2008
04.30

This is an update to an earlier JMBzine post.

TulsaWorld.com: ‘Tomato Man’ Darrell Merrell dies at age 68

KJRH.com: “Tomato Man” Darrell Merrell passes away

Newson6.com: “Tomato Man” Remembered

2008
04.30

MSNBC/AP: One-year Treasury bill returns as deficit soars — Bush adminstration expands borrowing options after stimulus checks sent

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, moving to cope with soaring budget deficits, says it is bringing back the one-year Treasury bill that it stopped issuing seven years ago when the budget was in surplus.

The administration said Wednesday it would begin selling the one-year bill, also referred to as a 52-week bill, at an initial auction in June. New one-year securities will be auctioned every four weeks.

The government is looking for various ways to borrow the billions of dollars in extra cash it will need to cover a budget deficit that is expected to jump to an all-time high this year, surpassing the old mark of $413 billion set in 2004.

A big part of the increased borrowing reflects the need to pay for economic-stimulus rebates to 130 million households. The government began disbursing the payments on Monday in an effort to give the economy a jump start. . .

Oh great… so this economic stimulus is from borrowed money? This is utter insanity.

2008
04.29

CNN: Obama ‘outraged’ by Wright’s remarks

(CNN) — Sen. Barack Obama said he is “outraged” by comments his former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made Monday at the National Press Club and is “saddened by the spectacle.”

“I have been a member of Trinity Church since 1992. I have known Rev. Wright for almost 20 years,” he said at a news conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “The person I saw yesterday is not the person I met 20 years ago.”

Obama said he is outraged by Wright’s remarks that seemed to suggest the U.S. government might be responsible for the spread of AIDS in the black community and his equation of some American wartime efforts with terrorism. . .

I just finished reading Reverend Wright’s message (at NYTimes: Reverend Wright at the National Press Club – transcript) and I must say that, Rev. Wright is right on in my book.

The only thing I could possibly question was his belief that AIDS was intentionally created to destroy the black community. I think it is more accurate to say that the powers that be don’t give a damn about poor people, gay people, and black people, and that’s why AIDS was ignored for so long in America and is still being pretty much ignored in Africa. But I don’t think there’s proof that AIDS was intentionally created.

But with that aside, the rest of Wright’s remarks were DEAD ON THE MONEY.

Read it for yourself. I double-dog dare you too. As far as I’m concerned, if Obama is ashamed of this message, then I don’t think Obama is someone that I can vote for. In fact if I had to vote today, I would write in Jeremiah Wright.

Here’s one excerpt from the speech that I want to leave you with, which I think is particularly profound…

. . . That is my hope, as I open up this two-day symposium. And I open it as a pastor and a professor who comes from a long tradition of what I call the prophetic theology of the black church.

Now, in the 1960s, the term “liberation theology” began to gain currency with the writings and the teachings of preachers, pastors, priests, and professors from Latin America. Their theology was done from the underside.

Their viewpoint was not from the top down or from a set of teachings which undergirded imperialism. Their viewpoints, rather, were from the bottom up, the thoughts and understandings of God, the faith, religion and the Bible from those whose lives were ground, under, mangled and destroyed by the ruling classes or the oppressors.

Liberation theology started in and started from a different place. It started from the vantage point of the oppressed.

In the late 1960s, when Dr. James Cone’s powerful books burst onto the scene, the term “black liberation theology” began to be used. I do not in any way disagree with Dr. Cone, nor do I in any way diminish the inimitable and incomparable contributions that he has made and that he continues to make to the field of theology. Jim, incidentally, is a personal friend of mine.

I call our faith tradition, however, the prophetic tradition of the black church, because I take its origins back past Jim Cone, past the sermons and songs of Africans in bondage in the transatlantic slave trade. I take it back past the problem of Western ideology and notions of white supremacy.

I take and trace the theology of the black church back to the prophets in the Hebrew Bible and to its last prophet, in my tradition, the one we call Jesus of Nazareth.

The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive. Liberating the captives also liberates who are holding them captive.

