Monday, June 27, 2016

Mark Twain on Bob Ingersoll

by Gary Berg-Cross

It is always a pleasure to read Mark (Sam C) Twain and The Mark Twain Project makes that easier than ever with many of his letters and 3 volumes of his later in life Autobiography online.

One very pleasant surprise for me was to read on Twain commenting humorously but insight-fully about Bob (Robert) Ingersoll. There's a section in part 1 of his Autobiography where he talks about his 3 viewing General Grant in 1879, when Grant  had just returned from a journey around the world, and now was to be feasted in Chicago by the veterans of the Army of the Tennessee in what was called The Great Banquet.
He makes himself the audience (although he was to be the final speaker) viewing a contest among the best speakers:

"The speakers were of a rare celebrity and ability.....Colonel Vilas was to respond to a toast, and also Colonel Ingersoll, the silver-tongued infidel, who had begun life in Illinois and was exceedingly popular there. Vilas was from Wisconsin and was very famous as an orator. He had prepared himself superbly for this occasion.
He was about the first speaker on the list of fifteen toasts, and Bob Ingersoll was the ninth."

Twain notes that prior speakers, like Gen Vilas make it hard on Bob Ingersoll who rises to the occasion. You can read that long section in

Below is what Twain wrote in a more direct report to his lifelong friend and co-author Willain Dean Howells

 ".....and the last and greatest by Robert Ingersoll, whose eloquence swept the house like a flame. The Howells letter continues:

I doubt if America has ever seen anything quite equal to it; I am well satisfied I shall not live to see its equal again. How pale those speeches are in print, but how radiant, how full of color, how blinding they were in the delivery! Bob Ingersoll's music will sing through my memory always as the divinest that ever enchanted my ears. And I shall always see him, as he stood that night on a dinner-table, under the flash of lights and banners, in the midst of seven hundred frantic shouters, the most beautiful human creature that ever lived. "They fought, that a mother might own her child." The words look like any other print, but, Lord bless me! he borrowed the very accent of the angel of mercy to say them in, and you should have seen that vast house rise to its feet; and you should have heard the hurricane that followed.  from"

You also get some of Twain's enthusiasm in a letter to his wife, Livy which is copied below:

I’ve just come to my room. Livy darling, I guess this was the memorable night of my life. By George, I never was so stirred since I was born. I heard four speeches which I can never forget. One by Emory Storrs, one by Gen. Vilas (O, wasn’t it wonderful!) one by Gen. Logan (mighty stirring), one by somebody whose name escapes me, & one by that splendid old soul, Col. Bob Ingersoll,—oh, it was just the supremest combination of English words that was ever put together since the world began. My soul, how handsome he looked, as he stood on that table, in the midst of those 500 shouting men, & poured the molten silver from his lips! Lord, what an organ is human speech when it is played by a master! All these speeches may look dull in print, but how the lightnings glared around them when they were uttered, & how the crowd roared in response! Ah, It was a great night, a marvelous night, a memorable night. I am so richly repaid for my journey—& how I did long wish with all my whole heart that you were there to be lifted into the very seventh heaven of enthusiasm, as I was. The army songs, the military music, the crashing applause—Lord bless me, it was unspeakable.;query=bob%20ingersoll;searchAll=;sectionType1=;sectionType2=;sectionType3=;sectionType4=;sectionType5=;style=letter;brand=mtp#1

This was the first time that Twain heard Ingersoll and his subsequent affection for Bob is shown in a letter he wrote to the orator's daughter after his death in 1899.
"Except my daughter, I have not grieved for any death as I have grieved for his. His was a great and perfect spirit; he was a man—all man from his crown to his footsoles. My reverence for him was deep and genuine: I prize his affection for me and returned it with usury."

from The Robert G. Ingersoll Museum in Dresden, New York
by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Maryland General Assembly 2016 report cards

By Mathew Goldstein

This year two lawmakers agreed with the Secular Coalition for Maryland (SCMD) more often than anyone else.  They were Delegates Alfred C. Carr Jr. of District 18 in Montgomery county and Eric Ebersole of District 12 in Baltimore and Howard counties. Eighteen additional Delegates and one Senator frequently agreed with SCMD.  Two Delegates disagreed with SCMD more often than anyone else.  They were Delegates Susan K. McComas of District 34B in Harford county and Tony McConkey of District 33 in Anne Arundel county. Three additional Delegates and three Senators often disagreed with SCMD.  A 2016 legislative recap describes some of this year's issues.

