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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pregnant at 18. Hailed by Abortion Foes. Punished by Christian School.

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, NY Times, May 20, 2017

BOONSBORO, Md.–Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.

She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.

The reason? She is pregnant.

The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation–and to remove her from her student council position–would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.

“She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed,” said Kristan Hawkins, the Students for Life president, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the administrator of Heritage Academy to reverse the decision. “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”

David Hobbs, the administrator at Heritage Academy, a nondenominational independent school in Hagerstown, Md., where students take daily Bible classes, declined to discuss Ms. Runkles. In a written statement issued on behalf of the school’s board of directors, he said she would earn a diploma, and called her pregnancy “an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place.”

Ms. Runkles’s story sheds light on a delicate issue: how Christian schools, which advocate abstinence until marriage, treat pregnant teenagers.

“You have these two competing values,” said Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who directs the National Marriage Project, which conducts research on marriage and families. “On the one hand, the school is seeking to maintain some kind of commitment to what has classically been called chastity–or today might be called abstinence. At the same time, there’s an expectation in many Christian circles that we are doing all that we can to honor life.”

Navigating that balance is exceedingly difficult for Christian educators, and schools respond in various ways, said Rick Kempton, chairman of the board of the Association of Christian Schools International, which represents about 3,000 schools in the United States and many others overseas.

“There’s a biblical term that many Christian schools use, and it is the whole idea of grace: What would Jesus do?” Mr. Kempton said. Of Ms. Runkles, he added: “She’s making the right choice. But you don’t want to create a celebration that makes other young ladies feel like, ‘Well, that seems like a pretty good option.’”

Some schools, he said, might insist pregnant students finish the school year at home. That was one option considered for Ms. Runkles. She took a two-day suspension as the Heritage board–led at the time by her father, Scott–wrestled with her fate.

Mr. Runkles, a bank vice president, recused himself from decisions involving his daughter, but ultimately he quit the board in anger over how she was treated.

“Typically, when somebody breaks a rule, you punish them at the time they break the rule. That way, the punishment is behind them and they’re moving forward with a clean slate,” he said. “With Maddi, her punishment was set four months out. It’s ruined her senior year.”

In 2009, the National Association of Evangelicals, drawing on figures from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, reported that 80 percent of young evangelicals engaged in premarital sex. A spokeswoman for the evangelical group said its own research, however, suggested that the figure was much lower.

Slightly more than half of women who have abortions–54 percent–identify as Christians, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that tracks abortion policy.

Among them is Jessica Klick, 40, the athletic director at Heritage Academy, who has been serving as a mentor to Ms. Runkles. Ms. Klick had two abortions, one when she was 20 and the second at 21, after becoming pregnant by a man she later married.

Ms. Klick, who has two sons with her husband, said she had spoken openly of her past to Heritage Academy students. She said she had felt pushed into terminating her pregnancies by her own strict religious upbringing. She was terrified of what her parents would think. When she called a clinic for an appointment, she gave a phony name.

“I went into an abortion clinic knowing I shouldn’t, and God was the last thing on my mind,” she said.

Ms. Runkles, who considers herself “a practicing born-again Christian,” expects to raise her baby, a boy, with the help of her parents, and keeps a framed ultrasound picture on her night stand at her family’s home here in rural Boonsboro, a small town of about 3,500 people not far from Antietam, the Civil War battlefield.

She calls the child “a blessing,” but declined to discuss the baby’s father, except to say that they do not plan to marry, and that he does not attend Heritage Academy.

Ms. Runkles learned that she was pregnant in January, just days before she got an acceptance letter to the college she had hoped to attend: Bob Jones University, a Christian liberal arts school in Greenville, S.C.

Initially, she tried to keep the pregnancy a secret. She also thought fleetingly, she said, of abortion. But after a few days, she confided in her mother, Sharon, who works in a mental health clinic, and eventually her father, who called an emergency meeting, he said, to inform Mr. Hobbs and the board members.

Heritage Academy, which has fewer than 200 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade, was founded in 1969, its website says, by parents “who prayed earnestly for a Christian school where children could be taught according to God’s Holy Word.” Its nine-point “statement of faith” declares that “no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of the marriage commitment between a man and a woman.”

Ms. Runkles said she knew she would face punishment, “because I did break the school code.” When Mr. Hobbs decided to announce her pregnancy to her older classmates, she said, she told him that she would announce it herself–and did so during an emotional session in the school auditorium.

Many students thanked her. She said she felt that she was being treated more harshly than students who have been suspended for, say, underage drinking and lying about it.

“I told on myself,” she said. “I asked for forgiveness. I asked for help.”

Sara Moslener, who teaches philosophy and religion at Central Michigan University and has written extensively about evangelicals and sexuality, said Ms. Runkles’s situation sounded “very ‘Scarlet Letter’ to me.”

