January, 2011

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#323 – Dick Bernard: Taking Leave…Brooke, Vince

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Sometimes events intersect and their very intersection adds to their individual meaning.

Such happened in my own life during the last two weeks.

It began with a phone call on Jan. 20. I heard Cathy gasp, and say “oh no.”

The call was about her niece’s 8-month old daughter, Brooke, hospitalized in critical condition with severe bleeding on the brain. She was not expected to survive. It was a genuine shock. A day earlier Brooke had been a normal, happy, eight month old child, born May 5, 2010.

Within 24 hours, an e-mail arrived from my cousin, concerning her brother and my cousin Vince, age 58, in the hospital “and is not expected to survive. Multiple systems are failing….” With Vince, the announcement did not come as a shock. He had not been well.

January 22, Vince died. Brooke followed January 23. One eight months old; the other nearly 59 – too young, yes, but 58 years older than little “Brooke-e” as the minister described her at her funeral, renaming Cinco de Mayo, “Cinco de Brooke-e“. Less than two months earlier he’d had Brooke in front of the congregation, he said. Like everyone else, he was still in shock.

(Click on photos to enlarge them)

Vince, January 17, 2000

Brooke on the family Christmas card, December, 2010

For Vince, there was no funeral. He was not married, and his surviving family members lived long distances away. His dog and two cats were rescued after his hospitalization and death. Memories are being shared in phone calls, letters, photos and e-mails. Best as I know, he would not have liked a funeral: crowds were something he abhorred. He was very intelligent; one sister described him as having the highest IQ in the family – and the family was blessed with very high IQ’s.

Most of us had not seen Vince for years. When he left his town, as for his brother’s funeral in 2000 (photo above), he came across as a very good humored guy. But life in the spotlight was not his kind of life. My guess is that he departed as he wished: no pretense, cared for, but not too many people to deal with. His struggles behind him. “Free at last…” to borrow a phrase.

Brooke, on the other hand, with all of eight months of living behind her, packed the church for her funeral. Her Dad is a policeman, and police care for their own: there had to be 100 or more law enforcement officers at the service, and they were an honor guard for the family.

She was eulogized, and laid to rest in the Church cemetery.

One hundred years ago, a death of someone her age would have been quite common; but today, an infant death is almost unheard of, and brings much grieving.

The whole town, it seemed, was out at the wintry cemetery where little Brooke was buried.

Vince’s ashes are now with the family…a tangible memory of his having been in our company for almost 60 years.

Funerals, memorials, ashes, are for the living, not for the dead.

All of us who were touched in any way by Vince and/or Brooke have our own thoughts on what their deaths mean in our own living with others, and in our own lives.

In their way, they teach us lessons about ourselves.

I feel blessed to having known them, their parents, siblings, grandparents and everyone in their circles.

They are at peace.

The cemetery where Brooke was buried January 29, 2011

#322 – Terri Ashmore: “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

Terri Ashmore recently wrote the below column for the Basilica of St. Mary (Minneapolis MN) Church Bulletin.

A discussion of this book will be held at the Basilica on Sunday, January 30, at 1 p.m. in the Mother Teresa Hall. Panelists include experts from the Humphrey Institute, Human Rights Watch, and Advocates for Human Rights. It promises to be a rich conversation about an important book on an important issue.

Terri Ashmore

Do you like to read? “Seattle Reads” was an experiment tried in cities around the country. Seattle chose a book and encouraged everyone to read it. As we explore Global Stewardship, we’d like to challenge you to our own version of “The Basilica Reads.”

Our global team volunteers selected and read the book – “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” written by Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage of China as New York Times correspondents.

Once I started reading Half the Sky, I could hardly put it down, and I still can’t get some of the stories out of my mind. The title is from a Chinese proverb – “Women hold up half the sky.” The book jacket describes the authors as “our guides as we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there.”

Half the Sky is an easy read, because it is a book of stories. We meet Ann and Angeline, Saima and Roashaneh and many other women and girls. The authors share facts and figures, and go on to put names and faces together with the stories of women and girls impacted by incredible poverty, oppression and violence. They honestly describe successes and failures. I read the newspaper and watch the news, but really hadn’t absorbed the magnitude of the impacts of poverty and violence around the world until I read Half the Sky. The book doesn’t pull punches about the violence and despair, but what I walked away with was a sense of hope. Things can change. Remarkably, a microloan of $25 or even a $65 really can change the lives of women, their families and their communities. I learned about the difference a uniform can make for a girl to stay in school and how staying in school can positively change the entire course of a girl’s life. Simple things to us . . . but life changing in some parts of the world.

Please join the Global Stewardship Team asks to explore issues the difference microfinance and education can make in changing lives of women, girls and communities. Read Half the Sky, and if not the whole book, take a look at Chapter 10, Investing in Education, and Chapter 11, Microcredit – the Financial Revolution. If this captures your imagination, Chapter 14 offers some practical suggestions about what you can do.