The SCMD recently published a Maryland 2016 GA Report Card spreadsheet with scores ranging from 8 to -4 for each lawmaker so that you can see how your elected representative fared.  Senators are identified by light blue rows.  Delegate Zucker became Senator Zucker in February.  He is identified as a Senator but on some bills he voted as Delegate.  The House bills opposed by the SCMD are followed by the Senate bills we opposed.  Then the House bills and Senate bills we supported are listed.

Bold bill numbers indicate a final floor vote.  Underlined indicates final floor votes in both chambers.  Italics indicates the floor votes were unanimous.  Unanimous floor votes in either or both chambers are not counted.  Sponsorship and cosponsorship are counted when there was no final floor vote in the originating chamber.  Committee votes are counted separately.  Committee votes are prefixed or suffixed with a "c".

No vote and no sponsorship or cosponsorship is assigned a zero.  If SCMD agrees with the vote or sponsorship or cosponsorship then it is assigned a one, otherwise it is assigned negative one.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

"Great Author" yes, "God" no

By Mathew Goldstein

The article George Washington: Recognizing God’s hand in America by Dennis Jamison argues that "Washington inserted the words, "So help me God" into his oath of office; there's a movement to yank them out, history and tradition be damned with the Almighty." Mr. Jamison identifies himself as an adjunct faculty member of a community college.  However, the college's web site identifies him as a community instructor with no academic credentials and no expertise in American history.  He is determined to convey his strong conviction on this topic but he is allowing his convictions to substitute for the historical facts, which is the mistake that academics and historians are trained to avoid.  Mr. Jamison confidently makes several firm factual assertions, but he offers no evidence to back them up because there is none.

One such assertion that fails to be supported by historical evidence is "This first inauguration set the tradition, and subsequent inaugurations have change little since Washington’s day."  Since his article is arguing that his presidential oath of office was theistic, this implies all of the subsequent inaugurations included kissing a bible.  Yet there is no evidence that George Washington's second oath of office featured a bible. There are no known inauguration Bibles for presidents John Adams through John Tyler; in fact, there's no concrete evidence that those early presidents used a Bible at all for the oath. Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible when taking the oath in 1901. Both John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce swore on a book of law.  Nor is their any evidence that any president appended "so help me God" to his oath office until maybe Lincoln at the earliest. But the evidence that Lincoln did this is weak and contradicted.  Chester Arthur was the first president widely reported to have appended that phrase. So if president George Washington did this, as Mr. Jamison claims, then that did not set a precedent that the other presidents followed.  Nor was the Chief Justice prompting for this theistic codicil, as has been the case since the 1930's.  That is a substantial change, and a relatively recent change. Originally the Chief Justice recited the oath and asked the president elect to affirm, now the Chief Justice recites the oath one sentence at a time and asks the president elect to repeat each sentence.

Another such factual assertion that lacks supporting evidence is 'It is reported that after the official oath, Washington said “so help me God,” and bent down to kiss the open Bible."'  Now, if by "it is reported" Mr. Jamison means that there are people who have asserted that Washington said that then technically he is correct.  But then so what? Many people throughout history have thusly reported many false claims, it merely takes one person to falsely assert something and other people to repeat the same false assertion, which demonstrates nothing at all about what actually happened.  That is exactly the situation here.  There is one, and only one, eyewitness account from someone standing on the balcony that quotes the oath recitation and that account does not include a theistic codicil. Sixty five years later several biographies were published that claimed for the first time that George Washington spatchcocked that phrase to his oath of office, but they are not eyewitness accounts and thus lack credibility.

He then makes the following misleading statement "Those final words have raised controversy among some Americans. Some claim that Washington never said them, as they are recorded nowhere in the official records of the ceremony."  This is false. I have never heard anyone argue that because the words are not in "the official records of the ceremony" they were not spoken.  The actual argument is that there are no contemporaneous eyewitness accounts that George Washington appended that phrase.  None.  Zero.  Neither in "official" records nor in "unofficial" records.  Nor is there such evidence for any other president until Chester Arthur, with weak and contradictory evidence for Lincoln's second oath.  Therefore we lack proper justification to claim that George Washington, or any other president until Chester Arthur, appended that phrase to his oath office.