It frees the captives and it frees the captors. It frees the oppressed and it frees the oppressors.

Read that last sentence again. I wish Obama had the moral courage to say Amen to Rev. Wright instead of to condemn him.

Here are two more excerpts that I thought were pretty profound…

Dr. Jones, in his book, God in the ghetto, argues quite accurately that one’s theology, how I see God, determines one’s anthropology, how I see humans, and one’s anthropology then determines one’s sociology, how I order my society.

Now, the implications from the outside are obvious. If I see God as male, if I see God as white male, if I see God as superior, as God over us and not Immanuel, which means “God with us,” if I see God as mean, vengeful, authoritarian, sexist, or misogynist, then I see humans through that lens.

. . . to quote the Bible, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever you sow, that you also shall reap.” Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.

2008
04.27

Newsweek/MSNBC: The fence is coming, and it’s causing Texas-size problems for the folks of one city in particular.

For five generations, the Benavidez family has lived on a seven-acre plot of serene farmland near the U.S.-Mexico border west of Brownsville, Texas. They’ve harvested cotton and squash and raised goats and pigs. They’ve helped sculpt the levee that snakes across the rear of the property. They’ve given birth there, married there and died there. Their connection to the land runs so deep that they can’t imagine parting with even a piece of it. So two weeks ago, when federal employees arrived asking to purchase a rectangular slice abutting the levee for $4,100 to make way for a border fence aimed at deterring illegal immigrants, they refused. “I don’t want to scare you,” Idalia Benavidez, 77, says one of the employees told her, “but whether you agree or not, the government’s going to make the fence.” If the Feds get their way, an 18-foot-high barrier will soon traverse the Benavidez property, cutting off their cows from a pasture south of the fence’s proposed path. “It’s going to be ugly,” says Benavidez. Worse still, she predicts, “it’s not going to work.”

That mostly sums up the current sentiment along the Texas border. But the Brownsville area in particular—where a unique alliance of politicians, business leaders, farmers, environmental activists, church groups and ordinary citizens has challenged the fence—has become the epicenter of the fight. On April 28 many of those constituencies plan to air their grievances at a congressional field hearing in the city designed to examine the fence’s impact. Opponents decry “the wall,” as they call it, as a waste of money better spent on more border personnel and surveillance technology. They lament what they consider outsiders’ misunderstanding of south Texas culture, with its Anglo-Mexican blend and its view of the Rio Grande as a meeting point rather than a dividing line. And they argue that it will crimp the economy and trample landowners’ rights. . .

The Rio Grande “as a meeting point rather than a dividing line” — that seems pretty profound and true to me. That was one of the many things I loved about Texas when I lived there, it was an in-between place, a place where Anglo and Mexican culture met and blended. Sometimes the blending was lumpy, like cake dough that’s not stirred enough, other times the mix was just perfect and became something unique and special that was better than the sum of its parts.

The wall will hurt things a lot. The blending will still happen of course. You can’t stop culture and people from coming in and out, wall or no wall, but it will create more resentments and hurt. And poor folks will suffer needlessly. Families will be even more isolated and more migrants will end up dying after taking extreme measures to get across.

I am proud that my church works with a sister church in Brownsville to help the undocumented folks coming from Mexico, but I wish there was more that could be done to mend this hurt. I am glad though that the folks in Brownsville (on the US side) are speaking out against the wall and in support of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall.

2008
04.26

CNN: Atheist soldier claims harassment

JUNCTION CITY, Kansas (AP) — Like hundreds of young men joining the Army in recent years, Jeremy Hall professes a desire to serve his country while it fights terrorism.

But the short and soft-spoken specialist is at the center of a legal controversy. He has filed a lawsuit alleging he’s been harassed and his constitutional rights have been violated because he doesn’t believe in God. The suit names Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“I’m not in it for cash,” Hall said. “I want no one else to go what I went through.”

Known as “the atheist guy,” Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and — just as severe to some soldiers — gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals.

“I see a name and rank and United States flag on their shoulder. That’s what I believe everyone else should see,” he said.