In the busyness of everyday life, please take a moment to open you minds, open your hearts, and consider what our Catholic faith calls us to as we think about women and children around the world.

Half the Sky – Book Discussion with Expert Panel
1:00 pm, Sunday, Jan. 30th – Basilica’s Lower Level

#321 – Bob Barkley: Declaring for President.

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Bob throws his hat in the ring for 2012 (his bio is at the end of this post):

Declaration of Candidacy

I’m running! This is the declaration of my candidacy for the Presidency in 2012. I have no idea with what Party as I expect them to pick me rather than I picking them.

[If Palin or Bachmann could be anywhere within the realm of that possibility then I am certainly supremely qualified.]

However, I’m not going to do a book tour, even though I’ve written books. And Tina Fey couldn’t imitate me – ever. Also, I’m not offering non-absolutes like “change,” or “hope,” and I will pick my Veep very carefully but quite likely not from Alaska – nor Delaware either for that matter.

Yes, the devil is in the details and all of that. I have no illusions about having it all perfectly right – or even having it all covered. All my numbers and dates are open to review and adjustment as I learn more. Certainty is, after all, a sure sign of insanity it seems to me. But what I’ve outlined here is the beginning of what must happen to realize the better world I hope and dream that my children and grandchildren will at least begin to experience in their lifetimes.

So here’s what I stand for as of today:

1. Every US budget must account for both expenditures and revenue. Therefore, with no more than a five-year lag, anticipated revenue must cover the projected expenditures. And a really non-partisan panel of economists (as opposed to “politicians”), and including progressive who just might have Nobel prizes in their resumes, must advise the public and Congress as to whether this guideline is being met.

2. Tax rates must be set to cover the revenue required to meet the requirements of #1 above before any budget may be enacted.

3. Income taxes must apply to all income received in whatever form, and regardless of the source. If you have it this year and didn’t have it last year, it is subject to tax. The maximum rate, on annual incomes of $10 million or more will be 60% — and that percentage will reduce by 1% for each drop of $1 million in income until we reach current (before Bush’s cuts) rates. There will be no deductions for anyone at any level. Taxes will be applied only to those earning above the US government defined poverty level (once it is adjusted to a more realistic number from the current outdated figure). And these rates may be adjusted to coincide with #1 and #2 above. If that won’t produce enough revenue, we need to cut our spending expectations.

4. Usury (lending money at exorbitant rates) will be controlled according to the following guidelines. Borrowed money will be paid back at no more than 7.5% if repaid within one year of borrowing. In the second year any unpaid balance will be charged at no more than 10%. And thereafter, any unpaid amount will be charged at no more than 12½% until repaid in full. This shall apply to loans of less than $100,000 for any purpose. Home loans will be established as the market will bear but shall not exceed 8%.

5. The foreclosure fraud would be eliminated and home owners given priority over bankers.

6. The USA will move to a single payer health care system as follows. The Medicare eligibility age will be reduced three years every year. Those who select Medicare under age 65 shall pay the full premium until reaching age 65. Also, all youth attending school full-time, up to age 25, shall also be eligible to buy into Medicare and continue that coverage for life. Medicare shall have full bargaining power to negotiate with providers as to the cost of medical care and prescription drugs.

7. All federal elections shall be fully publicly financed, and active campaigning shall be limited to 4 months in duration. Office seekers who hold public office shall not be excused from attending to their elected duties while campaigning except for that four month period. No elected federal office holder shall serve in that office for longer than 12 years.

8. Universal voter registration will be established.

9. Anti-trust laws shall be strengthened and strictly enforced. Anti-trust provisions shall be instituted and strictly applied to the media and insurance in all its forms.

10. Each state shall be required to establish a chartered publicly run bank. (a la North Dakota). And a national infrastructure bank will be created.

11. The US military budget will be cut 50%, adjusted for inflation, over the next 10 years. The only delay in implementation thereof shall be the advent of a congressionally declared war against another nation (not just an innocuous concept such as “terrorism”).

12. The State Department budget shall be increased four-fold over the next 5 years.

13. The U.S. military and pentagon leadership shall be kept out of politics and action taken to keep retired military from retiring into positions lobbying for the defense industry.

14. No public monies shall be allocated directly or indirectly to any religion or religiously affiliated institution for any reason unless and until all religious entities pay taxes.

15. Public education shall not be subjected to any unfunded mandates. Teacher education shall be entirely at public expense and all licensed teachers benefiting there from will be required, subject to acceptable performance, to stay in the service of public education for not less than 10 years after completion of a mandatory 3-year internship.

16. The US President shall hold a minimum three-hour public session with Congress every 3 months in which all members of congress, alternating between Parties, may ask questions, and all media shall be required to carry the session live.

17. The current US debt shall be retired through funding increases and/or spending cuts in not longer than the next 10 years.