Mr. Jamison also wrote: "He tended to make references to God in his speeches."  Now it is true, as the two examples in his article show, that George Washington employed multiple different euphemisms for divinity such as the "Almighty Being", "Great Author", "benign parent of human race", etc. He is not known to have utilized the word "God" more than once or twice in his entire life, and then it was while reading a document out loud that was written by someone else.  This is a fact about George Washington that disfavors the conclusion that he said "so help me God" after is oath of office.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

DC Marijuana Protest

by Don Wharton

I attended the protest demonstration in front of the White House held April 2, 2016. Their 51 foot long plastic joint, inflated by a fan, said “Obama Deschedule Cannabis Now.” This referred to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which lists drugs with a high potential for abuse, no medical use, and no safe use even under medical supervision. Marijuana does not belong on Schedule 1.

A number of speakers described how some variety of cannabis was needed to deal with their seizures, pain, or side effects of cancer. There are many more medical uses for marijuana with various levels of credibility in the published literature. A religious fanatic pranced around the demonstration holding a Bible above his head and spouted various verses. Not until he appeared right next to me did I find out the Healing Church had won a court case defining marijuana as a sacrament. The passages he cited were ones he thought referred to cannabis. It shows how the metaphorical language of religion can justify just about anything.

The single most common reason people cite for using cannabis is to enhance their delight in the world. I consumed some edibles someone gave me at the demonstration. I had five hits from joints that people shared with me including one from Adam Eidinger, organizer of the event. This was in a sea of cameras so there is likely to be ample evidence I was violating the law as a point of civil disobedience. I also got royally stoned for the first time in decades. I love life as it is, so I feel little need to chemically enhance things. My choice to engage was purely political.

That said, the experience was quite delightful. I use mindfulness meditation where the goal is let go of all ideas and abstract understandings to attend solely to what is real. Perception can be maximized by choosing to place attention only on one's physical being and surroundings. The cannabis enhancement of this effect brings it to an amazing new level. I was richly reminded of the peak in joy that can occur when someone feels totally unified with everything that is. Many people have mistakenly presumed such peak experiences are a transcendental communicating with God. The vibrancy of flowers and the singing of birds are examples of experiences that become massively richer. A wren landed a few feet in front me. I stopped walking and attended to the bird. I was amazed this small wild creature showed no fear. It cocked its head five different ways to look at me. It felt like a quasi-conversation where each of us shared awareness of the consciousness of the other.

Given my delight in interacting with the wren it was obvious I was enjoying my abstract understanding of what happened. I then looked what I was doing in front of the White House. There were five million people arrested for marijuana just during the Obama administration. Some of these suffered radically outsized penalties such as the veteran who got life in prison for the two pound stash used to manage the pain from his wounds. Ehrlichman in the Nixon administration had made it clear the motivation for the war on drugs was to target their major political opposition, the anti-war left and blacks. The facts about marijuana literally did not matter. What mattered was allocating power to the pro-war conservatives who supported Nixon. I loved the idea of being there in civil disobedience against the repressive stupidity of that drug war. I was standing against the pain and destruction of millions of lives because a power elite deemed segments of the population to be their political enemy. These ideas and many others covered by the protest speakers were included in one massive non-verbal network of ideas that somehow appeared in my mind as a single unified whole. It became clear that ideas could be as awesomely vibrant and luminous as direct sensory perceptions. With this awareness the goal ceased to be a mindfulness empty of ego and abstractions. Instead I became aware of the vast range of choices possible concerning consciousness and savored exploring that range. Later I spent an extremely delightful evening with my loving significant other with no hangover the next day. In fact the next day had a wonderful afterglow of happiness.

