5th century BC and saved the Jews from being exterminated. Notice that, for the reporter from the Christian Broadcast Network, Esther saved the Jewish people from the Iranian menace.’ That is exactly how Christian nationalists like Pompeo are framing the threat today: Donald Trump is defending Israel against the current-day Iranian menace.
All of this is cultish and disturbing on many levelsnot the least of which is the fact that our foreign policy is being managed by a man who thinks he´s playing out some kind of biblical prophecy. But the most dangerous part is that cults are inherently authoritarian, which takes me back to what Stewart wrote.
I have attended dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. And while I have heard plenty of comments casting doubt on the more questionable aspects of Mr. Trump´s character, the gist of the proceedings almost always comes down to the belief that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord. I have also learned that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.
This isn´t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren´t fighting a culture war. They´re making a direct attack on democracy itself.
They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.
The fact that Christian nationalists have anointed the most amoral man to ever occupy the White House as their savior tells us that their allegiance to him isn´t grounded in principle, but in authoritarian power that puts them above the law. That´s the kind of political leadership they´ve been looking for.
Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.
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