18. US corporations shall not have the rights of individual citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment, and their executives shall be personally and fully responsible and liable for the behavior of that corporation.

19. Public education shall be funded on a per-pupil basis and students will be free to attend any public educational institution of their choosing, subject to space alone, and with consideration for controlling random and untimely transfers that will destroy appropriate institutional planning. There shall be no curricular or staffing requirements for public schools and they shall be free to offer programs of their choosing and in the manner most appropriate thereto. Free public education shall be available to all citizens to age 21. Students reaching age 15 shall be allowed to withdraw and reenter school one time prior to reaching age 21.

20. There shall be on-going publicly funded longitudinal studies regarding the impact of each students educational experience on the formation of lifetime learning habits.

21. There shall be international fair-trade. However, there will be a 20% tariff on all imports and additional tariffs shall be applied where it is established that there are significantly different standards for wages, human rights, safety, and environmental concerns between trading countries. Read Hamilton – the US is fundamentally a protectionist nation first.

22. Through public monitoring, public corporations shall establish executive compensation programs where the maximum benefits shall not exceed 50 times that of the lowest paid fulltime worker in said corporation. The current US minimum wage of $7.25, assuming a 40-hour work week and fully paid vacation and sick leave, produces an annual wage of $15,080. Thus, a CEO would be entitled to at least $754,000. Corporations exceeding this guideline would be taxed proportionately.

23. Ownership of firearms, for sporting purposes only, shall be allowed and be subject to full public record. Guns shall be prohibited from any public building or institution. Concealed carry laws shall be outlawed.

24. The US shall reduce its international military bases to no more than 100, and no more than 2 in any single country, by 2020 – including Iraq and Afghanistan. And there will be no more than 1000 military personnel staffing any one of them.

25. Financial support for Israel will be gradually reduced and shifted to the Palestinians until a two-state resolution is implemented.

26. There will be a Government Efficiency Tsar who’s responsibility it will be to oversee coordination and cooperation between agencies. Said agencies will be expected and encouraged to operate in ways that cause them to vigorously pursue their missions while also saving money rather than seeking ways to spend it in order to selfishly grow their budget allocations.

27. All unauthorized immigrants shall be required to apply for citizenship within one year and shall be required to have regular employment (or maintain full-time student status) and to attend and pass English language proficiency classes. Any employer who employs non-citizens who have not complied with this provision shall be subject to criminal prosecution and penalties. Any unauthorized immigrant who is found guilty of any illegality shall be sent back to the country of their origin.

28. There shall be a public investment to assure that all students attend school absent anxiety over proper nourishment, receive appropriate early childhood educational experiences, and have access to appropriate health monitoring and care.

29. Most currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, shall be legalized and controlled as appropriate – much as cigarettes and alcohol.

30. Capital punishment shall be ceased. Incarceration shall be limited to violent crimes. For non-violent crimes, other non-incarceration penalties shall be applied.

31. All citizens prior to age 30 shall provide the country a minimum of two years public service of their choice, including but not limited to military service.

32. Social security shall be funded by a tax an all earned income, and the SS fund shall be unavailable for any purposes other than paying benefits. And an early retirement option will be created therein.

33. Marriage shall be a religious ritual only and subject only to the creed of the marrying party’s religious choices alone. Civil unions shall be the legal equivalent, be state managed, and open to any and all citizens.

34. Population growth shall be a public concern with suitable investment, training, and controls.

35. Poverty is an unacceptable plight in the US. There will be every effort and investment to assure that poverty is gradually and regularly reduced. And included in such an effort shall be realistic upgrading of social security, workers compensation, and other such programs to bring them in line with the current cost of living.

36. U.S. nuclear weapons shall be reduced gradually by the year 2025, regardless of any treaties, to a level of no more than any other nation.

37. Elected officials must be excluded from becoming lobbyists for at least 5 years after leaving office.

38. The Senate shall be returned to its intended majority rule status by eliminating the unconstitutional Rule 22. The Senate was designed to fit a republic and to limit absolute democracy – arguably to allow for reasonable protections to the minority, but its rules have evolved to almost entirely block democracy.

39. Environmentally, those countries that have polluted the most, such as the USA and China, should have less right to pollute in the future. This would have the added benefit of shifting billions of dollars from the wealthy nations to the poorer ones.

40. Unionization shall be encouraged with the caveat that unions shall be expected to play a full partnership role along with their industry management in setting industry direction and policy and accept fully the consequences of poor company performance and reap equitably the benefits of company successes.

The role of a president is to establish a vision and set direction. It is not for them to compromise but to lead. If Congress chooses to compromise, so be it – but the veto power will be used as need be.

In summary, and at the risk of negating my pledge not to espouse non-absolutes:

I seek a world where peace and love abound.
I seek a world where tolerance excels but is also transformed into understanding and engagement.
I seek a world where greed is replaced by sharing and empathy for those less fortunate.
I seek a world where “politicians” are replaced with “public servants.”
I seek a world where the earth is honored rather than exploited.
I seek a world where all accept that we are a true community that accepts that we belong together.