A central scientific claim by those who support keeping cannabis on Schedule 1 is that there is no safe use and no medical use. It is not a goal of this article to do an extensive review of either the benefits or possible negatives, but we do need to review the major problems and fears. There are some allergic reactions which can be severe. Some people get panic attacks. Some cannabis supporters claim that users do not get addicted. Routine use does increase the prevalence of cannabinoid receptors and there are some negative symptoms such as irritability upon withdrawal. The fact the percent who get addicted is much lower than the case for alcohol and tobacco and the symptoms more mild is no excuse to pretend that cannabis addiction does not occur. It does. There are no deaths whatsoever from the direct chemical effect for average people. It is nominally even safer than caffeine. Caffeine has a lethal dose level only 75 to 100 times the typical dose in a cup of coffee. With marijuana the lethal dose of tetrahydrocannabinol is not know with precision but it is certain to be thousands of times greater than the amount required to saturate all cannabinoid receptors in the human body and produce the maximum possible psychoactive response.

Obviously, it is highly recommended that people not drive or engage in dangerous activities while under the influence of marijuana or any drug. The possible harms from marijuana are the exception and it is clear the vast majority of people can safely use it. Medical services are needed only to determine which variety and dosage is required to provide benefit and to respond to the small percent who have the unfortunate responses noted above.

Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill, S. 2237, titled "Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015"1. In his opinion it is crazy to continue having marijuana on Schedule 1. A recent Gallup poll had 58% of American favoring legal use of marijuana2. As with LGBT rights there is a sharp differential across generations. A PEW Research poll earlier found 68% of the millennial generation supporting legal use3. Personal quotes cited in the PEW report:
“It is not as harmful as alcohol. [...] It also helps medical conditions as a more natural substitute to pharmaceuticals.” Female, 46
“My grandson was diagnosed with epilepsy a year ago and it has been proven that it helps with the seizures.” Female, 69
“I think crime would be lower if they legalized marijuana. It would put the drug dealers out of business.” Female, 62
“Because people should be allowed to have control over their body and not have the government intervene in that.” Male, 18
“I think that we would have more control over it by allowing a federal agency to tax and regulate it like alcohol.” Male, 25


Establishment of atheism in China

By Mathew Goldstein

Questions pertaining to what beliefs to adopt regarding the existence of a supernatural realm, or for that matter questions pertaining to what beliefs to adopt on other topics, are ultimately individual decisions.  Being human entails freely adopting, possessing, and expressing, our own beliefs.  In a democracy the citizens guide the government.  To the extent that government is telling its citizens what they are supposed to believe, and openly favoring one belief over another, the government is attempting to influence its citizens in ways that restrict their governing role.  Accordingly, democratic government tries to avoid using its authority and powers to actively instruct people, or lead people, on what their beliefs should be.  

Yet government also has responsibilities and interests and accordingly needs freedom of action to carry out its responsibilities regardless of whether or not some of the citizens disagree with the government policies.  Religious beliefs can dictate what is deemed to be ethical or unethical over a wide range of behaviors.  Non-ideological, pragmatic, evidenced based, government policies, enacted and enforced without regard to religious beliefs, are going to sometimes conflict, to some extent, with the religious beliefs of some citizens.  This is, like death and taxes, an unfortunate and unavoidable fact of life.  Non-establishment of religion does not entail that there will be no conflicts.  It merely entails that government will avoid actively taking sides, either for or against, religious beliefs.  We make an effort to accommodate religious believers by recognizing free exercise as an individual liberty also meriting legal protection.

China has a more top down, authoritarian, ideological, approach to governing. There is one political party and that political party governs.  Government censors all sources of information that could influence its citizens beliefs about government policy, including the Internet, and sometimes imprisons people merely for criticizing government policy or officials or for trying to utilize otherwise legal process to try to help people harmed by questionable government practices.

Zhu Weiqun, head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the advisory body to China’s legislature, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, recently wrote in the official Global Times newspaper that the party should “unambiguously promote Marxist atheism to society,” and preserve "its leading position in the thinking of the masses of the people," describing it as “the nations’ mainstream ideology.” And he said it was particularly important to “strengthen propaganda education about a scientific worldview, including atheism, for young people." He said that while China protected the rights of religious believers, “as a nation led by the Communist Party, we cannot abandon atheism and turn to religion for spiritual support, nor take a neutral or conciliatory attitude [when choosing] between atheism and religion, and cannot allow religion to spread without limits and become the mainstream ideology."