Hall, 23, was raised in a Protestant family in North Carolina and dropped out of school. It wasn’t until he joined the Army that he began questioning religion, eventually deciding he couldn’t follow any faith.

But he feared how that would look to other soldiers.

“I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist,” Hall said.

It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.

“I said, ‘No, but I believe in Plexiglas,”‘ Hall said. “I’ve never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I’m worm food.” . . .

This story doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen similiar scenarios through the eyes of my clients, who have been discriminated in little and big ways for having views that are unpopular when it comes to faith issues. SPC Hall in this story caught flack for being an atheist, but I’ve had clients catch grief for being Wiccans, for being Baptist (but not believing in war), and I’ve had clients catch flack just for questioning the theology that is pushed on them by the chaplains.

I think it is critical that the military follow the first amendment on both of the religion clauses — (1) free exercise — servicemembers should have the right to practice their faith as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others (a commander should not be proselytizing subordinates, at least when he or she is on the clock, even if proseltization is a religious duty for the commander), and (2) establishment – the military should not respect one religion over another, or push servicemembers to practice any faith.

And I think it should go without saying (but apparently it needs to be said), that the freedom of religion encompasses the freedom not to believe.

Anyway I’ll be rooting for SPC Hall in this fight.

For more information on this issue, go to: MilitaryReligiousFreedom.org

2008
04.25

My friend, Darrell Merrell, “The Tomato Man,” passed away yesterday at about 4:30 p.m. I know he had suffered for a long time with cancer and it was his time to go, but it still is such a sad thing.

I feel such a debt to him. I loved and dabbled in gardening before I met him, but he really awakened my eyes to the beauty of it and the value of saving seeds of the old heirloom varieties. I got to even help a little bit with his operation (which shortly after I got to know him became a partnership with his daughter Lisa) on a few weekends, helping to sell plants mostly, but also getting to do other stuff sometimes.

And strangely enough too, Darrell (a confirmed atheist, and he had good reasons to be one. A very thoughtful and intelligent man) frankly helped me to be closer to God. I’m sure Darrell won’t appreciate me saying this*, but Darrell’s love for all of the complexity of different heirloom varieties of tomatoes and peppers made me all the more amazed at the incredibleness of creation itself, and the beauty of how evolution works; whether it is natural selection, or artificial selection— what human beings do when they choose to save seeds from one plant instead of another plant. And really how that right kind of gardening was a bit like cooperating with God in the on-going work of creation itself.

There’s so much I want to say more, but the words aren’t there to express them. Mostly that Darrell died a man loved by many, that his family and friends are in my prayers, and that I hope his legacy continues on in the gardens of many. — in fact that’s one thing I want to help on. I still have some Yellow 1884 Pinkheart seeds (a variety that Darell discovered… a cross between an unknown yellow and the 1884 tomato) that I’m going to grow either this fall or next spring, which I’ll then save the seeds from. If all goes well, I’ll then start giving new seeds to folks who promise to grow the plants and share the seeds with someone else.

Lastly, it’s not too late to get some of Darrell’s plants. Check out the Tomatoman’s Daughter (newly redesigned by Bibi, Lisa’s partner) website to see the plant list for this year and directions out to the farm.

* well, actually he might not… I suspect he’s already out there tending his new big garden in the hereafter, so he’s likely made his peace with God and all.

2008
04.21

This story from Courage to Resist is about a client of mine who is currently in pre-trial confinement as he is being prosecuted for following the higher law of conscience and refusing to participate anymore in the US military.

CourageToResist.org: Army imprisons outspoken war objector — PFC Ryan Jackson held in pre-trail confinement to mute criticism of war; supporters mount campaign protesting expected court-martial (includes audio interview with Jackson)

“Since I joined up with Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War, my life has changed. I plan to write a book about all of this, and to make positive change in my community when I get out,” said AWOL PFC Ryan Jackson, before turning himself in at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on April 4. He had been absent without leave since December when a local commander vetoed his pending discharged from the 35th Signal Brigade at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

25-year old PFC Jackson joined the Army in 2005, and aspired to join the Special Forces. While stationed in Korea, inspired by the writings of Vietnam and Iraq war objectors, Jackson began to rethink his involvement in the Army.

