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Archive for June 25th, 2017

Why cash remains sacred in American churches

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Professor of American Religious History, Vanderbilt University, writes in The Conversation:

On Tuesday, June 27, it will be 50 years since the first automated cash dispenser – which came to be known as an automated teller machine (ATM) – was inaugurated in London.

Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face. I belong to the generation who stood 45 minutes to an hour to deposit or cash checks in the pre-ATM era. I remember getting yelled at for taking my bicycle through the drive-up line at the National Bank of Detroit to avoid the much longer line inside. It did not take me very long to become an early adopter of the magical cards and 24-hour banking.

Later, in my work as a historian of American religion, I extensively studied the role money has played in religious life. In my book, “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism,” I retold the American history of the nation’s largest religious stream in terms of the search for money to pay for religious ministries and the purposes for which churches spent the money they collected.

So, what impact did ATMs have on church life?

Giving to the church

Fundamentally, the legal separation of church and state in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the United States did more than simply assure freedom of religion – it privatized what until then in Europe had been a public good and provided funding under the auspices of the state. In the U.S., religious leaders and their ministries had to increasingly depend on voluntary donations and to appeal ever more strenuously for those gifts.

Over the 19th century, various church support schemes were tried and abandoned. What in Europe had been a discreet offering with alms boxes kept at the back of the church (alms for the poor) became a central ritual activity in America. In most American weekly church services, offering plates were passed around to finance all of church activities. As giving became very public, one of the features of the weekly offering was, of course, that all gathered could see who was giving, if not how much.

Once the age of plastic money arrived, all of this ritual and financial necessity in American churches was jeopardized. ATMs began appearing in churches, providing a way for people to come up with the ready cash to give to God and their church.

Nature of money

So, why did people need cash in the first place? To answer this question, it is important to first understand the nature of cash in context of religious life.

The German sociologist Georges Simmel famously noted that the essential, almost magical quality of money is that it is fungible – that is, it is exchangeable or replaceable. Individuals can use the same US$100 to buy drugs, feed a frugal family for a week, buy a designer scarf or give it to God in an offering plate.

Indeed, as we know only too well, money is a universal currency to purchase things of incommensurate worth. However, as sociologist Viviana Zelizer explains in her memorable book, “The Social Meaning of Money: Pin Money, Paychecks, Poor Relief, and Other Currencies,” not all money is the same – there are social and moral dimensions to money that are frankly surprising.

To illustrate, Zelizer narrates the striking example of Marty, a 1950s Philadelphia gang member who would donate to the church only the 25 cents that he got from his mother – not money from robberies. When asked, Marty provided a clear distinction between different sets of money. He said,

“Oh, no, that is bad money; that is not honest money.”

But the money he got from his mother was earned through hard work so “he could offer it to God.” Marty is the kind of person who, when asked, “Who would know? would reply, “God would.” The point is, not all dollars are equal – individuals have some strong ideas about clean and dirty money, or just appropriate and inappropriate money.

Here is where ATMs come into the story.

Donations in the age of ATMs

Automated teller machines started to make their first appearance in the lobbies of evangelical churches just over a dozen years ago. It was important for churches to have something to put into the collection plate, and it was important that it be cash that people actually possessed – not a promise to pay someday on their credit card accounts. Thus, the ATM allowed evangelicals who didn’t carry a checkbook or a wallet full of cash not to be embarrassed when the offering plates or baskets came around.

Marty Baker, pastor of the Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia, was widely credited as the first to install two ATMs in the church lobby in 2005. The first year the donations produced $100,000. They more than doubled by the next year to more than $200,000. He was so successful in increasing giving by making cash available (up 18 percent over pre-ATM machine levels) that he took it one step further, by introducing the “automatic tithing machine” that took cash out of the giver’s account and deposited it directly into the church’s coffers. This new ATM was beginning to virtualize the all-important collection. Some users responded by placing their receipts in the plate at the appropriate time in the service.

The tithe, of course, refers to the tenth of one’s income conservative Protestants are largely taught to pay to the church in gratitude for what God has done. It is a sacred obligation, and the cash money is a serious matter.