Now let’s “get it done!” I seek your endorsements – and money (since I have only a little — which may be my greatest attribute as a candidate).

But before leaving I offer two quotes that give me pause. First, Kurt Vonnegut said in 2004: “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.” And in 1029 H. L. Mencken said of who might get elected: “…all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre – the man who can most easily (and) adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Anyway, I think Mencken’s prediction already came true at least once since he pronounced it, so maybe I can reverse the trend. Somebody has to.

Robert Barkley, Jr., is the retired Executive Director of the Ohio Education Association. He is the author of Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders and Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents and Progressive Thoughts from a Liberal Mind: Essays on Creating a More Perfect World (unpublished). He resides in Worthington, Ohio where he studies and writes on education

#320 – Dick Bernard: Las Madres: Mothers of the Disappeared

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Sunday we were privileged to attend a photo exhibition and talks telling the story of the Las Madres, Argentine Mothers who lost children during Argentina’s “dirty war” 1976-83.

The event was presented by the Twin Cities organization World Without Genocide, a group worth learning more about.

At the Sunday gathering, the photographer Sylvia Horwitz gave a powerful commentary on her equally powerful photographs. Her story began, ironically, with a 2003 trip to Argentina to learn the Tango.

During that trip she learned of Las Madres, and later returned to document the continuing demonstrations to keep alive the memories of horrendous atrocities against basic human rights during the dictatorship of 1976-83 in Argentina. The photo exhibit continues at the Basilica undercroft through March 5. It is very well worth the visit.

Sylvia Horwitz Jan. 23, 2011. Las Madres photos in background.

Also speaking at the Sunday gathering was a twin cities teacher who survived the awful detention and torture. Her journey to near-annihilation began very innocently, as an idealistic young person leaving fliers on a bus bench. She was noticed by the wrong person, detained and tortured, and in the end was very lucky to survive. Most of the detained weren’t: they simply disappeared.

Among the materials I picked up was a commentary from the Nov. 27, 2010, issue of The Economist on the architect of this “dirty war”, Emilio Massera, who died November 8, 2010, at the age of 85. The description of Massera’s self-delusion – “cleansing the country”, as described in the commentary – is chilling; as is his fascination with the manipulation of language to wield power.

Like tyrants of any age, Massera felt he could learn from the mistakes of tyrants who came before.

In Nazi Germany, for instance, detailed records were kept of everything.

In Massera’s Argentina, there were no records, and thus it is virtually impossible to reconstruct the atrocities, determine what happened to the victims, or establish evidence to convict the perpetrators.

The memory of the atrocities lives quietly on, even in minds of persons who have no particular background or interest in Argentina.

Saturday morning, a friend of mine leaves for Buenos Aires in the first leg of a cruise around the Horn of South America. In conversation, he and some friends were wondering about how safe it was to go to Argentina.

That is the legacy of 1976-83 living on.

At the end of the program, a friend of mine, a retired attorney, reflected on what we had just heard and seen. What happened in Argentina in those lost years, he said, could as easily happen here, and has happened elsewhere.

One needs to be vigilant.

Greg Halbert reflecting on photos of three of the Las Madres. There are many more such photos in the exhibit.

#319 – Dick Bernard: “Watching” the State of the Union

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

I “watched” the State of the Union address in its entirety last night. The word is in quotes, because, while I sat in front of the TV, I mostly watched with my eyes closed.

In other words, I listened, like one would be forced to listen in pre-television and instant analysis days which in historical terms are really very recent.

I didn’t stick around for the responses of Reps Ryan and Bachmann. In historical terms, such responses are really very recent.

I have my own e-mailing list, and when I awoke this morning sent out the four overnight analyses received on internet, the first from the President himself, and advised readers that from this point out I’d send out only their own personal commentaries. The punditry and political ‘blab’ will be interminable and predictable. Talking heads, talking.

Nothing is left to chance in today’s management of news and images. Every single person sitting in the House Chamber last night knew that they were potentially on-camera every second. Their focus was likely not really listening either. Rather it was to have the appropriate stage-look: enthusiastic, bored, angry…. “You lie” was out this year, and good riddance. Rep. Gabby Giffords empty chair spoke volumes without saying a thing.

Personally, I thought the speech was very good, but that’s simply personal opinion. I’m a strong supporter of this President.

The President’s “Sputnik” comment really resonated with me: I was a Senior in high school when Sputnik launched in October, 1957, and in those years we occasionally watched Communism blink over Capitalism in the clear night sky of North Dakota: in those years, the newspaper published where and when to watch for the blink as Sputnik tumbled, reflecting light from the sun. I wish I would have kept one of those Fargo Forums including a tracking map.

I hadn’t cleared my Freshman year in college when Castro took over Cuba in 1959, and I was a Junior in college when John F. Kennedy was elected U.S. President in 1960; and in the Army during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962. I saw the transition from then history to newer history, ‘boots on the ground’.

