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TBR News December 27, 2019

Dec 27 2019

The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. December 27, 2019:“Working in the White House as a junior staffer is an interesting experience.
When I was younger, I worked as a summer-time job in a clinic for people who had moderate to severe mental problems and the current work closely, at times, echos the earlier one.
I am not an intimate of the President but I have encountered him from time to time and I daily see manifestations of his growing psychological problems.
He insults people, uses foul language, is frantic to see his name mentioned on main-line television and pays absolutely no attention to any advice from his staff that runs counter to his strange ideas.
He lies like a rug to everyone, eats like a hog, makes lewd remarks to female staffers and flies into rages if anyone dares to contradict him.
It is becoming more and more evident to even the least intelligent American voter that Trump is vicious, corrupt and amoral. He has stated often that even if he loses the
election in 2020, he will not leave the White House. I have news for Donald but this is not the place to discuss it.
Commentary for December 27:” There is the growing possibility that domestic violence is about to erupt in San Francisco between the haves and the have-nots. The former are the snotty electronic boobies from Silicon Valley who have taken over all the lower income housing in San Francisco and booted out their residents. The latter are unable to pay huge rents and so end up, literally, on the street. The richies find their presence on the sidewalks to be offensive and the street people find the richies ever more offensive and various law enforcement reports indicate that violence is not far away. We understand that sabotage is in progress and this can lead to police repression and that to confrontations. Governments are, in the main, too stupid to realize the danger and go on their merry way, stuffing their pockets with taxpayer’s money and ignoring reality.”

The Table of Contents
• ‘They’ve turned their backs on us’: California’s homeless crisis grows in numbers and violence
• Blocked sidewalks: how boulders became a flashpoint in San Francisco’s homeless crisis
• Trump condemned for trivializing homeless crisis in attack on Pelosi
• Exclusive: After Cabinet opposed Mexican cartel policy, Trump forged ahead
• Germans think Trump is more dangerous than Kim Jong Un and Putin
• The Season of Evil
• Why I Am NOT A Christian

‘They’ve turned their backs on us’: California’s homeless crisis grows in numbers and violence
In a state with the world’s fifth largest economy, physical assaults and criminalization efforts have made 2019 a particularly grim year for the homeless
December 27, 2019
Sam Levin in Los Angeles
The Guardian
As homelessness surged to crisis levels in California in 2019, so did the violent attacks on people living in tents and on sidewalks and the political and law enforcement efforts to keep homeless encampments off the streets.
Physical assaults and criminalization efforts combined have made 2019 a particularly grim and terrifying year for many Californians struggling to survive without a roof over their head.
“They are trying to shove us underneath the carpet, and it’s just not fair,” said Shanna Couper Orona, 46, who is currently living out of an RV in San Francisco. “San Francisco is supposed to be progressive, a place where you love everyone, take care of everyone … But they’ve turned their backs on us just because we’re unhoused. They are leaving us with nothing.”
Amid expanding crisis, a surge in homeless victims
In a state with the world’s fifth largest economy, an IPO tech boom, and some of the richest people on earth, California’s severe affordable housing shortage has become what advocates describe as a moral failing and public health emergency.
Los Angeles experienced a 16% increase in homelessness this year, with a total of 36,000 people now homeless across the city, including 27,000 without shelter. San Francisco’s homeless count surged 17% to more than 8,000 people. There was a 42% increase in San Jose, a 47% increase in Oakland, a 52% increase in Sacramento county and increases in the Central Valley agricultural region and wealthy suburbs of Orange county.
There were patterns across cities: huge numbers of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, evictions and unaffordable rents leading people to the streets, families and seniors increasingly homeless, and higher rates of the homeless not getting shelter.
“Homeless people are everywhere now, and they are becoming more and more desperate,” said Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie, an LA pastor who was formerly homeless and now works with people living on Skid Row, known for its massive encampments. “All of these people are human beings. We need to respond to this as if it’s an earthquake.”
The growing visibility has led to an increase in complaints, news coverage focused on housed people who reside near encampments, and intense media attention on the rare cases of violence perpetuated by people living on the streets.
Communities have largely declined to treat the crisis like a natural disaster that demands humanitarian aid. In many places, what followed instead was a backlash, and in some cases overt attacks.
There were at least eight incidents in LA where people threw flammable liquids or makeshift explosives at homeless people or their tents this year, according to authorities and the Los Angeles Times.
A 62-year-old beloved musician’s tent was set on fire in Skid Row in August, killing him in what police say was an intentional killing. That month, two men also allegedly threw a “firework” at an encampment, causing a blaze that grew into a major brush fire just outside of the city. One of the men arrested was the son of a local chamber of commerce president. Police said this fire was intentional. In a separate attack, a molotov cocktail destroyed tents and donations.
n San Francisco, a man was caught on video appearing to dump a bucket of water on a homeless woman and her belongings on the sidewalk in June. Witnesses said it seemed to be a deliberate “attack”.
Three months later, San Franciscans who said they were upset with homeless people in their neighborhood paid to install two-dozen knee-high boulders along a sidewalk in an effort to stop them from living on the streets.
In neighboring Oakland, a resident recently put up an unauthorized concrete barrier in the middle of the street to deter homeless people from parking RVs. A real estate developer taunted homeless people by shouting “free money” at them and offering to pay them to leave their encampment in Oakland.
Residents repeatedly organized against proposed homeless shelters in their neighborhoods, most notably in a wealthy San Francisco area where locals crowdfunded $70,000 to hire an attorney to fight a shelter project.
“A lot of it is brought out by this fear of the other as if their homeless neighbors are not neighbors at all, or not even people for that matter,” said TJ Johnston, who is currently staying in shelters in San Francisco and is an editor with Street Sheet, a local homelessness publication. Hearing wealthy residents complain this year was like watching angry online comment sections come to life, he said: “It’s very dehumanizing to be looked upon as a nuisance.”
A ‘terrifying’ trend: jailing people for being ‘too poor’
As the crisis has worsened, local governments have spent billions to create new housing and provide services, but the scale of the response has been inadequate. Cities have increasingly looked to law enforcement and legal maneuvers to tackle the problem.
Those political efforts to further criminalize the homeless in turn have sparked intense anger and fear among the homeless population and their advocates.
LA leaders fought to ban people from sleeping on streets and sidewalks throughout the city. In Lancaster, a desert city north of LA, the mayor has pushed a proposal to ban groups that provide food to homeless people and suggested people should buy firearms to protect themselves from violent people on the streets.
This month, in a case closely watched by many west coast cities, the US supreme court dealt a victory to homeless advocates by allowing an existing ruling to stand that states governments cannot ban people from living on the street if they don’t offer enough shelter beds.
Officials in Oakland have proposed a new policy to cite homeless people in parks while some have suggested setting up a shelter in a defunct jail. Law enforcement leaders in Bakersfield in the central valley pushed a plan to throw homeless people in jail for misdemeanor offenses. A state task force has also suggested a similar system of forcibly placing homeless people into shelters.
These efforts ignore the overwhelming evidence that criminalization and locking people up are costly and harmful responses that fail to fix the crisis, said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
“There’s a dangerous and disturbing movement in California to address homelessness not by expanding access to safe, affordable and permanent housing … but by jailing people,” she said. “It’s a terrifying prospect of a world in which we segregate, incarcerate and restrict the civil liberties of people just because they have disabilities and they are too poor to afford a home in our skyrocketing private rental market.”
Fears and unfounded stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness seem to be driving these policy pushes to jail those in need, she said.
The Trump administration has created further anxiety by repeatedly suggesting he might pursue some kind of police crackdown in California to clear the streets of encampments.
The president has used the crisis to attack Democratic leaders in the state, and has complained about homeless people in LA and San Francisco taking up space on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings … where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”
“It’s a huge concern – are they just going to take people to jail?” said Kat Doherty, an LA woman who became homeless this year and is living at a shelter at Skid Row. Trump’s talk has terrified her and others, she said. “It’s horrendous. It sounds like a death camp situation.”
With the president promoting criminalization, it could inspire some anti-Trump Democrats in California to push back, said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. “There’s some hopefulness that it will force the local municipalities to shift in opposition to Trump and talk about how criminalization doesn’t work.”
But some are not optimistic about 2020, especially since the crisis is on track to continue escalating, with people falling into homelessness at rates that far outpace governments’ ability to find housing for those on the street.
“Conditions are going to get worse – and the responses are going to get worse,” said Jn-Marie.
If the political attacks continue next year, some said they hoped to see more communities fighting to stand up for the homeless.
“I want people to give a fuck and help. Don’t just ignore it,” Orona said. “Just because we’re unhoused doesn’t mean we’re not San Francisco residents. We still have a heartbeat. We still buy food. We still exist.”

