Wife of Chiefs’ owner told she couldn’t print Christmas stamps because of a Russian cathedral background

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – United States Constitution, First Amendment

In other words, our government can’t tell you whom or what to worship or how to do it, and by the same token, it can’t keep you from praying or behaving religiously.

This should be called the acknowledgement amendment. It includes clauses to allow the public and the government to fully recognize there are religions and all worshipers are permitted to follow their beliefs.

Christ stampThat means under the Constitution, the United States Postal Service (USPS) may legally print postage stamps complete with Christ Child, Madonna and the word Christmas. The holiday named after Christ is so acknowledged by an arm of the government. See right:

If the government is allowed to use religious figures on stamps, along with the word Christmas, that means the people can do the same. Freedom to acknowledge religion is supposed to be our guaranteed right.

Don’t tell that to the frustrated and harried owners of the Kansas City Chiefs. Clark and Tavia Hunt thought it would be a grand idea to create their own postage stamps to use for their family Christmas cards. The USPS has commissioned companies to do that for you, including Stamps.com and Zazzle.

Hunts Xma_fittedThis philatelic saga began when the Hunts had the family photo (left) taken in Russia with wife and children holding a Kansas City Chiefs poster. We all know the NFL needs any good publicity it can scrounge, including folks wearing funny hats and looking quite wealthy. (Clark, worth $2 billion, is the son of Lamar Hunt and the grandson of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt.)

After endless, “please hold for next foreign consultant” and “push 1 for English”, Tavia Hunt had her lawyers send a letter to USPS last week, demanding an explanation for their stupid policy – adopted in early 2017. That rule forbids “all religious content” being used on U.S. postal stamps manufactured privately through third-party printers authorized to create customized stamps.

The policy says it’s okay for the post office to recognize there are religions with postage stamps, but even rich people are not allowed the same (God-given?) right.

The confrontation unfolded this way. On November 28 Tavia placed an order for custom stamps made from that picture of her family taken in front of the minarets of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, holding a flag, reading “Chief’s Kingdom” in the team’s colors.

As part of the program of state atheism, the cathedral – built in 1561 by Ivan the Terrible – was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community as part of the Soviet Union’s anti-theist campaigns. It has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928. It’s current name is Pokrovsky Cathedral (Покро́вский собо́р).

Tavia used Zazzle, with fulfillment through stamps.com. A few days later she learned her family image had been rejected because of its “religious” content. She objected on grounds of religious freedom, and Zazzle approved the order.

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Tavia Hunt

When Tavia tried to track her shipment online, she learned the order was cancelled again. Zazzle said she should contact Stamps.com, because they are responsible for all content decisions.

Stamps.com initially claimed the rejection had nothing to do with Hunt’s religious devotion or the image of St. Basil’s. It said the problem was illegal use of the Kansas City Chiefs’ logo. To prove she had the rights to the logo, Hunt signed an affidavit saying the Hunts owned it.

Now that the logo was legal, Zazzle then said he rejection was “due to the prominence of St. Basil’s Cathedral on the background.” The order would be approved if “the image is cropped so that the cathedral is not obvious,” the company explained.

The Hunts and the vendors went back and forth on how to get around the USPS religious content rule, including cropping the image to make the cathedral “not obvious.”

By the time Stamps.com eventually agreed to a permissible version, Zazzle stopped offering any customized stamps “due to the onerous USPS regulations,” according to Tavia’s lawyers.

It could be worse. While citizens here are enjoying some small portion of “religious freedom”, our inscrutable chief trading partner is on a tear against even celebrating Christmas.

The British Guardian newspaper reports China is cracking down on Christmas.

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Huangshan Mountain

In the northern city of Langfang in Hebei province, city officials ordered all Christmas decorations to be cleared and forbade shops from selling Christmas-themed goods. Officials said the measure was aimed at “maintaining stability” and controlling street hawkers.

A teacher in Huangshan in Anhui province issued a reminder on Christmas Eve to follow a recent notice from the propaganda department not to attend Christmas parties, post related messages on the popular messaging apps WeChat or QQ, or give teachers “peace apples”, a tradition in China. The term for Christmas Eve, pinganye, or peaceful night, is similar to that of the world “apple”.

The notices come amid a broader crackdown on underground churches, according to The Guardian.. Last week, police raided a children’s Bible class in Guangzhou, and earlier this month, authorities shut down the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, arresting 100 members.

In September, China closed one of the largest underground churches, Beijing’s Zion Church.

China christmas
“You better watch out…”

Nickels, dimes and dreams – author urges that all workers be fairly valued for their time and effort

A Montana coal miner’s daughter recently found herself the honored guest of King Willem-Alexander at the Royal Palace in the Netherlands.