China has overtly promoted atheism to Communist Party members, who are not supposed to believe in any religion. It imposes controls on its five officially registered religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and the Catholic and Protestant churches – and acts against unregistered religious groups.  Yet in recent years the number of religious believers has grown rapidly.

Since President Xi took office more than three years ago, the leadership has increasingly sought to promote more communist party orthodoxy, criticizing Western cultural and liberal values and other “unhealthy foreign infiltration".  Zhu Weiqun said that a number of party members had “found consolation in religions,” something that had “seriously damaged the party’s ideology, organization and work style.” The Communist Party had not come to power by “guiding people to put their hope on heaven or future life.”  Zhu said it was necessary to guide people to “draw a clear line” between “atheism and religion, science and superstition, civilization and ignorance.”

Here in the United States, organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Freedom from Religion, Secular Coalition for America, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, American Humanists, etc. do not want, or seek, government establishment of atheism.  We hear some critics of government non-establishment try to associate government non-establishment of religion in the United States with the policies of the former Soviet Union or the current Chinese Communist Party government.  They are mistaken.  Insofar as the U.S. government resembles those governments, it is partly because of our government establishments of theism. During the height of the Cold War in the 1950's it was argued that by passing laws implementing establishments of theism we were asserting one of the most important differences between them and us.  In fact, we actually accomplished the opposite.  We made ourselves less democratic and more like the Soviet Union and China.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

How's that for evidence that God exists?

By Mathew Goldstein

The Resurrection and the Death of Atheism: Jesus rose from the dead.  How's that for evidence that God exists? was written by a Catholic priest, Father Dwight Longenecker, who was ordained a decade ago under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy.  Since he claims to refute atheism from the empirical evidence, and arguments of this sort appear to be accepted by many believers, it merits a response.  He claims there is forensic evidence, documentary evidence, archaeological evidence, botanical and biological evidence, photographic evidence, logical evidence, historical evidence, eyewitness evidence, and legal evidence that Jesus was God.

But first, he says, we should begin with some "philosophical head  games".  He described the philosophical underpinnings of what follows thusly:  "If there is just one miracle, however — and we only need one — then nature is not a closed system and there is a force greater than nature and outside of nature. If that miracle is intelligible, that is to say, it makes sense, then the force that is greater than nature is intelligent, and if it is intelligent than it is more than a force, it is a personality."  

While this philosophical starting point has some merit it is biased in favor of the author's preferred conclusion.  It elides the difficulties in establishing that any claimed one time anomalous event actually was "greater than nature and outside of nature" or that it is "intelligent" if it appears to be "intelligible".  It also allows evidence for one such anomalous event to suffice when, in fact, evidence favoring a freak, one time anomaly is a dubious basis for abandoning a naturalistic worldview when the evidence for naturalism is ongoing, pervasive, diverse, and persistent.  A lot will depend here on the quantity and quality of the alleged evidence.  We need a very large quantity of exceptional quality evidence to overcome the evidence for naturalism when all we have is a single event from 2000 years ago that is claimed to be supernatural.

He then says "The one miracle that Christians claim above all others is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."  He then claims that '... there are really only three options.  First, that he did not really die and the “resurrection” was therefore only a form of resuscitation; second that he did die, but something happened so that his body vanished and third, the witnesses to the resurrection were deluded, deceived or were themselves deceptive.'

There is another possibility, lets refer to this as option number four: The stories about witnesses to a resurrection are false, no one witnessed the alleged resurrection.  In other words, the delusion or deception begins with the stories themselves, and with the authors of the stories, not with the people appearing in the story.  It is interesting that Father Dwight Longenecker excludes this possibility from the start.  Instead, the rest of his article argues against his three godless options.  So let's focus on this fourth possibility.

I am no expert in the history of the time and place of the bible, so I must concede from the start that I am speculating.  The first thing to note is that in the seven epistles that most experts (about 80%) think were written by Paul there is very little historical information regarding Jesus.  Paul's Jesus is an archetype of an imaginary, mythical, fictional, fantasy character.  His other-worldly visions related to Jesus are strongly apocalyptic.  According to Paul, no one reading his writings would outlive the end of times, and therefore his message was extremely urgent.  Reading his epistles it should be easy for anyone who is not gullible to conclude that Paul was a deluded individual who literally dreamed his Jesus into existence.  When you see the guy on the street corner with a sign that says repent now, the end of times is near, that person has a mindset in common with Paul's.