“I feel ashamed every day,” Jackson wrote in his recent conscientious objector (CO) application. “I feel ashamed for taking part in the killing of others, and for allowing my comrades to be killed themselves. By putting on a uniform, I am showing my support. … I can no longer be a part of the Armed Forces or any organization of a violent nature.”

. . . James Branum is Ryan’s Oklahoma-based civilian attorney. “PFC Jackson decided to do whatever it took to be released from his obligation to an organization he could no longer be a part of,” he said. “PFC Jackson wrongly believed that there would be no point in filing for CO status, so he instead did his best to accumulate as many negative counseling statements as possible for minor issues, such as not coming in the morning or missing PT.”

Ryan’s attempts to have himself thrown out of the Army were nearly successful. His out-processing paperwork was half way completed when a local commander arbitrarily stopped his pending discharge last December.

Ryan also concluded that the military’s CO application process was “immoral, unethical, and wrong.” How could career officers sit in judgment of his beliefs he questioned. In the CO application he submitted on April 4, Ryan explained, “I’ve come to realize that my beliefs are not valid or sincere based on what any person that reads this says or thinks. My beliefs are valid because I say they are and because they are my beliefs and they compel me to be a better person.” . . .

2008
04.15
Trips to Tijuana
2008
04.12

NewsOK.com: Torture tape spurs shock in Alva

ALVA — As a mentally challenged man screamed and pleaded for his torture to end, his attackers held him down, shot him repeatedly with paintball and BB guns, and branded him with searing coat hangers.

“Mommy, mommy,” the victim screamed, to no avail.

His torturers videotaped the episode, with one so proud of his work he listed his own name as the video’s director, producer and star.

. . . According to a police affidavit, Wallace’s father turned in the hourlong video and six mini-DVDs to a state Department of Human Services office, which led to the police investigation.

Orcutt said Jesse Wallace later told police he transferred the video’s contents onto the DVDs and hoped to sell them.

“They wanted to make ‘Jackass’ style video,” Orcutt said, referring to the former cable TV series depicting young men injuring themselves using different methods.

Orcutt said Wallace “didn’t have an answer” for how he planned to sell the videos.

“He hadn’t thought it through, obviously,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt said the abuse of the young autistic man made up 15 to 20 minutes of the video. In other segments, Dahling subjected his “friends” to abuse, which Orcutt conceded could pose a problem if the case goes to trial.

Orcutt said he suspects the video was shot within the past six months. . .

(emphasis added to the quote above is my own)

2008
04.10

I have received two envelopes by regular US mail, which contain multiple copies of a poorly written, incoherent statement regarding the stance of the Bible on homosexuality. (I’m assuming this is a response to my ongoing coverage of the Sally Kern controversy) Both envelopes contained 3 copies of the same one-page flyer.

The envelopes did have a military return address of “818th Maintenance Co., APO AE 09453” and has a “free mail” postmark on it. I did a bit of checking around, and it looks like the 818th was recently stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland, however the AE part of the address means that the address is from the US Armed forces in Europe.

In the future, I would ask that anyone mailing me stuff have the decency to put their real name on it. It is kinda creepy and cowardly to send me crap anonymously. And please don’t send me the same thing, multiple times. I only needed one copy to read.

And for the anonymous sender of said material, I don’t see myself changing my mind on this. It was not easy to come to the conclusions that I’ve come to on this issue (frankly it is much easier in Oklahoma to not be an advocate for gay rights), but I’ve thought it through quite a bit. For myself, I see this as one of the great civil rights issue of our era, and I think the role of straight people (like myself) is important in this fight, just like it was important for white people to stand with people of color in the fight against segregation back in the day.

I’ll do my  best to keep an open mind, but I don’t intend to back down from speaking up about what I believe is right. The right to love who one loves is about as fundamental of right as it gets in my book.