All of that was then. Back then, the war was over ideology; today, I believe, the War is over how or whether the generations which follow mine will survive or thrive. 1957-58, even with the much-played Red Menace of the Soviet Union, was a really simple time compared to today. We couldn’t imagine, then, even the possibility of running out of things, like oil; or other things, like the internet which has already been so much a force for good…and, yes, evil.

Now the debate begins about the future.

Frankly, I have zero interest in what the pundits say, or who the politicians blame.

I will focus on two quotations, one of Margaret Mead, the other of Gandhi, which “frame” the home page of my website which acknowledges the contributions of two of my personal heroes, Lynn Elling and Prof. Joe Schwartzberg.

Our future is NOT a spectator sport.

Either we’re on the Court helping to constructively fashion the solutions for our future in small or large ways, or we have no right to complain about the results.

#318 – Dick Bernard: The President’s State of the Union Address…and the Carnival of our National Insanity

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Tonight President Obama gives his State of the Union before a joint session of Congress.

That this will happen is no surprise: it is an annual event with a long, long history in our country.

This year, beyond any in my own memory, this one is preceded, will be attended and followed by, numerous ‘clowns and jesters’, all attempting to influence, disrupt and confuse, though there will be an atmosphere of (I hope) at least fake civility in the chamber itself.

We seem to have descended into the pit that happens when a community of priorities – what is good for society at large – is replaced with millions of first and non-negotiable personal priorities. (We live in a homeowners association of 96 owners living in 24 buildings. As an owner, we can’t decide how to modify our 1/96th share of common property. Sometimes it seems that every citizen of this nation of over 300,000,000 thinks they have the pre-eminent right to whatever it is they demand….)

As an Army veteran myself, I always used to scoff at the Army Recruiting Slogan, an “Army of One“, where the recruiting pitch was the inference that you could be in the Army and do what you wanted to do. For me, any illusions about freedom and independence in Army life ended when I stepped off the bus at Fort Carson, Colorado 49 years ago this month…. (I didn’t have those fantasies, then, and I doubt any of my colleagues did either. We were “in the Army now”, and that meant peeling potatoes, and buzz cuts, and on and on.)

So, back to the street theatre of the Presidents address tonight.

It is impossible to escape the boatload of top priorities – absolute non-negotiables – conveyed by everyone who has even the tiniest notion of shared priorities (that number seems to be decreasing, to our peril).

Rather than focusing on how we can be better as a society, there is this constituency demanding this top priority in the State of the Union; that constituency demanding exactly the opposite; a passel of folks whose goal is to be sure that the President is a failure, so that they can then ride to “success” in two years, and on and on and on. Afterwards there will be the relatively recent tradition of the opposing parties response, and, of course, the President’s party response as well. This year, my more-or-less “congresswoman” will give the Tea Party response (I put her title in quotes, since she is our Congresswoman by name only. She was elected here, yes. But by her actions, which I experience, she could care less about the 6th Congressional District of Minnesota. She’s got bigger fish to fry.)

The President and his advisors know all of this, of course.

Tonight will happen, and those who think the President laid out a good agenda will canonize him; the ones who want him to fail will demonize him; most will care not a whit….

There were times when we more or less reached national unity, and they were times of crisis, as Pearl Harbor, or the Kennedy assassination, where we came together as a nation.

But times seem to be too good now, and they fog over a very rocky road ahead. While the focus will be on 9% unemployment tonight, we know, today, that there is 91% employment in this country. It is pretty hard to get those 91% riled up to help out those who too many think are ‘shiftless and lazy’ (unless, of course, the unemployed persons are in your own family, as we experience ourselves, today.)

Politics and policy are not a spectator sport, with winners and losers.

Luckily, we are still one country.

I hope we act like that is the case.

#317 – Dick Bernard: Some thoughts on Haiti, Duvalier, Aristide, reconstructing the deconstructing….

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Baby Doc Duvalier materialized in Port-au-Prince about a week ago. You’d be led to think Duvalier’s trip was a surprise to the international community. Reading the media, it almost seems as if he just jumped on a plane and flew home after 25 years in France.

The odds of Duvalier’s trip to Haiti being unknown to the international community are about the same as my odds of winning the lottery.

His arrival has re-ignited the conversation about Haiti, particularly about the Duvalier and Aristide years.

The events brought back my own memories, recounted below. My key learning, then: take nothing at face value if the topic is Haiti or, in particular, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

We set foot on U.S. soil after spending a week in Port-au-Prince on December 13, 2003. It had been a powerful week for me: my first visit. Basically we had met with persons and groups favorable to President Aristide, though we didn’t meet with him. We went by, but didn’t enter, the iconic Presidential Palace. Excepting the last day or two in Port-au-Prince, which were a little tense, there were no reasons to be concerned about safety. I felt welcome in Haiti.