It was a case of the guest being better-known than the host, despite title and wealth.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Ph.D, who researched and wrote the best-selling Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, enjoyed her triumph on Nov. 27, when she was awarded a 150,000 Euro ($169,500) prize for “exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts, in Europe and beyond.”

The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation in Amsterdam recognized her for “writing about the widening gap between rich and poor, about the working poor and the middle-class fear of losing its comfortable existence…when they were hardly on the political agenda.”

A member of the Institute for Policy Studies board of trustees, Ehrenreich also founded the IPS-affiliated Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which supports investigative journalism.

Although her doctorate was in cellular immunology from Rockefeller University, she never worked in the sciences, and concentrated on journalism, winning various honors, including the National Magazine Award in 1980.

Ehrenreich, 77, was born in Butte, Montana. Her father was a copper miner, and her family pro-union.

But regardless of your politics, her on-the-street and undercover reporting is unique in this age of pompous pundits. When she wanted to write about poverty, she lived it.

As she accepted the award, so ironically in Amsterdam’s opulent Dutch Golden Age palace (video above), Ehrenreich ripped into causes of today’s extreme inequality.

Excerpts of her acceptance remarks follow:

Wow. Amsterdam is completely disorienting to an American. I’ve been here for more than a week and haven’t heard a single gunshot. Even the dignitaries, like the king and queen, are warm, kind people. When I met the Dutch ambassador to the US last spring, in connection with this prize, he was so pleasant and jolly that I had to question his credentials.

And now this: For me, this is like a fairy tale come true. We’re in the royal palace! With the king and queen! And I’m here with everyone I love including all the people who have enabled me and inspired me for so many years! Thank you so much to all the Dutch people not only for the Erasmus Prize but for this unforgettable moment!

Well of course I’m saying all these nice things about The Netherlands in the hope that you will, when necessary, grant me refugee status. Me, my family and friends, that is.

One thing about this country that is strange, even exotic, to an American is that you seem to lack the steep class divisions that are so visible almost everywhere in my country. You may eventually get to the same divided condition as my country — this is the way most industrialized countries are trending — but at least for now, the Dutch welfare state remains strong enough to prevent that from happening.

In the US, by contrast, we have virtually no welfare state to protect the poor and downwardly mobile, and the results are visible even to tourists.

Take Manhattan, that once-beautiful island that, according to legend, the Dutch bought from the Indians for $24 — and that’s a real estate deal that even Trump would have to admire. Today, Manhattan land sells for $1000/sq. foot, so $24 would get you a few square inches.

One sad consequence of the current prices is that only the super-rich can afford to live in the upper story apartments where the sun still shines. Walk around on the sidewalks of Manhattan today and you will be in the perpetual shade of the sky-scrapers housing American — and Russian and Chinese — billionaires.

Actually, you’ll be in the shade of the empty apartments of the super-rich – because when you have 6 or 7 homes you can’t be in any one of them much of the time.

I have spent a lot of time in that shade. I was born into the relative poverty of a working class family in Montana and spent a good portion of my adult life struggling economically, partly because I chose to be a writer and a journalist. This seemed like a good fit for me because I’d been educated as a scientist and journalists have the same goal — finding the truth and getting people to pay attention to it.

At the beginning of my career, I could earn enough to support my family, at however minimal a level. But starting in the 90s that began to change. Newspapers and other news outlets were taken over by large corporations that were concerned only about the bottom line.

They cut their staffs, including journalists, and closed those magazines and newspapers that weren’t making enough money, at least by the standards of their new owners, with the result that, today, writers aren’t paid well when they’re paid at all.

To make things worse, I often chose to write about poverty — about all the people who are left out of America’s fabulous wealth, who try to get by on about $10/hr while raising children and paying exorbitant prices for rent and medical care. This seems so unfair to me, so easily fixable.

Why not, for example, open up the empty sky-high apartments of the super-rich as squats for the homeless while their super-rich owners are off in London or the Caribbean?

But this of course is not the kind of thing that the new super-rich owners of the media business want to hear. I found the demand for my kinds of stories diminishing. Editors urged me to write less about economic inequality and more about “feminine” topics like the first lady’s fashion choices and the secrets of success of female CEOs. I could no longer make a living in journalism, and had to find other ways to support myself.

What is worse, I could not be sure I was actually making a difference. I had started in the 80s doing the conventional type of journalism: interviewing people and getting their stories published. This was my way of debunking the common prejudice that the poor are only poor because they want to be – because they don’t make an effort, or because somewhere along the way they forgot to get an education for a high-paying career.

I got some praise for “giving a voice to the voiceless” but nothing changed. In fact, things were only getting worse: Wages started going down relative to the cost of living; the welfare state began to disappear; unions were becoming weaker.