Then came the book of Mark, written in Greek for a Greek (and therefore mostly non-Jewish) audience.  It was probably written sometime after 65 A.D.  The book of Mark contains historical details that had not yet occurred at the time that Jesus was said to be executed.  So we date the book of Mark to several decades after the alleged resurrection, when the events referenced in the book had already occurred.  

Paul had previously persuaded small groups of people that his strictly supernatural visions were factual, and some of those eager to believe people met regularly among themselves for many years to discuss the implications.  Some of them may have thought about their own past encounters with roaming preachers, associated what they heard from these religious preachers with Paul's stories, and linked them to Paul's imaginary Jesus.  Some of them may have been Jewish, and they may have looked to Jewish religious texts to fill in the story gaps. Some of them may have been familiar with other popular stories that circulated at the time, such as those written by Homer, and filled in the story gaps by borrowing from those sources.  Others may have traveled between the different discussion groups and added to the stories to make them fit together better.   The initially abstract, ghostly Jesus thus acquired, with the assistance of ordinary human credulity, an earthly, human biography.  The anonymous author, or authors, of the book of Mark put these stories down in writing, and that became the basis for what later became the bible as we know it today.

So what is the status of the resurrection?  It originated with Paul, in his head.  It is all fiction, and therefore so are the subsequent books that were inspired by Paul's visions of his imaginary Jesus.  All of Father Dwight Longenecker's arguments opposing his three no god options are arguing from the contents of the book of Mark, as if that book, or the subsequent books derived from Mark, are reliable sources of historical information regarding an actual personality named Jesus, which they certainly are not, and thus fail to demonstrate that the available empirical evidence favors Jesus as deity.  But we are not finished yet.

Father Dwight Longenecker ends his argument by citing the Shroud of Turin as empirical evidence for Jesus.  The problem here is that the age of the cloth was carbon 14 dated to a little before the start of the 12th century by three different laboratories, which is not long after it was first discovered.  To get around this problem there is a new video attacking the veracity of that date.  However, the carbon 14 dating was valid and it stands, notwithstanding the efforts to try to discredit it.

That is about the best that anyone can argue, from a Christian perspective, for their being empirical evidence that God exists.  Arguments from a Jewish or Islamic perspective, or other religious perspective, are very unlikely to do any better.  There is plenty of hand waving and grand assertions but little substance.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tax support for church-run schools in Canada

by Edd Doerr

A February poll in Ontario found that Ontarians oppose tax support for Catholic schools by 52% to 38%. Ontario Education Ministry spokesperson  Liz Sandals, however, said that Ontario will continue to provide full tax support for four separate school systems – English language public, French public, English Catholic and French Catholic. The church-run schools get more per student public  funding than the two public school systems. Protestant, Jewish and other private schools in the province get zero public funding. British Columbia provides funding to various church-run schools, but less than in the other three provinces.  This system goes back to Canada’s constitution, the British North America Act of 1867, which created modern Canada. Only three provinces require public funding for Catholic schools – Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Predominantly French and nominally Catholic Quebec ended Catholic school funding in 1999. Newfoundland, which had only  tax-supported church-run schools  – five systems of them – switched to public schools only in two sweeping referenda in the 1990s.

In mid-March Canadian columnist Samantha Emann wrote that it’s time to “put out the fire” in the burning debate over Catholic school funding. Changing the constitution requires only the approval of the House of Commons and the Senate and, importantly, only the province that is affected. Emann notes that this is what happened regarding Quebec in 1999.

Samantha Emann writes, “are unfair to Canada’s many other religious groups and cultures. Funding all religious schools would be a logistical nightmare, and in my view, public services should be affirmatively secular.” She adds, “As should be apparent to anyone who has been following the news for the past year, some Catholic schools boards, trustees, teachers and advising clergy have  a record of discriminatory, socially regressive efforts to hinder advances made in the interest of student safety and learning. . . .  In Ontario there was opposition from Catholic leaders to the much-needed, recently updated sex-education curricula.”