In Miami, before the flight home, I picked up the Miami Herald for December 13 (below, click on photo to enlarge). It speaks for itself. The complete news article is here: Miami Herald 121303001) Less than three months later, Aristide would be gone.

Front page Miami Herald December 13, 2003

The trip caused me to want to learn more about the geopolitical relationship between the U.S. and Haiti, something I knew little about at the time. I’ve been studying this ever since, not only from the academic perspective, but from the grassroots as well.

Freshly home, in early January, 2004, I went to the U.S. State Department website and discovered the following news release on Haiti (Click on it to enlarge. There’s no need to look for it on-line – it disappeared from the State Departments website and cyberspace by the middle of 2004, if I recall correctly.

Handwritten notation on left margin added by Dick Bernard early 2004

I wrote the Haiti desk at the State Department in mid-January, 2004, asking where the money identified for Haiti had been spent (relevant documents here 04001). Much to my surprise, in early February, I received a phone call from the State Department. I simply restated my desire to have information in writing. At this point, I was still very trusting of my government…I thought my question would be very easy to answer, since it was directly from an official document and very recent as well.

Succinctly, I never got a detailed answer to my question, even after a Freedom of Information Act request, and a passage of two and a half years. By the time I dropped my request, the matter had been turned over to U.S. AID and the Department of Defense. My last response from USAID seemed to indicate that the person knew more than she was authorized to tell me; Department of Defense never did provide specifics.

I received only incomplete and vague information from my Government about how it spent my tax money. I became enough of a nuisance so that I am probably a name on file in Washington.

Seven years after that first trip to Haiti I have had no choice but to conclude that even official U.S. government information cannot be trusted, regardless of the source; and that the likeliest reason for the non-disclosure in 2004 was that the so-called U.S. aid to Haiti was primarily being used to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the democratically elected government of Haiti on February 29, 2004. I found other evidence of blatant dishonesty in U.S. reporting of another important event in Haiti. There is the additional problem of deliberate dessemination of misinformation via supposedly credible sources who may not even know they are spreading untrue information.

The initial information about President Aristide’s motivation and intention to help his people, which I received on that first trip to Haiti, turned out to stand the test of time, and was credible, and endures even after constant attempts to destroy Aristide’s reputation.

Now information – and misinformation – is again swirling, occasioned by Duvalier’s return to Haiti; and the seeming continued efforts to smear Aristide and keep him out of his native land.

An excellent 16-page booklet, We Will Not Forget! The Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti by Laura Flynn and Lisa Roth was released in 2005, and reprinted in 2010, which endeavored to tell the largely untold story of what the Aristide administration was working for – and toward – in Haiti. Simply type the title in your search engine for more information. It is worth reading.

There are many chapters yet to be written about Haiti.

Keep seeing Haiti.

My personal perspectives on the Haiti I visited in 2003 and again in 2006 can be found here. While the site needs updating, I have continued to be very engaged on the geopolitics of Haiti and particularly the United States.

#316 – Bells for Haiti Committee: Final Report on the One Year Anniversary Project Remembering 35 seconds in Haiti, 3:53 p.m. CST January 12, 2010

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The Bells for Haiti Committee is grateful for the response around the United States to the one year anniversary project which culminated with bell-ringing and other events on or surrounding January 12, 2011.

The Committee met to debrief the activity on January 20, 2011, and following is its report.

1. The project evolved over about a one month period beginning in early December, 2010. All members of the Konbit-Haiti/MN list* were invited to attend. American Refugee Committee (ARC) hosted each meeting at its Minneapolis office, providing lunch (thank you, ARC!) There was no budget, no expenditures (other than those incurred by ARC or the committee members themselves). Committee members shared their time and pooled diverse talents to organize and publicize the event.
2. The group decided early on to keep the project very simple: Bell Ringing at 3:53 p.m. CST on the one year anniversary of the earthquake, January 12, 2011.
3. An early decision, thanks to Lisa Van Dyke, was to set up a Facebook events page which remains as Bells for Haiti.
4. Group members publicized the event through their own networks, including their own media contacts.
5. Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network and Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers lent their name and support to the event as co-sponsors.

1. The results on January 12, 2011, far exceeded the expectations of any of the group members.
A. The Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul issued proclamations for the day (see below, click on image to enlarge)
B. At peak, over 3500 people expressed an interest in Bells for Haiti via the Bells for Haiti Facebook page; these people were all over the United States and in Haiti.
C. Bells were rung in a wide variety of places all over the country, including Minneapolis City Hall, the Cathedral of St. Paul, the Basilica of St. Mary and many others places. (Partial list here.) There was significant media interest and coverage of the activity

Basilica of St. Mary rings the bells for Haiti, Minneapolis MN 3:53 p.m. CST January 12, 2011

D. Additional activities and observances were held in various places to recognize the anniversary.
E. The specific activity added very positively to the media coverage of Haiti during the anniversary period.
2. Most importantly, the event brought together people with an interest in Haiti, and renewed commitment to help in the countries recovery.