There are two interesting dimensions of this appearance of ATMs and churches to consider. One is the strong affinity between cash and conservative evangelicals. For many evangelicals debt is a form of bondage – a message conveyed through conservative radio financial guru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to tens of millions of his followers on AM radio each week in his call-in programs. Ramsey teaches how to “dump debt, budget, build wealth and give like never before!” The building of wealth is a corollary to eschewing debt and it makes Christians free, in Ramsey’s view to be godly.

The point is, money isn’t just a fungible means to various ends, it is sacred to these believers.

In cash we trust

The second dimension for consideration in the appearance of ATMs in the lobbies of evangelical churches is that they signaled something by their very presence: America was in fact becoming a cashless society. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 5:06 pm

Trump won, and Amy Siskind started a list of changes. Now it’s a sensation.

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Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post:

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, Amy Siskind took one of her occasional trips to Val-Kill, the Upstate New York home of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

“I needed a Zen moment,” Siskind, who had campaigned for Hillary Clinton, told me. “And that is a place that inspires me.”

Soon afterward, Siskind began keeping what she calls the Weekly List, tracking all the ways in which she saw America’s taken-for-granted governmental norms changing in the Trump era.

The project started small, read by friends and with only a few items a week.

By Week 9, though, the list had gone viral.

“It blew up — I had 2 million views that week,” she said. “People were responding like crazy, saying things like, ‘I’m praying for you.’ ”

As time went on, the list grew much longer and more sophisticated. Here are three of her 85 items from mid-June:

●“Monday, in a bizarre display in front of cameras, Trump’s cabinet members took turns praising him.”

●“AP reported that a company that partners with both Trump and (son-in-law) Jared Kushner is a finalist for a $1.7bn contract to build the new FBI building.

●Vice President Pence hired a big-name “lawyer with Watergate experience to represent him in the Russian probe.”

Now, in Week 32, every item has a source link, and rather than just a few items, there are dozens. (Her weekly audience usually hits hundreds of thousands, she said, on platforms including Medium,Facebook and Twitter.)

The idea, she said, came from her post-election reading about how authoritarian governments take hold — often with incremental changes that seem shocking at first but quickly become normalized. Each post begins with: “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.”

She’s not the only one to have this idea; on Twitter, for example, designer Laura Olin created @_rememberbot, where frequent tweets begin with the words “It is not normal” and catalogue the oddities of TrumpWorld. (“It is not normal for U.S. presidents to criticize federal judges.”)

But Siskind may be the most dogged and systematic. One follower even made a searchable database of her lists.

“It’s scary to look back on the early weeks and see what we’ve already gotten used to,” she said. Examples: a secretary of state who rarely speaks publicly, the failure to fill important positions in many agencies, a president who often eschews intelligence briefings in favor of “Fox & Friends.”

“We forget all the things we should be outraged about,” Siskind said.

Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor and author of the PressThink blog, called Siskind’s efforts “a service that is thoroughly journalistic and much needed.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 3:54 pm

A black off-duty cop tried to help stop a crime. Another officer shot him. And cops will continue to deny that there’s a problem.

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Cleve Wootson Jr. reports in the Washington Post:

A “friendly fire” incident in which an off-duty St. Louis policeman was shot while coming to the aid of fellow officers has taken on racial overtones after an incendiary claim by the injured officer’s attorney: The officer was viewed as a threat because he was black.

The St. Louis Police Department has not identified any of the officers involved in Wednesday night’s incident. The officer who shot the off-duty policeman is white. All seven officers involved are on administrative leave as the department sorts out what happened.

What is known is that officers with an anti-crime task force were tracking a car that was stolen from the Maryland Heights community after its license plate had been detected by an automatic reader Wednesday night, interim police chief Lawrence O’Toole told reporters.

During the chase, the armed men inside the car opened fire.

Officers fired back, hitting one of the men in the ankle during the ensuing exchange. The vehicle ultimately crashed in a neighborhood on the north side of the city and the occupants jumped out and ran, police said. The man shot in the ankle was quickly arrested, along with a teenager who was caught after a brief chase. A third man — who police believed was armed — got away and remained at large Sunday.

An off-duty officer who lives nearby heard the commotion, grabbed his service pistol and headed to the scene to assist his fellow officers. He arrived as the other officers were carrying out the arrest.

The other officers ordered the off-duty officer to the ground, then recognized him as a fellow policeman and told him to stand up and walk toward them.

As he approached, another officer arrived and shot the off-duty officer in the arm, “apparently not recognizing” him, police told the Associated Press.