Emann continues: “That deficit-plagued province [Ontario] recently asked voters for ideas online for ways it could save money in its budget. Here’s an idea. According to a 2012 report from the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods, mergimg Ontario’s Catholic and public school boards would save the province more than $1 billion.”

The 2016 poll was conducted by Forum Research. Its president, Lorne Bozinoff, said recently that “If it were ever put to a public referendum, Catholic school funding would lose, fair and square.” Just as, I might add, it has in the US in 28 referendum elections by large margins from coast to coast between 1966 and 2014.

In related news, the Ontario-based Civil Rights in Public Education organization ( reports that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal will consider a complaint “about the treatment one student [non-Catholic Claudia Sorgini] has received from Roman Catholic school board personnel when she applied for an exemption from religious courses and programs in one of the board’s high schools.” The complaint is based on the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which are supposed to provide protection from religious or creed-based pressure.

Some History on Too Big to Fail

by Gary Berg-Cross

Both Andrew Jackson, he of the $20 bill, and banks being too big to fail are in the news.  There is an interesting historical connection here in that Jackson’s fight with the 2nd Bank of the United States illustrates some of the issues about moneyed interest and breaking up that influence and banks.

As most of us know Founder Alexander Hamilton set the stage for a big national bank, replacing state banks as part of a centralizing, mercantilist approach consistent with his “English” policies. Within early America’s growingly competitive capitalistic system the first national bank provided a large sources of credit for commerce.

In 1816, Congress provided money to establish the 2nd Bank of the US with considerable power & influence to print money, provide loans, pay bills and yes, collect taxes as well as circulating dollars around the country to spark growth.

This Bank was a hybrid affair with most of the money coming from private  investors but the government provided 1/5th of the bank and thus “owned” a 1/5 share.. something that became quite important in later battles.
By 1820 or so the Bank of the US had $35 million in capital which meant it had lots of influence. It could make money easy or hard to access and since it had investor stockholders its decisions could and did give "exclusive money-making opportunities to its stockholders.”

As historian Daniel Feller explains:

 "the Bank of the United States helped the government to do its business 
effectively and efficiently. But it also helped the people who owned stock in the bank. "

According to historian Michael Beschlos in “Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989.” The Bank had considerable power over average citizens and politicians as well.  The well known Pol Henry Clay, for example, had a hidden “loan” from the Bank. Indeed “many of his political enemies had loans from the bank or were on its payroll.

Andrew Jackson, a man of the 99% here, had his reasons to  oppose the Bank:

  • It was a dangerously centralized financial power
  • It held an unconstitutional monopoly on finance that only helped the rich get richer
  • It made the economy vulnerable to foreign and special interests
  • It held too much influence over federal politicians
  • It favored the North (where most financial centers were located) over the South and West
 And, of course Bank President Nicholas Biddle, his agents and political allies opposed Jackson and made him look like a tyrant. 
“ With an ability to spread vast sums of money among newspaper editors, Senators and Congressmen, Biddle seemed unassailable.”

Despite this and the threat to destroy the economy as Jackson campaigned for re-election (shades of today), Jackson prevailed. 

When Congress, at Biddle’s behest, voted to renew the Bank’s charter Jackson vetoed the measure and gradually moved to cripple the Bank by withdrawing government money. Here's how he did it:

“On October 1, 1833, Jackson decreed that no more government money could be deposited into the (Bank) B.U.S. Instead, Jackson thought the states should have more control, so he made it easy for all kinds of individuals to charter their own institutions, many of which were classic fly-by-night operations. The banks then would often issue their own notes and a bit of trivia is the fact that the term "wildcat" originated long before it was used in the oil industry.”

Sort of a break up strategy in effect which ultimately succeeded in crippling the Bank.  And enough of the 99% understood and supported this type of breakup.  The Senate couldn't come up with a two-thirds majority to override the election year veto and Jackson's defeat of Clay in the election meant that the Bank was not renewed.  What followed was not great economic times, but perhaps we can learn from that lesson too along with the influence of too-big-to- fail capital and its influence on politics and income disparity. 

More at