1. Representatives of diverse groups can come together on an ad hoc basis and accomplish significant goals which they would not be able to accomplish alone. (A quotation heard later the same day we debriefed: “None of us is as smart as all of us”, attributed to former MN Gov Rudy Perpich, on the benefits of sharing talents, resources and energy.
2. Used prudently and creatively, Facebook is an incredible resource for such an event. A Facebook event page is easy to create and to manage.
3. By focusing on things we agreed on, there was less loss of time on things on which we couldn’t agree on, and there were opportunities even within the committee meetings to enter into dialogue about items on which we might disagree.

1. We have decided to keep the Bells for Haiti Facebook page open, simply adding a very brief message at the beginning of the event, leaving all the rest of the content intact. We will be sending a brief message to all of those who participated, inviting them to share thoughts, plans etc., as time goes on. One of us will monitor the page periodically to remove postings that are inappropriate. We were new at this process, so made some mistakes, but apparently they were not fatal. We learned from our experience.
2. We are hoping for a one year anniversary meeting of the Haiti Konbit group on that groups one year anniversary: Tuesday, April 26, 2011. We are not in charge of this event, but solicit persons and groups who are willing to host, suggest topics and/or speakers for such a reunion gathering.

Committee members who participated in planning and implementing the activity are as follows. All were part of the informal Konbit [pronounced cone-beet]-Haiti/MN group including 25 Twin Cities groups dedicated to helping Haiti in sundry ways*:

Therese Gales and Jenna Myrland, American Refugee Committee; Lisa Van Dyke, Spare Hands for Haiti; Mike Haasl, Global Solidarity Coordinator, Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Rebecca Cramer, Haiti Justice Committee; Dale Snyder, Haiti Outreach; Jacqueline Regis, Haitian-American attorney and author; Lisa Rothstein, Healing Hands for Haiti; Sue Grundhoffer, No Time for Poverty; Ruth Anne Olson, St. James Episcopal Church, Minneapolis; Bonnie Steele, St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, Maple Grove MN; Dick Bernard, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, Fonkoze, and Haiti Justice Alliance, Northfield MN.

* – If you or your group is interested in being added to the Konbit list, please contact dick_bernardATmsnDOTcom. This is a group primarily based in the Twin Cities area of MN, has no dues, organization or regular meeting structure. It is an informal alliance which functions to help people remain connected.

Related posts: type Haiti or Bells for Haiti in search box.

#315 – Dick Bernard: Haiti. Duvalier. The Punishment and Justice Narrative…and the Reconciliation Possibility

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I woke early in the morning of Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 2011. The purpose was to publish #314, which is here.

In front of me was a note from my spouse from a couple hours earlier. It deserves to be presented as I saw it:

On screen were a couple of e-mails about Duvalier’s return.

I added a few comments to the end of #314, and clicked publish. They remain “my first draft of history”, as I see it.

Off to morning coffee a little later, I noted that the January 17 Minneapolis Star Tribune, hardly a Haiti focused newspaper, gave the story front page status, and 27 column inches. In the news biz, that’s a major story.

Now the debate is raging, particularly within the community that has an interest in Haiti policy: Whose fault is this? What does it mean? What should be done? And on and on and on.

I keep thinking of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste. Three are living, half are dead. Two of them were assassinated, most all of them were imprisoned or exiled. All were labeled by opposing persons and groups as, in one sense or another, enemies of the state, corrupt, even evil. It’s called political positioning….

And each had followers: people who believed in them; thought they were doing some good.

So did the Duvalier’s.

What would they all be saying? What will those still living have to say in coming hours and days?

I’m hardly an acknowledged ‘expert’ on Haiti, but I think I know a lot more than most, and I’ve made an effort to stay well informed over the years. The very short ‘course’: the Duvalier’s were cast as crooks and evil; Aristide has been cast as basically the same; Haiti has scarcely benefitted from hundreds of years of meddling from outside, in the most recent several hundred years primarily by France and the United States of America, neither of which had much time for a state of freed slaves.

Of the people I met in my first trip to Haiti, December, 2003, two have been murdered – one within two days of my meeting him; a couple were tossed in prison not long after on what were quite certainly trumped up charges; within three months most of the rest were in hiding or out of the country after the 2/29/2004 coup.

Quite inadvertently I got a University level introduction to what most never read in books or even hear in conversations.

Adding to the mix is the not always helpful role of what has been described as 10-16,000 independent NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) trying to do something in Haiti, from the micro to the macro – all this in a country one-eighth the size of my own state of Minnesota. Indeed I heard a U.S. embassy official recently describe Haiti as a Republic of NGO’s. This is not helpful to anyone, including the NGO’s, and most especially not helpful to the long-term for the Haitians themselves. We’ve all heard the term, “too many cooks in the kitchen”. Haiti has tens of thousands….