The black officer, who is 38 years old and an 11-year veteran of the force, was treated at the hospital and released. The shooter, a 36-year-old officer who has been on the force for eight years, told investigators he had feared for his safety. . .

Continue reading.

It seems as though we have quite a few fearful police officers.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Too Many Generals in the Situation Room?

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Loren DeJonge Schulman and Amy Schafer write at Lawfare:

Editor’s Note: The Trump administration, more than any of its predecessors, is relying on serving and retired military leaders to staff key civilian positions, including much of the National Security Council. Too often this is caricatured as a militarization of foreign policy, but the effectsfor better and for worseare probably far more complex. Loren DeJonge Schulman and Amy Schafer of CNAS assess the likely impact of the prominent role of military figures and argue that their perspective is a valuable one but that countervailing points of view are also necessary for U.S. foreign policy to be effective.


From the moment President Trump nominated James Mattis as his secretary of defense, the swamp has made hand-wringing over civil-military relations a fine art. There are veterans on the NSC staff! There are generals in the West Wing! There are no political appointees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the State Department! The president is delegating to the military!

Reasonable people might rightfully inquire: So what? If the president—particularly an inexperienced one such as this—is staffed with competent professionals, what difference does it make if they wear, or once wore, a uniform?

Good question. Most assessments of Trump’s appointees have focused on the long-term effects a militarized leadership team and staff might have on civil-military relations. But few have discussed the basics of the national-security process and how the mix of personalities achieves—or doesn’t—an alchemy that leads to good decision-making. Few have talked about why civilian policy perspectives and military advice are necessarily different, and most valuable when distinct. Some who have raised this issue have been dismissed for relying on clichés and stereotypes: Veterans are warmongers. Civilians are destructive micromanagers. The military doesn’t appreciate soft power. Civilians held the military back.

Clearly, these are extreme interpretations. But there is a small hint of truth to each of them, which is why the practicalities of national-security staffing and the decision process relies on mixing archetypes from across government.

The NSC in General

The Situation Room’s a stage, and the National Security Council functions best when the players understand each other’s roles while mastering their own. It is the primary tool at the president’s disposal to organize the disparate perspectives and advice from his national-security team. By statute and presidential memo, it involves over a dozen agencies and White House offices. The national security advisor—a non-statutory position—manages a process that is ideally impartial and hierarchical that she or he uses to evaluate and present options to the president. Most other member roles are delineated in the Constitution, later statutes including the National Security Act of 1947, and the proclivities of each president. The most frequently lauded NSC “model” is that of LTG (R) Brent Scowcroft under President George H.W. Bush, described in detail by Michele Flournoy:

Scowcroft saw the role of the national security advisor and his staff as that of an honest broker, developing and assessing options for decision, ensuring the president had the benefit of the full range of perspectives when making decisions, and then, once a decision was made, providing oversight to ensure that it was executed by agencies according to presidential intent….This relies on being explicit with each NSC principal, individually and as a team, as to expectations of their respective roles, responsibilities, decision rights, and accountabilities.

Beyond the inclusion in, then removal of, Steve Bannon from his NSC, the most concrete way President Trump has shifted the dynamic of the NSC is by placing a greater number of retired and active military officers in critical national security posts (Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, Waddell), and seeding the leadership of the National Security Council staff with the same (at least 10 current or former military officers out of 25 senior posts). Regardless of your political leanings, veterans now have a larger influence on national security decision-making than in the past, and this bears consideration (in the same way similar numbers of, say, experienced female human-rights lawyers would raise eyebrows).

This matters on account of the roles President Trump asks these current and former uniforms to play. For example, to the layman, the distinction between the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not obvious. The differences between, say, defense strategy and military advice are easily waved away by old friends who know each others’ views well, or a president who cares less about civilian control than the prestige of his GOFOs, or a junior enlisted Marine with a Mattis religious icon on his wall. They shouldn’t be. Each NSC stakeholder has his or her own staff and should come to the table with different rationales or views on the best options available. Their distinct advice derives not only from their expertise but from the full analytic weight of their separate institutions. For example, it is useful for McMaster, Waddell, Mattis, and Kelly to understand the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but commenting on it or being asked by the president to freelance from their new perches minimizes the distinction between military and policy advice.