So I decided to turn things up a notch, to try “immersion journalism,” in the style of the German journalist Gunter Wallraff who went undercover to report on the lives of Turkish guest workers (I had not heard of him at the time.)

I left home, found the cheapest housing I could, and took the best paying jobs I could find – as a waitress, a hotel housekeeper, a cleaning lady, a nursing home aide and a Walmart employee. I didn’t deliberately select these jobs: They selected me.

These are the only kinds of jobs I could get without using my actual credentials. (Not that my credentials would have helped, since I never did see a job advertisement for a political essayist, especially not a sarcastic feminist political essayist.)

To my utter surprise, the book that I wrote about my experiences became a bestseller, and helped reinforce the ongoing movement for higher wages. To my even greater surprise, many people praised me for my bravery for having done this – to which I could only say: Millions of people do this kind of work every day for their entire lives – haven’t you noticed them?

And I learned a very important lesson: I never use the word “unskilled” any more to refer to anyone’s work. I learned the hard way that every job takes skill, intelligence and concentration – and should be paid accordingly.

Now I’m in my third and final phase of my personal campaign for social justice. Six years ago, it struck me that people living in poverty (or near poverty) don’t need someone to “give them a voice.” They have voices and they know what they want to say. They just need some help, some support to allow them to write and help them get published.

So I created something called the Economic Hardship Reporting Project for exactly that purpose. In our six years of existence, we have raised money from philanthropists to help support over 100 people – factory workers, house cleaners, and many professional journalists who have fallen on hard times.

We’ve turned some lives around. We’ve called attention to issues no one was thinking about — like the plasma business, which pays poor people for their vital blood proteins, at considerable cost to their health. Or the growing number of childcare centers that operate 24 hours a day, because their parents have to work pretty much around the clock … about homeless Americans who live year-round in tents … and about the epidemic of suicides among American farmers.

We are very proud of what we do. Some of our people have won prizes and awards. All of them have had their work published in widely read media outlets. A few have gotten book contracts or actual paying jobs. We like to think that we’re making a difference.

And maybe we are. But it’s a tiny difference compared to what needs to happen. And I guess that’s the story of my life as a journalist: You try and try to bring attention to what is really happening and to all the unnecessary pain in the world. Most of the time you fail. You don’t change the world. You may not even get paid for your work.

But once in a while, very rarely, you are recognized and applauded for what you are trying to do. This is one of those moments — and not only for me. I am encouraged and emboldened to work even harder for a just and equitable society, as are my many friends and colleagues and loved ones. I thank you on behalf of all of them.

From left: Queen Máxima, Barbara Ehrenreich, King Willem-Alexander, and former Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. Erasmus Prize ceremony, Nov. 27, 2018. Photo: Praemium Erasmianum Foundation

Judged “naughty or nice” determines if you are allowed on planes or trains in China – the “Big Comrade” is watching

The Communist Party is watching – and punishing – many citizens of China today, and in 18 months everyone will be judged by their Social Credit – a number earned by absolute obedience to government rules, always behaving nicely, and paying your bills promptly.

During the experimental period since 2015, those with low scores had their travel restricted:

  • Global Times reports that as of May this year, the government had blocked 11.14 million people from flights and 4.25 million from taking high-speed train trips.
  • Another 3 million people are barred from getting business class train tickets, according to Channel News Asia.
  • The credit system will also punish a passenger’s misdeeds – trying to ride with no ticket, loitering in front of boarding gates, or smoking in no-smoking areas.

When the entire country is included in 2020, even your Internet connection speed will be throttled if you spend too much time playing video games or posting on social media.

You, or your children, can be banned from the best schools if your credit score falls too low. In July, a Chinese university denied an incoming student his spot because the student’s father had a bad social credit score.

If you are caught with your dog unleashed, the state can take it from you, as well as lowering your score.

The State Council said that under the national social credit system people will also be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors,  and that those deemed “seriously untrustworthy” can expect to receive substandard services.

Ant Financial’s CEO Lucy Peng, said the program “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

In George Orwell’s 1984, citizens were controlled by “Big Brother” and feared the Ministry of Truth. China has an even better name for its elite controller – the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms (CLGCDR).

Like the NSA/FBI/CIA combine, this Chinese enforcer can gather facts from the country’s social insurance database and criminal records system, as well as information gleaned online or from phone calls and emails.

The government will not only penalize citizens who have failed to pay fines or taxes, for example, but also go after those the government deems guilty of “spreading false information and causing trouble.”

The entire credit plan is available here: Text of Social Credit detailed plan.

An excerpt catches the fake empathetic tone of the authors:

Part of the Strengthen rewards and incentives for subjects to keep trust.