The purpose of this piece is to plea for some perspective, and for some consideration of positive possibilities in the wake of this news development.

Shortly, apparently today, in a few hours, Baby Doc will say something in Port-au-Prince and we’ll get his ‘spin’ on his return to his native land.

Personally, I keep thinking that this is a unique moment: a unique opportunity to begin a reconciliation process in a time of huge and continuing crisis. I remember Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, supporter of President Aristide, in his beloved St. Clare’s parish in Port-au-Prince, preaching on Dec. 7, 2003 – less than 24 hours after I’d landed in his country. There were six white Americans in his pews that day, and I was one of them. Most of his sermon was in Kreyol, but part of it was in English, very powerfully directed specifically to us, and part of that message emphasized the paths which could be chosen: to be “killers” or “healers”….

Given the cacophony already, I’m not terribly hopeful about “healing” being in the Haiti conversation today….

But Martin Luther King, and Mandela and Gandhi and Jean-Juste could dream.

Why not?

#314 – Dick Bernard: Meeting Martin Luther King Jr in Minneapolis, yesterday

Monday, January 17th, 2011

I met Martin Luther King yesterday, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I sat near him in the Choir Stall at Basilica of St. Mary yesterday afternoon.

He appeared there in the body of two women sitting next to each other. Mary Johnson and Janice Andersen.

Janice is the tireless and remarkable Christian Life Director at the Basilica of St. Mary. Where there is a call for justice and peace, there you will find Janice Andersen. Without Janice, I would not have met Mary Johnson.

Mary Johnson was at Basilica because of Janice Andersen. Mary is a Mom from the north side of Minneapolis whose son was killed 18 years ago by a man, now named Oshea Israel, who went to prison for his crime. On his release from prison, Mrs. Johnson not only reconciled with him, but adopted him, and formed From Death to Life, “an organization dedicated to ending violence through the facilitation of healing and reconciliation between the families of victims and perpetrators.

Mary spoke briefly, very quietly and very powerfully, at Basilica’s Vespers for Peace yesterday.

Read Mary’s story here (simply click on “from death to life” under the photo of the man and the smiling woman, Mary Johnson, who is hugging him, and read more of the whole story.)

Then donate a few dollars or more to her work (see the website), and even more important, let others know who might help, or might draw inspiration from her witness to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Earlier in the day, at the same church – my church – I met Martin in the form of Fr. Greg Miller, one of our regular visiting Priests from the St. John’s University community at Collegeville MN. Fr. Miller is in charge of the Guest House at St. John’s, and yesterday in his homily gave quiet and very powerful witness to Martin Luther King, what he said, and what his work might mean to our lives.

I met Martin in the form of my friend, John Martin, who was also there at Basilica yesterday afternoon. John shows up in life to make a difference. It was John who sent around the reminder notice that gave me the final nudge to take an afternoon trip back into Minneapolis when it would have been easier to just stay home and relax. Martin could as well be Brian Mogren, the man moved and inspired to build the website that helps bring Mary Johnson’s story and her work to the world.

I could continue this list, and make it much longer. Indeed, Martin Luther King is around me all day, every day, everywhere I am willing to look. Martin is all of us, if we stretch a little to be a bit like him.

He’s there in the person of anyone who dares to stretch a tiny bit amongst him or herself and quietly make a difference in his or her own environment. The key is that “stretch a little bit” beyond one’s own self-imposed limits to take even a little risk to make even a little difference.

Today is Martin Luther King Day.

Become Martin, a little bit more, every day. Our world will be a better place because of you.

Yesterday I noticed Mary tear up at the singing of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen“. Here’s Louis Armstrong’s version from YouTube for today.

Earlier, at Mass, the phenomenal Yolanda Bruce, backed by the Basilica Choir, sang a powerful version of another spiritual, Wade in the Water. Here, also, is a YouTube version of that song, sung by young people.


Added comment on the overnight BREAKING NEWS that Baby Doc Duvalier has apparently returned to Haiti:

I envisioned and wrote in my head the above reflections before I saw the headlines about the news in Haiti.

I wrote and published the post before I read any of the first reports.

What would Martin Luther King say about this news about Baby Doc coming back to Haiti? How about his teacher, Gandhi? What would he say?

For that matter, how about Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu? Or former Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, exiled in their country of South Africa? Or Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, President Aristide’s supporter, whose passion I heard in person in 2003 in Port-au-Prince and again in 2006 in Miami’s Little Haiti? Gerard Jean-Juste, who spent much time in Prison in Port-au-Prince, and who died three years ago after a long struggle with leukemia.

Really, what would they say? What will those of them still living have to say in coming days?

I would guess that there is much, much more behind the ‘cover’ of this ‘book’, whose cover we are just now seeing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the action was intended to happen on this day we remember Martin Luther King.

Hold, on rushing to judgment.

I have published posts generally related to this theme in the last several days: see Jan. 12, 13, 14