California homelessness crisis in 2019

16% Increase in homelessness in Los Angeles
17% Increase in homelessness in San Francisco
42% Increase in homelessness in San Jose
47% Increase in homelessness in Oakland
52% Increase in homelessness in Sacramento county

Blocked sidewalks: how boulders became a flashpoint in San Francisco’s homeless crisis
In a city with a $12bn budget and tech millionaires, more than 8,000 people are forced to sleep on the streets each night
by Vivian Ho
The Guardian
They appeared seemingly from out of thin air last month: two dozen knee-high boulders, at first glance, unremarkable, placed with remarkable precision along a sidewalk in a quiet alley in San Francisco.
Within days, they became a flashpoint for a city in the midst of a homeless crisis.
Residents of the Clinton Park alley, located to the north of San Francisco’s trendy Mission District neighborhood, funded the rock installation to deter loitering after what they described as a year of flagrant drug-dealing and unpredictable behavior. Housing advocates and other civically minded critics were quick to call the boulders out as anti-homeless architecture.
“Boulders don’t stop people from drug dealing,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “But they do stop people from sleeping.”
So began a tale of Sisyphean feats. An artist put the boulders up for sale on Craigslist. The post was flagged and taken down. Activists rolled the rocks off the sidewalk and into the street. The city, which was not involved in the installation, placed the boulders back. The boulders ended up in the street again. Back on the sidewalk. Back in the street.
At the heart of this whole saga is a simmering frustration, coming in from all directions, at one specific issue. In a city with a $12bn budget, where new tech millionaires street-park their Teslas and pay for their multimillion dollar condos in cash, more than 8,000 people are forced to sleep in the streets each night.
On one end of the spectrum, there are advocates like Friedenbach, who calls the crisis “a fundamental human rights violation”. Their concern is for the unhoused, for their ability to access the help and resources they need to get off the streets and into a stable environment.
On the other end of the continuum, there are the quality-of-life complaints and frustration with the city’s seemingly inability to spark much change – the qualms with how visible homelessness affects the housed. Chris Herring, a sociology doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, analyzed 3m 311 calls in a paper published in the American Sociological Review, and found that calls regarding the homeless increased by 781% in San Francisco between 2011 and 2017.
“People complain about seeing homelessness. They complain about poop and needles,” said Danielle Baskin, the San Francisco artist who put the boulders up for sale on Craigslist. “They’re complaining about having it affect their daily commute because they have to step over someone’s sleeping bag.”
“I don’t feel that bad for people who are complaining about homelessness,” Baskin continued. “I feel bad for the homeless people themselves. But I think that nobody knows what to do. That’s the issue.”
This sentiment was heavy over the alley this week, after the city removed the boulders at the behest of the neighbors. They had been fed up with the constant attempts to roll them into the streets, and are working with local officials to figure out a next step.
One Clinton Park resident, who asked not to be named, stood across from the sidewalk in question, which, for the moment, was clear of any encampments or activity. He was supportive of the boulders, though he wanted planters “because people do view boulders as hostile”. But he’s also supportive of more housing, more shelters, more drug treatment, more mental health treatment and better solutions altogether.
This resident is a nurse practitioner who works with patients living in single-room occupancy units in the Tenderloin neighborhood – patients who had recently been homeless and are recovering from drug addiction. He was frustrated with how the whole saga painted everyone who lives in Clinton Park as anti-homeless. The issue wasn’t with people sleeping on the sidewalks, he said. People have been sleeping on that sidewalk for at least the eight years he’s lived in the neighborhood. The issue was with the rampant drug-dealing and drug use.
Almost half the homeless population in San Francisco suffers from both mental illness and substance abuse disorder, according to the city department of public health.
“People say, ‘Gosh, these boulders, are they going to stop drug-dealing?’ Maybe not. But it’s not tidy,” he said. “It’s just been this combination of getting high, getting dope, getting crystal meth and sitting there for days. There are fights, there are fires. This woman was bringing her infant by to score dope.”
This wasn’t a situation like that of the neighbors who started a crowdfunding campaign to fight the construction of a homeless shelter, citing reasons such as it was “likely to decrease the fair market value” for any future projects in that wealthy neighborhood, the resident said. In a way, he was almost heartened by the outcry against the boulders. “It would maybe be worse if people didn’t get excited about it, if they just accepted it,” he said. “People do care. I could see myself doing it too, decades back.”
“We need more transitional housing, more navigation centers, more permanent housing, more access to treatment, more something,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
San Francisco has a waitlist of more than 1,100 for a shelter bed. London Breed, the city mayor, is working toward increasing the number of shelter beds by 1,000 by the next year, but in the midst of an affordable housing crisis in which the median rent has risen to $3,700 for a one-bedroom apartment, many in San Francisco are feeling discouraged that they will see any meaningful results.
Oftentimes, the complaints about homelessness will drive the city’s efforts, and they end up only addressing visible homelessness rather than the issue itself. In 2016, the city passed a ballot measure banning all tents on city sidewalks – but rejected a measure that would have raised the sales tax to fund homeless services.
What that means is that it’s now illegal for people to camp on the streets, but there’s nowhere for them to go.
“It just pushes people from place to place,” said Friedenbach. “For homeless folks, they’re constantly looking for a place to sleep where they won’t bother folks, and then they get pushed out of those areas into more residential areas. Then the neighbors complain, and they get pushed from one residential place to another residential place and no one ends up happy in the end, especially not the homeless folk who end up shuffled from one place to another.”
San Francisco has more anti-homeless laws than any other California city, according to Herring, the sociology doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley who analyzed the 311 calls, but the laws haven’t solved homelessness – they’ve criminalized it. Police now have the law behind them to move homeless people along when neighbors complain. But they still have nowhere to go. In a 2014 study, Herring found that only 9% of respondents said they moved indoors the last time they were forced to move, they were short-term indoor spaces, such as a library or a bus.
“Most people stayed outside, and the majority of folks stayed within the same neighborhood,” Herring said. “A lot of people are just walking around the corner.”
No homeless people wandered along Clinton Park, even after the boulders were removed this week. But across the street, Brooks Zorn sat outside Whole Foods, holding a sign reading, “Anything Helps.”
He was disheartened to hear about the anti-homeless boulders. Overall, he felt that San Francisco was much more friendly to the homeless than where he grew up in Marin county, just over the Golden Gate Bridge, where “you would get arrested if you’re caught sleeping anywhere”.
Just three years ago, Zorn had steady work as a cook and a place to live.
“They shouldn’t view us as homeless people,” Zorn said of the neighbors who installed the boulders. “They should view us as human beings who just have life problems. They could be one paycheck short of being homeless too. It could happen to them, it could happen to anybody.”
Hannah Hayne sat outside the Safeway across from Whole Foods with a palm-sized cardboard sign reading “Need Food.” The 27-year-old said she could go back to school and get off the streets with some help, but spoke with a circular cadence that suggested there was more to her situation than she cared to share. She had a head injury that was exacerbated when she was hit by a rock while homeless, she said, which she has been on and off since the age of 16. “I’ve been outside too long,” Hayne said.
Hayne started to say she understood why people didn’t want homeless people around, and that anti-homeless architecture like the boulders would give the homeless the boost they need to “get inside” before her thoughts ran from her again.
“It’s just confusing to me because I feel like there should be an inside to get into,” Hayne said. “I just don’t understand how there’s not.”
Comment: Althought it is being kept very, very quiet by the media, the badgered homeless in San Francisco are launching sabotage attacks against the noveau rich electronic barons who are trying to force them off the streets. One of the most effective methods is to squirt Hydrofluoric acid from a douchebag onto the windshields of expensive cars and display windows of perceived enemies. This etches the glass and makes it impossible to see through. Handfulls of roofing nails are tossed onto the driveways of posh apartment and condos, ripping up tires. The ritchies are shrieking with rage but can do nothing and if the street rebels disccover that apartments occupied by their enemies have paper-laden dumpsters up against rear walls, fires started in them could well wreak havoc not seen in San Francisco since the 1906 fire. The richies can dish it out but would never be able to take it. ed