Expand rewards and propaganda strength for trust-keeping acts. Grant rewards to enterprises and model individuals keeping trust according to regulations, broadly propagate them through news media, and forge a public opinion environment that trust-keeping is glorious.

Development and reform, finance, banking, environmental protection, housing and urban construction, traffic and transportation, commercial, industrial, fiscal, quality inspection, security supervision, customs, intellectual property rights and other such departments must, in the process of market supervision and public service, deepen the application of credit information and credit products, and extend “green path” support and incentive mechanisms, such as preferential management, simplifying procedures, etc., to those keeping trust…

While it is difficult for most Americans to even imagine such a system here, the Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post warns us not to be alarmed:

Social governance in the digital age is a global challenge. Rather than instantly dismissing China’s unconventional governance innovations, we need an open-minded discussion of the pros and cons — one that is sensitive to the challenges and priorities of different cultural and political contexts. – 11/29/2018

Bezos, who also owns Amazon, is the richest man in the world (now est. $135,600,000,000). For him, controlling the behavior of the masses has advantages. If you always know exactly what the peasants are doing, you can quash criticism and know in advance of any plans to increase your taxes or regulate labor standards. Whole Foods anyone?

How far away is America from the government knowing everything we do?

Facebook posts + Amazon purchases + credit card records + google search trail + government phone and email access = database for the United States Sheep Surveillance and Behavior Modification Commission (USSSBMC).

And instead of inventing a new credit score number, why not use everyone’s FICO score, which will be constantly changing as more data reaches the government, and available as an app on your smart phone to stare at in awe?

An excellent video adds more insight to the Communist Party plan:

 

Build a home in 24 hours? Crony capitalists and politicians will work their hardest to kill this modern miracle!

U.S. Patent application tiled August 13, 1908. Serial No. 448,293.

To all whom it may concern.’

Be it known that I, THOMAS ALVA EDISON a citizen of the United States, residing in Llewellyn Park, Orange, county of Essex, in the State of New Jersey, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Processes of Constructing Concrete Buildings, of which the following is a description…

The object of my invention is to construct a building of a cement mixture by a single molding operation, all its parts, including the sides, roofs, partitions, bath tubs, floors, etc., being formed of an integral mass of a cement mixture.

Edison’s idea of building a cement home for $1,200 ultimately failed, because each house required a mold containing some 2,300 pieces, and to get started a builder would have to buy at least $175,000 in equipment – a fortune at that time.

His Portland Cement Company went bankrupt in 1922, despite supplying the concrete for the construction of Yankee Stadium. A few of Edison’s cement structures still survive in Montclair, NJ and Gary, IN.

A century has passed since the Edison patent, and his dream has finally become viable, thanks to 3D printing – computers that operate machines that place concrete precisely, avoiding forms, and capable of building a house in just 24 hours.

In July, Nordine and Nouria Ramdani, along with their three children, may be the first in the world to have moved into a 3D-printed house.

This four-bedroom property in Nantes, France is a prototype for bigger projects aiming to make construction quick and cheap.

Nantes, France 3D-printed house

Francky Trichet, the Nantes council’s director of innovation, explained:

The purpose of the project was to see whether this type of construction could become mainstream for housing, and whether its principles could be applied to other communal buildings, such as sports halls.

For 2,000 years there hasn’t been a change in the paradigm of the construction process. We wanted to sweep this whole construction process away.

Now, he says, their work will “force” private companies to “take the pen” and continue the narrative.

Look for more 3D-printed homes in Europe, Asia and Africa – but not America.

Wall Street’s investment in home builders, commercial construction firms and equipment manufacturers will stop – at least for many years – any change in how we produce structures here.

Koch Industries, for example, boasts the following on its website:

Next-generation building products: plywood, gypsum wallboard, fiberglass sheathing, and more. Our Georgia-Pacific building products have a reputation for quality that’s as solid as the buildings and houses they create.

The Koch Brothers‘ interests donated some $800 million in campaign support during the 2016 election. These are not the kind of elites who will be pleased with technology that impacts Georgia-Pacific.

Who needs forests for lumber, when we will use cement for framing and walls?

With immense influence not only at the federal level, Koch-approved NGOs have successfully lobbied state and local legislatures, so you can bet on new regulations that will make cement homes either restricted or too expensive to compete with wood and gypsum.

Still, the major opposition will come from home builders, who profit from the current methods that use strand board, 2x4s and vinyl walls – often installed by foreigners willing to work at almost any wage and not subject to Medicare and Social Security taxes. The Kochs may lose some money on refocusing Georgia-Pacific or expanding other operations, but that would be chicken feed to two guys worth a combined $106,000,000,000.

This video shows methods used by the new technology: