There are few things I remember from my elementary school days in the 1970s. One was that one of my classmates, Laura, had the longest ponytails, and I would often get in trouble because I couldn’t resist yanking one or both of them from time to time. I also remember reciting the pledge of allegiance at the start of each school day. And praying. We prayed at the start of the school day. We prayed before we ate. We prayed at the whim of our teacher. As a child you didn’t think anything was wrong or right about praying in school. It was simply what we did. I also remember learning about how this great nation of ours was started. It had something to do with religious freedom. It seems as I recall, that America’s earliest settlers wanted the freedom to practice their religion. It just so happened that their religion was Christianity.

Now many years later, the question remains: Did the settlers come to America so that Christianity could be freely practiced, or religion itself. Many Christian leaders today believe that America was founded as a Christian nation only, not as a nation for the free practice of any religion. Also there appears to be some confusion about the first amendment to the constitution and Third Article of the Bill of Rights, which reads in full: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In drafting a constitution, the framers had an opportunity to name Christianity directly. But they chose not to. Why? Had they intended that all religions have an opportunity to be practiced freely? Or were early leaders like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington who although raised as Christians, a little wary of organized religion, and had purposely ensured that no particular religion be named explicitly for the very reason that ALL religions be given equal footing? Also, why would the framers insist on, by including it in the constitution, that no federal office holder or employee be required to adhere to any religious standard, or that there be a clear separation between church and state? Man, is that some fat to chew on.

There are some Christian leaders today who insist that there is a war on religion. But I don’t believe that’s really what they fear. I don’t believe these leaders care about a war on Buddhism, or Wicca, or Islam, or any religion other than Christianity. Just as I don’t believe these leaders have a clear understanding about the constitution’s mandate on the separation of church and state. Or else why would they require every candidate who runs for office to make a show of bowing down to a Christian preacher at some point in time, lest he be deemed unworthy to hold office? Some Democrats have found that even that is not enough as the party’s platform (which includes support for pro-choice, same-sex, gender-neutral policies to name a few) automatically have some Evangelical Christians questioning their Christian bonafides. What’s troubling in this respect, at least to me, (full disclosure: I’m a God-fearing believer in Yahweh) is the apparent cherry-picking of sins to hate. Case in point: Reverend Franklin Graham, son of the revered Billy Graham, has said, “America is increasingly hostile and intolerant of its Christian and Biblical foundation, and with President Barack Obama leading the fight to promote ungodly sexual behavior over the last eight years, there is now an all out war on religious liberty in the United States. Former Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann added, “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” Bachmann, who supports Donald Trump, the rich, thrice-married businessman, and Graham who also supports Trump, paint a picture of an America that God will destroy because our political leaders are allowing its people the free agency to conduct their lives as they see fit.

In my viewpoint, God hates sin, all sin. No sin is greater than another in God’s eyes. In that vein, we all fall short. So if one considers homosexuality a sin per the Bible, then one would also have to consider adultery a sin as well, and divorce. From what we’ve been able to see, Barack Obama is neither an adulterer, or divorcee. Neither is he gay, or performed an abortion. He has stated he’s a Christian. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has admitted to adultery, and is two-times divorced. He rarely attends church. He’s bombastic, loud, and loves money (the Bible states that the love of money is the root of all evil), yet for some reason to some religious leaders Donald Trump is not seen as a threat to the moral fiber of the country. Bachmann went so far as to say God chose Trump as the Republican nominee. Using that logic, wouldn’t it also stand to reason that since Obama actually won the presidency–twice, that God also chose him?

I agree with Ted Cruz that when it comes to this election and any election for that matter, one should vote their conscience. I  believe in free agency. I don’t believe any country or church should put any rules in place in an effort to make a man, or woman do what the country, or church feels is morally right. The church should not try to be the government. The government should allow the church to operate freely. The church should never compromise its morals. If the church believes homosexuality and abortion are wrong, then the church has every obligation to say that and fight against both. But the church has no right to forcibly impose its will on anyone. People should have free agency to do as they please as long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights and privileges of others. And yes I am aware of the unborn fetus. To that I say, the church should continue to fight for the unborn and pray for the pregnant mother who’s faced with such a difficult decision. But we Americans are no closer to the moral destruction of our country then we were when we enslaved, raped, beat, and demoralized a whole race of people. The sins of our forebears, be they, homosexuality, abortion, adultery, idolatry, have long preceded us, and we’re still standing. To the churches I say, preach God’s word and pray for your fellowman, but for the love of God, please stay out of politics.




What if $400 Million Iranian Payment Was Ransom?

In January of this year (2016), the United States paid $400 Million dollars to Iran. The Obama Administration asserts that the payment was the result of a decades old dispute between Iran and the United States, stemming from some sort of arms deal the two countries had during the disastrous run of the former Shah of Iran. President Obama recently explained that the United States was being sued for the return of that money and faced exposure of billions of dollars should America lose the case. In short, it was better for America to settle out of court. So, we did.

Of course in the world of politics, nothing is better. On the same day that the money was released, American hostages were also released. So of course, the appearance was that the United States paid a ransom for the release of the hostages. I don’t believe that was the case. For a more accurate case that the money wasn’t a ransom payment I direct you to an article in Fortune magazine written by Shawn Tully, http://fortune.com/2016/08/05/money-america-iran/. Mr. Tully doesn’t make a call one way or the other, he just lays out the facts of the transaction as known and lets the reader make the call. Read his article and draw your own conclusions. I won’t do that here.

My question here is what if the payment had been a ransom payment, or at least a form of ransom payment? What if our government had decided that since we owed Iran the money anyway, lets give it to them and get some returned hostages tossed in as well. Oh no, the critics cry. We paid for hostages. No, no our government maintains; We didn’t! Oh yes you did pay a ransom, the critics insist.

But what’s to be gained by that insistence? No criminal charges will be filed. President Obama is not up for reelection. Hillary Clinton wasn’t tied to the transaction in any way shape or form. So why the insistence? To further some narrative that the our president is weak? That our government is weak? What’s to be gained in that assertion? Let me tell you…absolutely nothing. There is nothing to be gained by insisting that the Obama Administration is lying about the payment. What will happen though. What runs the risk of happening is more Americans being kidnapped and more kidnappers insisting that ransoms be paid or hostages will be killed despite what our official stance is. Please Republicans! In one instance, put the country ahead of politics. Our stance is we don’t pay ransoms. Despite any political point you wish to make, please resist the temptation to do so. There is nothing to win by making it. Please think of Americans who must travel in hostile countries or near hostile countries now. Please don’t encourage future kidnappers to snatch these Americans because the kidnappers think we pay ransoms. Our country’s official stance is that we don’t. Get it?

Hedge Fund, the Common Man, & Trump

In one of his recent attacks against Hillary Clinton, Donald J. Trump accused the former Secretary of State as using the State Department like her own personal hedge fund. Even when he first said it, the use of the term ‘hedge fund’ struck me as odd. Most of us, by us I mean laypeople, the common man as it were, would have simply said, she used the State Department like her own personal piggy bank. It’s simple. It’s understandable. It’s relate able. How many of us laypeople are familiar with a hedge fund. I venture not many. Mainly because many of us have no idea what a hedge fund is. I mean I’ve heard the term before. I just didn’t know what exactly a hedge fund was. So I googled it.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes a hedge fund: a hedge fund is an investment fund that pools capital from a limited number of accredited individual or institutional investors and invests in a variety of assets, often with complex portfolio construction and risk management techniques. Yeah, I know right. But that’s okay. I mean I don’t profess to know a lot about the workings of Wall Street and investments. No big woo, right? But this next thing Wikipedia said about hedge funds I found interesting especially in relation to the suddenly man of the people, Donald J. Trump. Wikipedia says that hedge funds are made available only to certain accredited investors and cannot be offered or sold to the general public. So you see, that’s why most of us, us as in the general public, have no idea what hedge funds are. Sure, we’ve heard the term. But since we don’t have access to them, or have them in our every day life, we’re kind of fuzzy on what they actually are. Which was why I was surprised that our man of the people, Donald J. Trump would use the term in trying to paint Hillary as an elitist.