Simply putting several smart men and women in the room—without caring about what equities they are representing or what biases they maintain—serves the president poorly. Groupthink is their worst enemy.

The NSC’s decision process relies on debate rooted in the lack of consensus among these different perspectives (even stereotypes!). Participants are in the Situation Room less to demonstrate their individual brainpower and more to effectively guide the unique interests, capabilities, and risk assessments of their agencies in pursuit of national security. These roles are profoundly difficult to learn and unlearn; to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, there is no NSC school. Simply putting several smart men and women in the room—without caring about what equities they are representing or what biases they maintain—serves the president poorly. Groupthink is their worst enemy. One of the national security advisor’s roles is to coax out the most robust versions of different perspectives and associated tools without leading the debate toward his or her own bias. Equally important, he or she has to manage the debate in a way that leads to options, not paralytic problem admiration.

Similarly, NSC staffers are usually brought on due to their ability to access and balance the perspectives of the agencies that work within a portfolio (like Afghanistan or nonproliferation). . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 1:47 pm

Trumpcare Will Bring Chaos to Health Care Market

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post in Mother Jones that ends with this very real and pertinent question: “This whole thing is just profoundly depressing. What the hell kind of country is this?”

And note this: More breast cancers diagnosed early after Obamacare.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 1:36 pm

Election hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security

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Morgan Chalfant reports in The Hill:

Growing concerns about threats to U.S. election systems have put the heat on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its efforts to boost national cybersecurity.

Homeland Security officials testified this week before the Senate Intelligence Committee that they have evidence that Russia targeted election-related systems in 21 states as part of its wider effort to influence the presidential election.

Now, lawmakers concerned about future foreign interference in U.S. elections are pressuring the department to offer more help to states and provide more details about what happened in 2016.

“I’m deeply concerned about the danger posed by future interference in our elections,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the intelligence panel, said Wednesday. “We have elections in 2018, but in my home state of Virginia, we have statewide elections this year. So this needs a sense of urgency.”

Homeland Security, which was involved in preparing January’s unclassified report on Russian election interference, is responsible for sharing cybersecurity threat information and safeguarding the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Prior to this week, officials had said little publicly about the extent of Russia’s targeting of state and local election systems. That changed Wednesday when two officials said evidence suggests Russian actors targeted election-related systems in 21 different states.

Warner has appealed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to tell the public which states were targeted. Other lawmakers are pressing officials to offer more information about the extent of Russia’s efforts.

“I just really hope we err on the side of disclosure about our systems so that people have full confidence when they go vote,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“We want to be sensitive to security concerns, but that question has to be answered sooner rather than later,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “We obviously need to know about vulnerabilities, so that we can find solutions, and we need better cybersecurity to protect elections from being hacked in the first place.”

While officials maintain that the systems targeted were not involved in vote tallying, the disclosure has heightened concerns about the possibility of future foreign interference.

The development has also put a greater focus on what the department can and will do to work with state and local officials to secure their systems in the future.

Lawmakers have zeroed in on Homeland Security’s decision to designate election infrastructure as critical. The move has proven controversial with many state officials, who say that they have received little federal guidance.

“Real issues exist with the designation, including a lack of clear parameters around the order which currently provides DHS and other federal agencies with a large amount of unchecked executive authority over our election’s process,” Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson testified this week.

Many lawmakers have remained neutral on the issue, in part because of fears about a federal takeover of elections.

“Just to be clear, nobody’s talking about a federal takeover of local election systems or the federal rules,” Sen. Angus King (I-Me.) said Wednesday. “What we’re talking about is technical assistance in information and perhaps some funding, at some point.”

Others have been firmer in their support of the critical infrastructure designation, announced in the final weeks of the Obama administration. The full slate of Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee wrote to Kelly this week urging him to keep the designation.

Kelly himself has indicated that he will keep the designation in place, but has admitted receiving pushback from state-level officials.

According to Homeland Security, the designation brings federal protections to polling systems, voting machines, voter registration databases, and other elements of election infrastructure in the event that state or local officials request it.

It is also meant to make it easier for the federal government to share sensitive vulnerability information with election officials.  However, Lawson questioned that aim, testifying that no secretary of state has yet been authorized to receive classified threat information from the intelligence community. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 12:53 pm

Does the punishment (death) fit the crime?

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2017 at 9:42 am

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