Trump condemned for trivializing homeless crisis in attack on Pelosi
• President’s tweets denounced as ‘vile and reprehensible’
• Trump: speaker’s ‘filthy dirty’ district is worst for homelessness
December 26, 2019
by David Smith in Washington
The Guardian
Donald Trump has been condemned for “vile and reprehensible” tweets that trivialize America’s homelessness crisis in an attempt to rebuke the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the architect of his impeachment.
On Thursday the president, holed up at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida over Christmas, went on the offensive against Pelosi, whose home district includes San Francisco.
“Nancy Pelosi’s District in California has rapidly become one of the worst anywhere in the U.S. when it come [sic] to the homeless & crime,” Trump tweeted. “It has gotten so bad, so fast – she has lost total control.”
In another post, he wrote: “Crazy Nancy should clean up her filthy dirty District & help the homeless there.”
The diatribe was criticized by advocates for homeless Americans, of whom there are more than half a million on any single night. The president is exploiting the issue for his own political gain, they argued.
Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), said: “Trump’s tweets are vile and reprehensible. The only time he utters the word homelessness is to use it as a political cudgel to try to embarrass perceived political enemies.
“Homelessness in California is indeed a crisis, as it is in many other areas of the country – one that demands urgent action at the federal, state and local levels. Federal action to solve the crisis is long overdue, but President Trump has tried, time and time again, to worsen homelessness in our country.”
Trump has proposed drastically shrinking or eliminating federal programs that keep the lowest-income people affordably housed, tripling rents for the lowest-income subsidized residents, and raising rents for all subsidized residents, Yentel added.
“He has proposed evicting 100,000 people, including 55,000 American children, from subsidized housing – in California, over 37,000 of the lowest-income people are at risk of eviction from this Trump proposal alone. He’s proposed allowing homeless shelters to discriminate and refuse shelter to transgender and other LGBTQ people, subjecting them to high risk of violence.”
Trump has long struggled to combat Pelosi, who last week led House Democrats to impeach him over abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Even his tried and trusted method of branding adversaries has eluded him, with “Nervous Nancy” failing to stick and now “Crazy Nancy” being floated.
But not for the first time, he has latched on to an attack line that draws on headlines and talking points to build a superficial case in the eyes of his partisan supporters. The rocketing cost of housing, wrangling over over affordable construction, legal complications, substance abuse and mental health issues have contributed to a surge of homelessness in San Francisco, Los Angeles and other parts of California.
Earlier this month the Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by secretary Ben Carson, reported that homelessness in the US has grown for a third consecutive year. “Homelessness increased in California by 21,306 people, or 16.4%, accounting for more than the entire national increase,” the department said.
In response, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, told the Associated Press that California has invested a record $1bn to help communities fight homelessness. He added: “But we have work to do. And we need the federal government to do its part.”
The federal government, however, has alarmed the NLIHC and other advocates for homeless people. Earlier this month the White House appointed Robert Marbut as director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which works with 19 federal departments and agencies.
The New York Times noted: “Marbut has worked with cities in states such as California and Florida to build homeless shelters equipped with job training, mental health services, and other support services. His shelters often have an outside courtyard where people who have broken rules are told to sleep.”
Marbut is an opponent of “Housing First”, a research-backed strategy that prioritizes finding safe, stable and accessible housing for people experiencing homelessness, and that campaigners say has worked well in many cities. Critics fear that Marbut will criminalize much of the behavior associated with homelessness.
With its Democratic leanings and so-called “Hollywood elites”, California has become a punchbag for Trump. On an otherwise quiet Christmas Day, he railed against the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, whom he claimed had “done a really bad job on taking care of the homeless population in California. If he can’t fix the problem, the Federal Govt. will get involved!”
In his barrage of tweets against Pelosi on Thursday, Trump added: “… she has lost total control and, along with her equally incompetent governor, Gavin Newsom, it is a very sad sight!”
Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco who frequently jabs back at the current president, tweeted in response: “I imagine Trump’s Christmas to be like that scene when the Grinch yells ‘I’m an idiot!’” and his echo yells back ‘you’re an idiot!!’”

Exclusive: After Cabinet opposed Mexican cartel policy, Trump forged ahead
December 26, 2019
by Jonathan Landay, Ted Hesson and Arshad Mohammed
Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In the weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration last month that he would forge ahead with designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, Cabinet members and top aides from across the government recommended against it, five people knowledgeable about the matter told Reuters.
The recommendations, which some of the sources described as unanimous, have not been reported previously. They were driven in part by concerns that such designations could harm U.S.-Mexico ties, potentially jeopardizing Mexico’s cooperation with Trump’s efforts to halt illegal immigration and drug trafficking across the border, said two sources, including a senior administration official.
Another key concern was that the designations could make it easier for migrants to win asylum in the United States by claiming they were fleeing terrorism, the senior administration official and two other sources said.
Stephen Miller, one of the most influential White House advisers and the architect of Trump’s policies to stem immigration, was among the officials who voiced concerns during deliberations that preceded two high-level meetings resulting in recommendations to shelve the designation plan, according to two of the sources.
The White House and Miller declined to comment on the record. All of the sources who spoke to Reuters requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Reuters could not determine whether the president had been briefed on the recommendations before announcing, during a Nov. 26 interview with conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly, that he was going forward with the plan.
Less than two weeks a later, on Dec. 9, the president tweeted that he was temporarily delaying the plan at Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s request.
The senior administration official portrayed the president’s announcement not as a reversal but as a strategic move.
“Even the threat of designation was extremely useful leverage in terms of obtaining further cooperation” from Mexico, the official said.
The official said that reviving the plan remains “a live possibility” depending on Mexico’s cooperation on such issues as sealing the border to narcotics trafficking and controlling immigration.
The Mexican government has argued that equating drug cartels with Islamic State and al Qaeda could open the door to U.S. military intervention.
In a meeting with Attorney General William Barr on Dec. 5, President Lopez Obrador expressed opposition to the designation plan, saying the Mexican constitution would not permit such foreign interference, a presidential spokesman told Reuters Tuesday. After the plan was delayed, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted his appreciation of Trump’s decision, saying “there will be good results.”
CRACKDOWN HINGED ON COOPERATION
Trump has made halting illegal immigration and narcotics trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border a signature issue of his first term and his 2020 re-election campaign.
Designating a group as a foreign terrorist organization, or FTO, is aimed at disrupting its finances through sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on their members and associates. The State Department oversees the process.
The success of Trump’s immigration crackdown hinges, however, on Mexico’s cooperation. Earlier this year, Mexico agreed to deploy thousands of national guard troops to intercept migrants moving north toward the U.S. border after the American president threatened to impose escalating tariffs on Mexican goods.
In addition, Mexico has taken in tens of thousands of migrants sent back from the United States to await decisions on their U.S. asylum requests.
The senior administration official said Trump and many top aides have wanted to crack down on cartel trafficking in narcotics and illegal immigration for some time and were looking at novel approaches, including the FTO designation plan.
The president and senior officials believed that they needed “to have an extremely aggressive posture toward the cartels and to look at using tools that had not been used before,” he said.
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation in March that also would have established an FTO designation for cartels.
The Trump administration began working on its plan in late August, Trump told O’Reilly in the Nov. 26 interview, before declaring that the cartels “will be designated” as FTOs.
UNANIMOUS OPPOSITION
A few weeks earlier, according to two former officials and another knowledgeable person, deputies to Cabinet members recommended in a meeting that the administration’s plan be shelved. The Nov. 8 meeting was held four days after nine American women and children died in an ambush linked to what Mexican officials asserted was a territorial dispute between rival gangs in northern Mexico.
Miller attended the meeting and the decision was unanimous, according to one source.
Participants at a Nov. 20 Cabinet-level meeting also advised against the proposal, according to four sources. That decision, too, was unanimous and Miller was there, two of the sources said.
The agencies represented at the meetings included the departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, Treasury and Commerce, one administration official said.
Numerous current and former U.S. officials and other experts say that designating Mexican cartels as FTOs would be counter-productive.
Several pointed out that a 1999 law allowing U.S. officials to designate foreign drug traffickers as narcotics kingpins already allows the imposition of sanctions similar to those authorized by an FTO designation.
The senior administration official said that U.S. officials’ ability to use the 1999 law contributed to the decision to delay the FTO designation plan.
A Dec. 19 report published by the conservative Heritage Foundation warned that designating cartels as FTOs would weaken Trump’s immigration policies.
“A terrorism designation could allow unintended numbers to apply for political asylum in the U.S.,” said the report. “The pool of applicants could logically extend beyond Mexico. While Mexican cartels’ territorial stronghold is within their own country, they have representatives on every continent except Antarctica.”
Jason Blazakis, who oversaw the designation process at the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau from 2008-2018, said that in addition to damaging U.S.-Mexican relations, the FTO designation could hurt Mexico’s economy by prompting foreign businesses to leave the country or reconsider investing there.
Asset freezes and bans on travel to the U.S. could affect Mexican officials, military commanders, and businessmen in league with the cartels.
“You are blurring the lines between criminality and terrorism and that is extremely problematic,” said Blazakis, now a professor of now a professor of international relations at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
He added: “There are hundreds of Brazilian gangs eligible for the list. There are numerous Chinese and Russian criminal gangs eligible for the list. Where would you stop?”
(The story corrects first paragraph to say “last month” not “this month”).
Matt Spetalnik and Frank Jack Daniel contributed reporting; Editing by Mary Milliken and Julie Marquis

Germans think Trump is more dangerous than Kim Jong Un and Putin
When asked who posed the greatest threat to world peace, Germans in a recent poll overwhelmingly pointed to one person — Donald Trump. The US president beat out the leaders of North Korea, Russia, China and Iran.
December 26, 2019
by Rebecca Staudenmaier
DW
Although Washington is one of Germany’s closest allies, public trust in the US has significantly eroded under President Donald Trump, a new YouGov survey showed.
Germans were asked who was more dangerous: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Russian President Vladimir Putin or US President Donald Trump.
Some 41% of Germans said they thought Trump was the most dangerous out of the five world leaders.
In second place was Kim with 17%, followed by Putin and Khamenei with 8%. Coming in last was China’s Xi with 7%.
Over 2,000 people in Germany took part in the survey, which was commissioned by news agency dpa.
A similar YouGov poll was carried out in July last year, in which 48% of Germans surveyed said Trump was more dangerous than Kim and Putin. That poll, however, did not include the leaders of Iran or China.
Macron trusted more than Merkel
A separate year-end poll showed that public trust in German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also diminished at home, particularly when compared to other European leaders.
According to a poll carried out by the Kantar institute for the Funke media group, 57% of Germans surveyed said they had a “rather high” level of trust in French President Emmanuel Macron.
Merkel, on the other hand, came in several points behind the French leader at 53%.
The differences were even more pronounced on the other end of the scale, with 44% of Germans surveyed saying they had “very little” trust in Merkel, compared to 32% for Macron.
In that poll, Trump came in last as the least trustworthy leader (89% very little trust), behind Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (86%) and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (71%). Developments in all three NATO allies since around 2016 have gained considerable media attention in Germany.

The Season of Evil
by Gregory Douglas

Preface
This is in essence a work of fiction, but the usual disclaimers notwithstanding, many of the horrific incidents related herein are based entirely on factual occurrences.
None of the characters or the events in this telling are invented and at the same time, none are real. And certainly, none of the participants could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be either noble, self-sacrificing, honest, pure of motive or in any way socially acceptable to anything other than a hungry crocodile, a professional politician or a tax collector.
In fact, the main characters are complex, very often unpleasant, destructive and occasionally, very entertaining.
To those who would say that the majority of humanity has nothing in common with the characters depicted herein, the response is that mirrors only depict the ugly, evil and deformed things that peer into them
There are no heroes here, only different shapes and degrees of villains and if there is a moral to this tale it might well be found in a sentence by Jonathan Swift, a brilliant and misanthropic Irish cleric who wrote in his ‘Gulliver’s Travels,”
“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most odious race of little pernicious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Swift was often unkind in his observations but certainly not inaccurate.

Frienze, Italy
July 2018-August 2019

Chapter 40

At first, Chuck thought LeBec was having some kind of a coughing spasm as the man began gasping and clawing at his chest. He changed his mind when the man slumped forward and vomited onto the blanket, his hands raised in front of him, shaking up and down like he was mixing a cocktail.
Before Chuck could get to him, LeBec toppled over to one side, his mouth and eyes both wide open. Chuck felt his pulse which was faint and very erratic and then stopped entirely.
He checked the pulse in his neck and then stood up.
LeBec was quite dead and had obviously suffered a massive, fatal heart attack.
Not wanting to bother Gwen with the mess, he rolled his deceased guest onto the throw rug on the floor, stripped off the soaked bedding and covered the corpse with a spare blanket.
While the washing machine was churning away the last of LeBec’s bodily fluids, Chuck found Gwen in the library. She had been slowly working her way through some of Chuck’s books and having finished with Queen Victoria was now reading about the origins of the Civil War.
“You look terrible, Chuck. What’s the matter?”
Finger into her place and head tilted back, she looked intently at him with her large, brown eyes.
“The fellow in the guest room just died.”
She put down the book.
“Did you kill him?”
“God no, he had a heart attack.”
“Good. I didn’t trust him anyway. Did you get any information out of him before he croaked?”
“Enough. It must be my uncle behind this and I have the name of the cop who was orchestrating it. His number’s in the frog’s little phone book that I rescued from his pants before I washed them. This is a lovely business, Gwen. I’m sorry to get you involved in this.”
She got up.
“I wanted to shoot him, remember? Where is he now?”
“On the floor in the guest room.”
“Well, we can put him outside and keep him cold. He won’t spoil in this weather and then when it warms up a little, we can take him out and dump him somewhere where he won’t be found.”
“Yes. I was thinking about putting him back under the tree where we found him. Then we can fill the hole in.”
“The ground is probably frozen, dear.”
Chuck laughed.
“You are really something, love. Lady MacBeth in person. Never mind, at least I can depend on you and that’s something. I’ll tell Lars and then try to get some dinner ready.”
“Do you want me to drag him outside while you’re in the kitchen? You won’t let me cook so I might as well do something useful.”
“No, let me do it.”
And Marcel ended up in a snow bank beside the driveway, wrapped in plastic sheeting. There was no point, Chuck reasoned, in shrouding him in a perfectly good wool blanket.

The new storm continued for another day, covering the remains of the assassin with a gentle blanket of snow. No one missed him and all that remained of him was his wallet, telephone book, ring of keys and the cased gun in the attic.
Two days after LeBec died, the power came back on again and the generator automatically shut off. Five days later, the phone service was partially restored and the weekend before Thanksgiving, Chuck took the snowmobile into town to buy food for the holiday. The town consisted of about twenty houses, five small businesses, a gas station and the post office. The latter had lost part of its roof but was still functioning. The first mail delivery in several weeks had arrived and his box was stuffed with newspapers, four occupant letters and a note from Lars’ mother. There was also a slip indicating the existence of a big stack of newspapers and the notice of a Thanksgiving special at the market.
He returned an hour later, laden with papers, yams, cranberry sauce, frozen pumpkin pie, bread stuffing, eggs, celery and numerous other items. While in the store, he had heard numerous tales of woe from the locals about the damage to their houses, the amount of food that had spoiled and how much furniture had been burnt in fireplaces and stoves to keep people from freezing. The local garage supplied a service to dig out the snowbound and Chuck, who had paid them earlier, made an appointment for the next day with the driver of the front loader. There were others ahead of him but he found it amazing how much service and cooperation he could get with a hundred dollar bill.
The extent of the disaster was only just becoming apparent and all that afternoon, they watched the news stations on the recently resurrected television which displayed an endless parade of enormous snow drifts, crushed cars, collapsed homes and frozen livestock. Even northern Illinois and Chicago had been badly hit and while the snow was not as deep, the city had come to a virtual standstill. There were still power outages in scattered locations but life was beginning to resume the even tenor of its ways. There were three drug-related killings in Chicago, one small child was set on fire by other children because he would not surrender his lunch money and a major art exhibit at the Art Institute had to be canceled because of poor attendance. The shores of Lake Michigan were heaped up with immense, jagged walls of ice and the beaches that were so full of sun worshippers in summer now looked like a bleak and hostile shore in Antarctica
The museum collection to be displayed, an assemblage of enormous and obviously well-loved Central African phallic devices, was returned to the De Young Museum in San Francisco where it had held pride of place for a number of years.
There were a number of unfortunate street people who had frozen to death and whose bodies were just beginning to emerge into public view in the dirty snow banks that lined all of the Chicago streets.
The Thanksgiving dinner was preceded by hours of delicious odors of baking pie, turkey and soup infusing the entire house and by the time the household sat down in the formal dining room, they were ravenous.
The day after the holiday, the road that led to the house had been cleared and Gwen decided to go into town and buy various intimate items. Just after she left the main driveway, she saw a brief smear of color in the edge of the wall of snow at the side of the cleared road. It was obviously the car belonging to the late LeBec and she made a note to check it out when she got back. If it was, it would have to be dealt with before the local sheriff’s patrol happened on it and made reports.
She checked the post office, which was empty except for a man leafing through the wanted notices pinned to the wall, and picked up four more papers for Chuck.
When she got back to the van, she discovered that she had locked the keys inside and she began to say very bad things under her breath. The garage was not open so she went back into the post office, looking for help.
The man looking at the wanted notices turned around.
“You locked your keys in the car?”
There are times when people meet for the first time when some sort of instant reaction occurs. The man was a little bigger than Lars and had dark, curly hair and brown eyes. He was dressed in a parka and faded jeans and Gwen felt as if she had stuck her finger into a light socket. It wasn’t as if he were beautiful but his combination of features had a strong effect on her.
“Yes, I locked my fucking keys in my fucking car.”
He grinned,
“Well, let’s see what we can do for you. Where are you parked?”
When he pulled off his gloves, she observed that he had beautiful hands, pale and very strong, with long, tapered fingers. A small case he produced from his coat contained the same kind of lock picks that Chuck used and in less than a minute, the van door was opened. The man stood back and smiled again.
“There it is, lady, just like new.”
She tossed her purchases onto the passenger seat and smiled back.
“Thanks. Are you a local?”
“No, I’m not. I’m from Philadelphia originally and then Florida. Claude Duplessis.”
He shook hands with her and the touch of his hand on hers had another electric effect.
“My name is Jane MacNamera,” Gwen said with a straight face.
“You Jane? Me Tarzan but the ape died and I ate him. Are you local?”
“I live here but I was born in Arizona.”
“I wish I was there now. Jesus, I was stuck in the storm, my car died and I really would like to get out of this lovely place. The people around here look like they get their haircuts in a pencil sharpener.”
“Are you staying at a motel?”
“There no motels around here, Jane MacNamera, and I’ve been sleeping in my car. The garage people tell me it will take a few weeks to look at the car.”
“Where is it now?”
“In the lot behind their place. I sleep in it at night and I have a really nice Doberman running around outside to keep me company.”
“Are you a lawyer, by any chance?”
“That’s a cold thing to accuse someone of being.”
“Do you know what’s black and brown and looks good on a lawyer?”
“No.”
“A Doberman.”
There was general laughter and mutual appraisal..
“You are welcome to come up and stay at our place until your car is fixed.”
He raised his eyebrows and grinned again.
“Thank you. Are you married?”
“No, not yet.”
There was the possibility that he was somehow connected with the frigid assassin but her instincts said he was not. He was also very attractive and this nullified any lingering doubts.
What Chuck would say was anyone’s guess but it was worth a try. Claude brought two large suitcases and a duffel bag back from his car, climbed into the front seat and they started back to the Viking palace in high good humor.