Here’s a little advice Donald, old boy, when trying to cast your opponent as an elitist, don’t use elitist like words and phrases which could serve to remind people of your own elitism, as well as confuse the hell out of us common folk. Next time, just say that Hillary was treating the State Department like her own personal piggy bank. It’s simple. It’s snappy. It’s makes a hell of a lot more sense to most us, especially since many of us have piggy banks and according to Wikipedia, none of us have hedge funds.

Free Trade Good, Bashing it Bad

In the movie, Horrible Bosses, Kevin Spacey’s character, one of the horrible bosses, said, “You can’t win a marathon without putting a few band-aids on your nipples.” Now bear with me, I know the line was likely written for comedic affect. I mean, band-aids on your nipples. Come on, like huh? Freaking hilarious, right? But still for me, the line had a more purposeful meaning. Which was: worthwhile goals sometimes take time and often painful effort in order to reach them. But like the saying goes, anything worth having is worth working hard for.

Globalization is worth working hard for. Free trade is a means to that end. I know it’s popular now to trash globalization and free trade. But before you do, consider, it was because of globalization and free trade that America even exists in the first place. After all, Christopher Columbus was trying to reach India by a shorter route when he accidentally discovered America. Why do you think he was trying to reach India in the first place. Don’t strain yourself. It was to trade. Spain wanted to put its footprint in the spice trade that had been all the rage in Europe. You see countries have always wanted to trade with each other. Trade brought and continues to bring opportunity. New products. Better ways of doing things.

Yes, I understand that factories have closed down in many communities, especially smaller ones which in turn essentially shut those communities down as well. I’m from a small eastern North Carolina community where once upon a time, a person could graduate high school, land a good paying factory job, raise a family off the salary from said good job, and then retire with a pension from said good job. It was the American dream. But since NAFTA, i.e. the North America Free Trade Agreement–our country’s trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, many such jobs are no longer with us as the factories which provided them have either shut down or moved the jobs out of the country. Of course, some of those factories were wobbly before NAFTA, but that’s beside the point here as most anyone knows that no factories, equaled no jobs which in turn equaled, stagnant, dying, or dead communities. When you can’t feed your family or put a roof over their heads, bashing free trade seems not only smart, but prudent. A reasonable person’s common line of thinking holds that if companies didn’t send jobs overseas, we’d have money to buy things here in this country, thus keeping our local economy going. That was and is a logical argument. One I used to make myself. Thing is, it’s a simple thing to say and any politician can feed the anger by saying it. Problem is, there’s nothing simple about preventing free trade. Business is competition. And really there are three scenarios in business. You either make a better mousetrap, or find a more cost efficient way to make mousetraps, or you create some contraption that has nothing to do with catching mice, but is either needed, or craved by people with money and willing to spend it. And if your business doesn’t do one of those three things, some other business will, and you will soon be out of business. In other words, even if America didn’t and doesn’t compete in the global economy, companies in other countries will, and whether it would’ve been yesterday, today, or tomorrow, American jobs were destined to suffer, and eventually disappear anyway.

Still, what does any of this mean to the American worker? What’s in NAFTA or the other trade agreement in the news recently, TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) for the average American? In short, it’s opportunity. When we freely trade, we open up other areas of opportunity for our products. Yes, other countries can manufacture many of our products cheaper than we can. Not exactly a remarkable feat when you consider that few governments offer the work-related benefits our forebears fought hard to get us over here– 40 hour workweeks, overtime pay, holiday/vacation pay, etc. We take these things  for granted, but really would you give them up just to have a job. Probably not, especially when you consider how life was before our forebears won us those rights. But yes in the short run, America is losing jobs to other countries because of it. In order to compete on a global scale, American companies have to go where labor is more cost effective. Of course, it would help optics if CEOs of American companies who take jobs overseas weren’t so obviously greedy in pocketing much of the excess revenue from the adjustment in labor expenses, and would instead invest in worker retraining and product research. Imagine if companies would spend a certain amount of their resources researching and identifying different products in which our workers would be the most cost effective producers! That would be the ideal scenario.