Ms. Runkles agrees. She is trying to start a chapter of Embrace Grace, an organization that works with churches to help single pregnant women. While many in her school are supportive, she still sometimes feels like an outcast. She wears a jacket over her school uniform–a polo shirt and khaki skirt–to cover her bulging belly, so as not to make others feel uncomfortable. Her parents are planning their own graduation ceremony for her on June 3, the day after Heritage Academy’s event.

“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” she said. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Final Show of the Greatest Country on Earth

May 22, 2017 - Santiago, Chile 
Simon Black - Sovereign Man

On May 31, 1866, John C. Ringling was born in Iowa to German immigrants in what felt like an extremely bleak year.

The chaos and devastation from the Civil War that had ended in 1865 were still keenly felt, and the US economy was in the midst of a deep recession

The country was still shaken from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

And the new President, Andrew Johnson, was embroiled in a major political crisis with Congress that would soon lead to his impeachment.

(Johnson was also a noted buffoon, once giving a speech in early 1866 to honor George Washington in which he referred to himself over 200 times and accused Congress of plotting his assassination.)

No doubt those were some of the darkest days in US history. And it would have been hard for Mr. and Mrs. Ringling to imagine a bright future for their children.

But John and four of his brothers went on to build the most successful circus empire in modern history-- the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, known as the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

There were countless traveling circuses crisscrossing the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

But what made the Ringling Brothers’ event so spectacular was sheer scale. They didn’t hold anything back-- lions, tigers, elephants.

The Ringling brothers were also masters of efficient logistics.

Like Ray Kroc and Henry Ford, the brothers developed an assembly line approach to the construction, deconstruction, and transportation of their event so that they could swiftly move from town to town.

It was a spectacle itself simply to see their train of railway cars packed with exotic animals stretching on for more than a mile.

Their circus was considered the ultimate in entertainment back then, and John Ringling became one of the wealthiest men in America as a result of this success.

It seemed like the empire would last forever.

But it didn’t.

After peaking in the Roaring 20s, the circus took a major hit during the Great Depression that effectively bankrupted John Ringling, the sole surviving brother.

At the time of his death in 1936, in fact, Ringling only had about $5,500 in the bank (that’s after adjusting for inflation to 2017 dollars).

The circus limped along in the Depression and barely made it through World War II.

Towards the end of the War in 1944, right before they thought their luck would turn, the circus had a major accident in Hartford in which the tent caught fire, killing 167 people.

That nearly bankrupted the company a second time, and several executives went to jail for negligence.

In the decades that followed, American consumer tastes changed.

Television, movies, and music were far more interesting than circus performances, and Ringling Brothers went into terminal decline.

Fast forward to the age of Facebook and YouTube, and there simply wasn’t a whole lot left in the circus that was exotic or interesting anymore, not to mention the animal rights issues.

So yesterday, the Greatest Show on Earth held its final performance in Uniondale, New York, after 146-years in the business.

A century ago this would have seemed impossible.

The early 1900s were the absolute peak for Ringling Brothers, and no one imagined a future where consumers weren’t standing in line to buy tickets.

Candidly I find this story to be an interesting metaphor for the United States itself.

Rise from the ashes. Remarkable growth. Peak wealth and power. Bankruptcy. Gross negligence and incompetence. More bankruptcy. Terminal decline.

And just like how people viewed Ringling Brothers 100-years ago, it’s difficult for anyone to imagine a world in which the US isn’t the dominant superpower.

Instead of the Greatest Show on Earth, it’s the Greatest Country on Earth. And most of us have been programmed to believe that this primacy will last forever.

But nothing lasts. History is full of failed dominant superpowers, from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire. Many no longer exist.

Their declines were almost invariably due to excessive spending, unsustainable debt, military overreach, and a society that abandoned the core values which made it wealthy and powerful to begin with.

Every successive superpower always believes that they will never suffer the same fate. And every time they’re wrong.

This time is not different.

Yes, it’s still a wonderful country with plenty of positive things going for it.

But at its core the United States still has $20 trillion in public debt (over 100% of GDP) and an additional $46.7 trillion in net, unfunded future social obligations (like Social Security and Medicare).

Plus, the government spends an appalling amount of money, far more than they collect in tax revenue.

(In 2016 their total net loss exceeded an incredible $1 TRILLION.)

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers summed it up when he quipped, “How long can the world’s biggest borrower remain the world’s biggest power?”

The answer is-- no one knows. Maybe months. Maybe decades.

Either way, this trend is one of the biggest stories of our time. And though few people want to acknowledge it, it’s already happening.

We now regularly witness government shutdowns, debt ceiling crises, and gross government incompetence. But this is just the beginning.

The national debt is growing far faster than the economy as a whole. And, especially if interest rates continue to rise, the trend will accelerate.

It’s simple arithmetic.

So while it seems impossible now, the Greatest Country on Earth will some day have its final show as well.

That doesn’t mean the US simply disappears.

But it’s foolish to assume that the insolvency of the world’s largest superpower will forever be consequence-free.

What’s your Plan B?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

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