(Continued)

This is also an e-book, available from Amazon:

Why I Am NOT A Christian
by Bertrand Russell
Introductory note:
Lord Bertrand Russell delivered this lecture on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.
It was published in pamphlet form and met with wide approval. It became a landmark writing for thoughtful readers. Later, in 1957, the essay achieved renewed fame with the publication of Paul Edwards’ edition of Russell’s book: “Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays …” (1957).
As your Chairman has told you, the subject about which I am going to speak to you tonight is “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Perhaps it would be as well, first of all, to try to make out what one means by the word Christian. It is used these days in a very loose sense by a great many people. Some people mean no more by it than a person who attempts to live a good life. In that sense I suppose there would be Christians in all sects and creeds; but I do not think that that is the proper sense of the word, if only because it would imply that all the people who are not Christians – all the Buddhists, Confucians, Mohammedans, and so on – are not trying to live a good life. I do not mean by a Christian any person who tries to live decently according to his lights. I think that you must have a certain amount of definite belief before you have a right to call yourself a Christian. The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions.
What Is a Christian
Nowadays it is not quite like that (as described above). We have to be a little more vague in our meaning of Christianity. I think, however, that there are two different items which are quite essential to anybody calling himself a Christian. The first is one of a dogmatic nature – namely, that you must believe in God and immortality.
If you do not believe in those two things, I do not think that you can properly call yourself a Christian.
Then, further than that, as the name implies, you must have some kind of belief about Christ. The Mohammedans, for instance, also believe in God and in immortality, and yet they would not call themselves Christians. I think you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men. If you are not going to believe that much about Christ, I do not think you have any right to call yourself a Christian. Of course, there is another sense, which you find in Whitaker’s Almanack and in geography books, where the population of the world is said to be divided into Christians, Mohammedans, Buddhists, fetish worshipers, and so on; and in that sense we are all Christians.
The geography books count us all in, but that is a purely geographical sense, which I suppose we can ignore. Therefore, I take it that when I tell you why I am not a Christian I have to tell you two different things: first, why I do not believe in God and in immortality; and secondly, why I do not think that Christ was the best and wisest of men, although I grant him a very high degree of moral goodness.
But for the successful efforts of unbelievers in the past, I could not take so elastic a definition of Christianity as that. As I said before, in olden days it had a much more full-blooded sense. For instance, it included the belief in hell. Belief in eternal hell-fire was an essential item of Christian belief until pretty recent times. In this country, as you know, it ceased to be an essential item because of a decision of the Privy Council, and from that decision the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York dissented; but in this country our religion is settled by Act of Parliament, and therefore the Privy Council was able to override their Graces and hell was no longer necessary to a Christian. Consequently I shall not insist that a Christian must believe in hell.
The Existence of God
To come to this question of the existence of God: it is a large and serious question, and if I were to attempt to deal with it in any adequate manner I should have to keep you here until Kingdom Come, so that you will have to excuse me if I deal with it in a somewhat summary fashion. You know, of course, that the Catholic Church has laid it down as a dogma that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason. That is a somewhat curious dogma, but it is one of their dogmas. They had to introduce it because at one time the freethinkers adopted the habit of saying that there were such and such arguments which mere reason might urge against the existence of God, but of course they knew as a matter of faith that God did exist. The arguments and the reasons were set out at great length, and the Catholic Church felt that they must stop it. Therefore they laid it down that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason and they had to set up what they considered were arguments to prove it. There are, of course, a number of them, but I shall take only a few.
The First-cause Argument
Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity. I may say that when I was a young man and was debating these questions very seriously in my mind, I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: “My father taught me that the question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question `Who made god?'” That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.” The argument is really no better than that.
There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.
The Natural-law Argument
Then there is a very common argument from natural law.
That was a favorite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed the planets going around the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course, a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of looking any further for explanations of the law of gravitation. Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced. I do not propose to give you a lecture on the law of gravitation, as interpreted by Einstein, because that again would take some time; at any rate, you no longer have the sort of natural law that you had in the Newtonian system, where, for some reason that nobody could understand, nature behaved in a uniform fashion.
We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind. On the other hand, where you can get down to any knowledge of what atoms actually do, you will find they are much less subject to law than people thought, and that the laws at which you arrive are statistical averages of just the sort that would emerge from chance. There is, as we all know, a law that if you throw dice you will get double sixes only about once in thirty-six times, and we do not regard that as evidence that the fall of the dice is regulated by design; on the contrary, if the double sixes came every time we should think that there was design. The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were, you are then faced with the question “Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?” If you say that he did it simply from his own good pleasure, and without any reason, you then find that there is something which is not subject to law, and so your train of natural law is interrupted. If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others – the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it – if there were a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate lawgiver. In short, this whole argument about natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have. I am traveling on in time in my review of the arguments. The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on. They were at first hard intellectual arguments embodying certain quite definite fallacies. As we come to modern times they become less respectable intellectually and more and more affected by a kind of moralizing vagueness.
The Argument from Design
The next step in the process brings us to the argument from design. You all know the argument from design: everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design. It sometimes takes a rather curious form; for instance, it is argued that rabbits have white tails in order to be easy to shoot. I do not know how rabbits would view that application. It is an easy argument to parody.
You all know Voltaire’s remark, that obviously the nose was designed to be such as to fit spectacles. That sort of parody has turned out to be not nearly so wide of the mark as it might have seemed in the eighteenth century, because since the time of Darwin we understand much better why living creatures are adapted to their environment. It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.
When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists? Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.
I am told that that sort of view is depressing, and people will sometimes tell you that if they believed that, they would not be able to go on living. Do not believe it; it is all nonsense. Nobody really worries about much about what is going to happen millions of years hence. Even if they think they are worrying much about that, they are really deceiving themselves. They are worried about something much more mundane, or it may merely be a bad digestion; but nobody is really seriously rendered unhappy by the thought of something that is going to happen to this world millions and millions of years hence. Therefore, although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out — at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation — it is not such as to render life miserable. It merely makes you turn your attention to other things.
The Moral Arguments for Deity
Now we reach one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations, and we come to what are called the moral arguments for the existence of God. You all know, of course, that there used to be in the old days three intellectual arguments for the existence of God, all of which were disposed of by Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason; but no sooner had he disposed of those arguments than he invented a new one, a moral argument, and that quite convinced him. He was like many people: in intellectual matters he was skeptical, but in moral matters he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother’s knee. That illustrates what the psychoanalysts so much emphasize — the immensely stronger hold upon us that our very early associations have than those of later times.
Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as
theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the Gnostics took up — a line which I often thought was a very plausible one — that as a matter of fact, this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.
The Argument for the Remedying of Injustice
Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be Heaven and Hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, “After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.”
Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, “The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.” You would say, “Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment”; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, “Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.” Of course I know that the sort of intellectual arguments that I have been talking to you about are not what really moves people. What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason.
Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people’s desire for a belief in God.
The Character of Christ
I now want to say a few words upon a topic which I often think is not quite sufficiently dealt with by Rationalists, and that is the question whether Christ was the best and the wisest of men. It is generally taken for granted that we should all agree that that was so. I do not myself. I think that there are a good many points upon which I agree with Christ a great deal more than the professing Christians do. I do not know that I could go with Him all the way, but I could go with Him much further than most professing Christians can. You will remember that He said, “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” That is not a new precept or a new principle. It was used by Lao-tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ, but it is not a principle which as a matter of fact Christians accept. I have no doubt that the present prime minister [Stanley Baldwin], for instance, is a most sincere Christian, but I should not advise any of you to go and smite him on one cheek. I think you might find that he thought this text was intended in a figurative sense.
Then there is another point which I consider excellent. You will remember that Christ said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and NONE of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did.
Then Christ says, “Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” That is a very good principle. Your Chairman has reminded you that we are not here to talk politics, but I cannot help observing that the last general election was fought on the question of how desirable it was to turn away from him that would borrow of thee, so that one must assume that the Liberals and Conservatives of this country are composed of people who do not agree with the teaching of Christ, because they certainly did very emphatically turn away on that occasion.
Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor.” That is a very excellent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practised. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to. I do not profess to live up to them myself; but then, after all, it is not quite the same thing as for a Christian.
Defects in Christ’s Teaching
Having granted the excellence of these maxims, I come to certain points in which I do not believe that one can grant either the superlative wisdom or the superlative goodness of Christ as depicted in the Gospels; and here I may say that one is not concerned with the historical question. Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one. I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, he certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.” Then he says, “There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom”; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living.
That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, “Take no thought for the morrow,” and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden.
The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect, clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and He was certainly not superlatively wise.
The Moral Problem
Then you come to moral questions. There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.
You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sorts of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him.
You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell.” That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about Hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: “Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him neither in this World nor in the world to come.”
THAT TEXT HAS CAUSED AN UNSPEAKABLE AMOUNT OF MISERY IN THE WORLD, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.
Then Christ says, “The Son of Man shall send forth his His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth”; and He goes on about the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Itcomes in one verse after another, and it is quite manifest to the reader that there is a certain pleasure in contemplating wailing and gnashing of teeth, or else it would not occur so often.
Then you all, of course, remember about the sheep and the goats; how at the second coming He is going to divide the sheep from the goats, and He is going to say to the goats, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” He continues, “And these shall go away into everlasting fire.” Then He says again, “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.”
He repeats that again and again also. I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.
There are other things of less importance. There is the instance of the Gadarene swine, where it certainly was not very kind to the pigs to put the devils into them and make them rush down the hill into the sea. You must remember that He was omnipotent, and He could have made the devils simply go away; but He chose to send them into the pigs. Then there is the curious story of the fig tree, which always rather puzzled me. You remember what happened about the fig tree. “He was hungry; and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came if haply He might find anything thereon; and when He came to it He found nothing but leaves, for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it: ‘No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever’ . . . and Peter . . . saith unto Him: ‘Master, behold the fig tree which thou cursedest is withered away.'” This is a very curious story, because it was not the right time of year for figs, and you really could not blame the tree. I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects.
The Emotional Factor
As I said before, I do not think that the real reason why people accept religion has anything to do with argumentation. They accept religion on emotional grounds. One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous.
So I am told; I have not noticed it. You know, of course, the parody of that argument in Samuel Butler’s book, Erewhon Revisited. You will remember that in Erewhon there is a certain Higgs who arrives in a remote country, and after spending some time there he escapes from that country in a balloon. Twenty years later he comes back to that country and finds a new religion in which he is worshiped under the name of the “Sun Child,” and it is said that he ascended into heaven. He finds that the Feast of the Ascension is about to be celebrated, and he hears Professors Hanky and Panky say to each other that they never set eyes on the man Higgs, and they hope they never will; but they are the high priests of the religion of the Sun Child. He is very indignant, and he comes up to them, and he says, “I am going to expose all this humbug and tell the people of Erewhon that it was only I, the man Higgs, and I went up in a balloon.”
He was told, “You must not do that, because all the morals of this country are bound round this myth, and if they once know that you did not ascend into Heaven they will all become wicked”; and so he is persuaded of that and he goes quietly away.
That is the idea — that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.
You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world.
I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
How the Churches Have Retarded Progress
You may think that I am going too far when I say that that is still so. I do not think that I am. Take one fact. You will bear with me if I mention it. It is not a pleasant fact, but the churches compel one to mention facts that are not pleasant. Supposing that in this world that we live in today, an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man; in that case the Catholic Church says, “This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must endure celibacy or stay together. And if you stay together, you must not use birth control to prevent the birth of syphilitic children.”
Nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
That is only an example. There are a great many ways in which, at the present moment, the church, by its insistence upon what it chooses to call morality, inflicts upon all sorts of people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. And of course, as we know, it is in its major part an opponent still of progress and improvement in all the ways that diminish suffering in the world, because it has chosen to label as morality a certain narrow set of rules of conduct which have nothing to do with human happiness; and when you say that this or that ought to be done because it would make for human happiness, they think that has nothing to do with the matter at all.
“What has human happiness to do with morals? The object of morals is not to make people happy.”
Fear, the Foundation of Religion
Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.
Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts.
Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.
What We Must Do
We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men.
When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages.
A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

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