Saturday, January 14, 2012

Prayers from the Heartland

At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
-- President Barrack Obama at a memorial for the victims of the Tuscon, Ariz. shooting, Jan. 11, 2011.

What the hell is the matter with Kansas?

A man representing our state, its legislature and people thought it would be cute to forward an email, praying for the death of our president. Kansas Speaker of the House Mike O’ Neal said he had at last found a “Biblical prayer for our president.” He then quotes Psalm 109:8:

"Let his days be few; and let another take his office. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children."

What a sterling example of our Middle American Heartland values – faith, family and good old fashioned Kansas pragmatism. The man doesn’t like President Obama’s politics so he uses God and the Bible to justify wanting him dead. This compassionate, conservative Christian wants God to make Michele a widow and Sasha and Malia, orphans.

Invoking God and a religious text to wish death on a human being – I thought only radical Muslims did that. But I’ve found that many right-thinking Christian conservatives believe praying for the death of those evil, unsaved elements destroying America is under God’s umbrella. Take my fat friend, Mr. Grissmachy, for example.

Mr. Grissmachy, an old guy from my hometown, likes to seat his corpulent torso over the stools of the Backwater Bar and Grill and preach God, country and the American Way. Ever since the 9-11 tragedy brought Americans of all stripes together in a harmonious spirit of pride and patriotism, Mr. Grissmachy has been on the warpath against Democrats, liberals, Muslims and everyone else ruining America.

Like many common sense, regular average Joe Americans, Mr. Grissmachy believes Obama is Muslim. He’s not buying Obama’s calm public assertions of being “Christian, by choice.” Nor is he fooled by those falsified birth certificates. Barry Hussein Obama is a radical Muslim, born in Kenya, Indonesia or some such country. He’s not a real American.

America is exceptional to all other countries in history, a Christian nation granted divine providence. Obama is The Other – a man whose presidency possibly signals the end times. He might be the anti-Christ. For these reasons, righteous Americans who believe in Jesus, guns, limited government, state’s rights, Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand and the Tea Party can justify a Christian fatwa against the president. When Obama is dead and Christian sharia is the supreme law of the land, they should all rejoice at that city upon a hill.

Naturally, in a nation founded on laws, many feel wishing death on the president crosses a line. They might be wondering why the Secret Service isn’t knocking on O’Neal’s door. But maybe those people are mistaken and O’Neal is misunderstood.

His response to the backlash is that he was only referring to the first sentence in the scripture, the part about “another taking his office.” He’s only praying that God will elect a new president to the White House in 2012.

Okay, so was O’Neal only talking about first sentence of the verse, as he says now, or was he referring to it “word-for-word,” like he said in his email?

I don’t cut the guy any slack. Only days before his latest hate-mail went out, O’Neal was in the news for another mass email he sent, calling the First Lady, “Mrs. YoMama.”

It’s a bottomless sea of national embarrassment here on the Great Plains. Just when it looks like Texas, Arizona, South Carolina or some other state will become the laughing stock -- the model of bumpkin-ness and intolerance in America – Kansas comes back to claim its place on the throne of backwardness.

I would like to think that most Kansans are not as cruel and mean-spirited as our loud-mouth leaders would lead the public to believe. Then I think of the bumper stickers I’ve seen on the road, reading: “Prayer for Obama: Psalm 109:8.” Now I know what that meant.

O’Neal speaks for the clergymen and church-goers I know in this area who “like” a page calling for Obama’s death on their facebooks. For awhile, there was a preacher in my hometown who said he didn’t think anyone who voted Democrat would make it to Heaven.

I’m embarrassed to have yet another hate monger make the news in my home state, but Kansas is just a slice of Intolerant America. The sentiments of many here were expressed a few years ago by California Southern Baptist pastor, Wiley Drake. In a 2009 interview with Fox News, Drake said he was praying for Obama’s death.

Blasphemous prayers that someone dies, crude racial caricatures in emails and Tea Party signs – that’s where we are in America in 2012 a year after the Tuscon, Az. shootings, a couple of days away from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Biting the hand

Boeing is not your salvation.
--From the preacher's sermon this morning

It was a Saturday afternoon around 20 years ago. I was at the home of a friend of a friend. The man worked for Boeing in Wichita, Kan.

This guy, whose name I don’t remember, lived in an upper middle class home nestled cozily in a country housing addition outside Arkansas City. He had a luscious green sprawling yard and a stylish rock driveway, all of which the man worked hard to make presentable.

There were tees set up in his lawn, golf bags filled with clubs, golf balls and I was all over that shit. The three of us guys bantered good naturedly over a few beers. It was a fun day.

He had two elementary school-aged daughters. They had a croquet set in the lawn and (I shit you, not) asked their dad if they could go to the country club that day. Obviously, it was a place they were familiar with.

My friend and I were in our early 20s, when visiting that Boeing worker. We’re in our early 40s now, and I hope that guy is retired. If he’s not, well, I remember that Fitzgerald’s line from The Great Gatsby when only four people showed up for the lavish, party giving millionaire’s funeral.

The poor sonovabitch

Last week, Boeing announced it will close its Wichita plant at the end of 2013, leaving 2,160 people without a job. Over the past two or three generations, the union backed aircraft industry of Wichita, Kan. has launched blue collar workers into the upper ranks of the middle class. Wichita is the Aircraft Capital of the World and Boeing has long been the Big Daddy of all the aircraft plants that comprised this aviation kingdom and built this city.

On both sides of our families, my wife, Maria, and I have family members who work or have worked for Beech, Boeing and Cessna. It’s a cultural DNA aspect of this community, steeped in hope and anxiety.

Oil to aviation boom
Wichita’s aviation history is descended from the discovery of oil in nearby Butler County. In 1915, a huge gush of oil was drilled on land three miles northwest of El Dorado. A few years later, the oil field was producing 29 million barrels of oil per day and eight refineries were operating within the county. Oil production in that field helped the Allies win World War I.

Jake Mollendick, a Wichita businessman who struck it rich in El Dorado’s oil boom, invested his fortune into the neophyte airplane business. During the 1920s, his company employed Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman, who later started their own company with barnstormer Clyde Cessna. By 1933, these men had all gone their separate ways – the result: Beech, Boeing and Cessna. The Depression years were terrible for local plane makers. Then in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt summoned the Wichita aircraft leaders to Washington D.C. and told them he needed 50,000 aircraft for the inevitable war that was brewing.

Military-Industrial magnet
Wichita employed around 600,000 people in its aircraft plants during WW II. More than 26,300 military planes were built in Wichita and production in the rest of Kansas made the state’s total output 34,500 aircraft.,_KansasPresident Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, known as “Toot” worked as a night shift supervisor on the B-29 assembly line. production transformed Wichita from a bucolic cow town into an urban center. The aircraft plants brought in further industry and thousands more workers, adding to the population of the city and the suburban towns that were also booming.

During the Cold War, Wichita’s aircraft industry, its employees and the community benefitted from the Millitary Industrial Complex. Periodic layoffs and labor strikes, over the years, have hurt the local economy.

The end of the Cold War, 9-11 and globalization have left the aircraft industry in Wichita more uncertain than ever. All the aircraft plants have cut back. Boeing -- if a person could hold on to a job there -- offered an excellent wage and benefit package. A Boeing worker told me a few years ago how there were people in his department who had earned master’s degree, but preferred to continue working at the plant because it paid better.

Also, two people from his department – distressed over being laid off – committed suicide.

No doubt conservatives are already using the Boeing closing as an excuse to bash Obama for cutting the Defense Dept. budget by $450 billion. (Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing our people home, I would say, is a good thing.) Naturally, the complainers will be the same conservatives who blame the president for the deficit, which they helped create.

Hit and Run
The state and community have rolled over and given Boeing a good time for decades. The company has benefitted from decades of industrial revenue bonds – more than $3.5 billion since 1979 – and has received $650 million in property-tax relief.

This past year, Kansas lawmakers moved heaven and earth to ensure that a $35 billion contract to build an aerial tanker for the Air Force went to Boeing and not a European competitor.

“If Boeing wins the contract, the company promises, it will create 11,000 jobs in Washington state and 7,500 jobs in Kansas,” the Lawrence-Journal World reported last Februrary. /

Boeing gave verbal assurance that it would stay in Wichita, but apparently the company’s word isn’t its bond. State Rep. Jim Ward D-Wichita, called Boeing “a poster child for corporate tax incentives."

After 85 years in this town, Boeing bit the corporate welfare hand that fed it.