Closing our eyes, burying our head in the sand, and pretending that if we just close our borders and force American companies to produce here that everything would go back to how it was in yesteryear will not change what is. Other countries will simply and more efficiently build the better mousetrap, beating American countries fair and square in the global economy, and thus crushing American jobs anyway.

It’s incredibly easy for any politician to speak to the anger of people by simply and only voicing the anger. It’s too simple to only diagnose the problem, or to proclaim there’s a magic button to push that will bring jobs back and give us yesteryear America. Man, would I love that fantasy to be true. My hometown would be so much better off if it was. But the reality of it is, that ship has sailed. A lot of the old manufacturing jobs are not coming back. EVER! In order to make it in the new labor force, workers will have to retrain themselves to do different jobs. Politicians will have to encourage entrepreneurs (by way of tax incentives and relaxed regulations) to seek new and better ways of doing things that will most benefit and utilize America’s current labor force. We must encourage and embrace free trade. Now is not the time to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Isolation has never been an American trait, nor should it be now. America was founded because of free trade. America has thrived on free trade, as well as on immigration. We shouldn’t let fear or ignorance of the value of free trade rule us. America has been great since its inception. It has never stopped being great. Don’t let anyone tell you different. But, we can always be better. Our place is as a world leader. But you can’t lead the world if you isolate yourself from it. Building walls and ending free trade is akin to isolation. I know times are challenging for a lot of Americans right now. But better days are on the horizon. It’s like Kevin Spacey said in Horrible Bosses, you can’t win a marathon withouy putting a few band-aids on your nipples. That’s freaking funny. But oh, so true.

Our Country Tis of Thee

I’ve been watching presidential elections since I was eight years old. Crazy, right? I know. But there was always something fascinating about presidential elections to me. My first one was Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter. I was raised in a Democratic household so my preference was for Jimmy Carter. And ole Jimmy won. Four years later, he lost to Ronald Reagan. I was twelve years old when Reagan won his first election and I was bummed out too.Mainly because in the black community, there was talk that since Ronald Wilson Reagan had six letters in each of his names that meant that Reagan was the Antichrist. Of course that turned out to be untrue and in 1984, my step-father even voted for Reagan’s re-election. Yes, politics makes for strange bedfellows. But today’s politics is really frustrating. The extreme left, but more specifically the extreme right has made the country so volatile. The hatred out there is so so vile and disgusting that I don’t even like talking politics in mixed company. By mixed I mean an assortment of Democrats and Republicans. People just aren’t civil anymore. America is a great country. It has never stopped being great. We’ve been through a lot as a nation. And we’ll go through more as time wears on. But America’s people, our collective heart and strength is what’s keeps us moving forward. We shouldn’t let the extreme part of any party convince us that we’re heading for doom and gloom. If we survived being a part of England, being a slave-owning nation, States vs. States, Prohibition, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Cold War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, Desegregation, Disco, Howard the Duck, and 9/11, we can and will survive anything. Believe that!!

The Brass Queen

Article 94


Here is the penultimate chapter at 790 words:

* * *

Ceridwen’s spontaneous laughter broke Snow from her memory trip.

“See, you won over me many times, Snow. You destroyed my pride, my power. I hid because I couldn’t stand seeing you still so beautiful and myself so ugly. Then Jarvis found me again and offered me one last chance to kill you. What I didn’t know was that it would cost me my body and replace it with this one. It is repulsive but unstoppable.”

Ceridwen leaned forward in a puff of steam her hands ready to grab.

“We shall see about that,” Snow said and swung her sword.

The tip of the sword scraped Ceridwen’s chest, but her hand gave Snow a powerful push, and she fell against the wall, dropping the sword. Dizzy, she reached for her weapon, but Ceridwen had grabbed her ankles and dragged her…

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