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#910 – Dick Bernard: Prairie Home Companion at 40 – Chapter 2

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

I wrote yesterday about my personal “history” with Prairie Home Companion; then I spent four hours at Macalester, and added a few photos of the event to the post. You can see it all here.

There is a temptation to go back today…and tomorrow as well. But there’ll be plenty of other folks there, and I’ve spread the word about the richness of the day to my small circle, and hopefully there’ll be throngs this afternoon and tomorrow at the event.

The relevant photos from yesterday are in yesterdays post. I did note Garrison’s long-time “trademark” (a little worn, a lady next to me said), and an older couple, obviously fans, who are “copy cats”. The two photos are below, and need no further explanation for those who are fans. (Hats off to Garrison on his shoes, from one who believes “old” and “comfortable” are synonyms.)

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Garrison Keillor July 4, 2014

Garrison Keillor July 4, 2014

Keillor fans July 4, 2014

Keillor fans July 4, 2014

I’ll listen to PHC on the radio tonight – first time I’ve done that in a long time.

But I lived the show at Macalester, yesterday. It is odd how things come together: seeing assorted folks I didn’t even know were Keillor fans; seeing others who knew people I did. A little chatting goes a long way, some time.

One lady and I got to the Chapel 45 minutes before Keillor and Company were to perform, both of us intent on front row seats (which we secured). She said they had gone to see PHC at some town along I-94, but she didn’t remember the town. Some hours later I ran into long-time friends from Anoka who’d been at the same place as I, and they said they’d gone out to see Garrison perform at Avon MN (on I-94). Aha, Brenda, if you’re reading. That is the place!

Some guy from Lanesboro asked a question about an almost cancelled outdoor performance there, and Garrison answered immediately. Later, buying the commemorative t-shirt and cap, the guy in the booth said they very nearly had to cancel a recent outdoor event at Ravinia OH for the same reason: threatening weather.

I’ve come to be around Garrison a number of times over the years. He is a contradiction: he is remote, but get him started on a story, and off he goes. They don’t invest a lot of time in formal rehearsals, I gathered. He observed that many of his musicians were really good actors as well, until they had to rehearse their lines, and the spontaneity went down the tube.

Yesterday, I dug out my modest Garrison Keillor file, and today I looked through it. It yielded some interesting morsels, most significant of which is a publication few but Garrison Keillor himself know exist.

Back in the late 1980s I had reason to spend some time in the musty “tombs” of the Walter Library on the main campus of the UofMinnesota. I was researching something very specific that required me to go into old archival boxes in the bowels of that historical library.

By then I was a real fan of Keillor, and I had read that he was, about 1965, the editor of the campus literary magazine, the Ivory Tower.

So, on a side trip, I discovered down there, in another place, two articles, both about Hockey at the UofM, from February 1 and April 5, 1965, issues of Ivory Tower. I photocopied them, and here they are, with acknowledgement: Keillor Ivory Tower 1965001 WARNING: If the words “Hockey”, “Doug Woog”, “John Mariucci”, and “UofM versus University of North Dakota at Grand Forks” ring your chimes, be prepared to read the 14 pages behind the link….

The little file was a brief story of the life of a relationship – Keillor with his show and his town, St. Paul. The June 1987 Minnesota Monthly devoted 124 pages as a Collectors Edition “Farewell to A Prairie Home Companion”. This was only 13 years into the run, but that was Garrison’s mid-life crisis.

The January 2000 Northwest Airlines World Traveler cover story on some air trip I took was “Garrison Keillor, America’s Storyteller”.

In February, 2001, our friend in London sent a long Review, “In search of Wobegon”, in The Sunday Telegraph. The June 28 and August 7, 2005, Minneapolis Star Tribunes had long articles about the upcoming Prairie Home movie directed by Robert Altman.

June 27 and July 4, 1999, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune had long articles on the 25th anniversaries of Prairie Home Companion.

I just re-looked at the articles, and the thought came to mind that I had in that old file folder was something of a history of a relationship that could fit most anyone, not just Garrison Keillor.

Spats, separations, celebrations, misinterpretations, and everything that goes along with couples everywhere.

Even the 40th anniversary is significant. By 40 years, there is some quiet acknowledgement that 50 years is quite a long ways off, and things have a way of happening, so why not find an excuse for a party!?

Garrison acknowledged as much in that rich hour we spent with him yesterday. I can only paraphrase, but in talking about the future he said he wasn’t much looking at ten years ahead. He’d seen politicians who stayed in office long past their time, and it wasn’t pretty….

Garrison, I’m glad to be in your neighborhood.

And Monday, when once again we drive west on I-94, and pass St. Cloud, St. Johns, Freeport, and Avon and all the rest of the places that helped give birth to Lake Wobegon (not to mention Anoka!), I’ll have occasion to smile.

Thanks for the memories.

#908 – Dick Bernard: Anniversaries of Two Wars…and the beat goes on.

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

UPDATE to Fortnight for Freedom: several comments are included at the end of the post.

The last few days have marked two significant anniversaries.

June 28 marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which led, a month later, to the awful World War I.

Today, July 2, is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

WWI – “the war to end all wars” – was the first of the truly deadly world wars. A letter in Tuesdays Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted that 568 Hennepin County (Minneapolis and environs) residents were killed in WWI, their deaths remembered by Victory Memorial Drive in Victory Memorial Park along the northwest boundary area of Minneapolis.

WWI begat WWII, and after WWII came Korea, then Vietnam, then Iraq…. War doesn’t stop war; it only aggravates problems that erupt in new and different ways.

The evening of June 21-22, 1964, marked a beginning of the heavy lifting of the Civil Rights Movement. Three young people, James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were gunned down in Mississippi – deemed by the KKK t be trouble makers out to register people to vote.

By no means was theirs the first deadly incident in the Civil Rights movement, nor the last, but it was a wake-up call moment, impossible to ignore. It was a watershed moment.

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Risking Everything001

The wars continue: The invisible al-Bagdadi, holed up somewhere, seeks a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq area. Odds are, his life span is not long, and his dream will fail.

At home here in the U.S.of A at Independence Day, it’s no secret at all that efforts are being made to roll back hard-won Civil Rights, voting, immigration, etc.

It seems so hopeless. But is it?

Back in March I decided to drop in on a session at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum conducted by Professor Mary Elizabeth King, a veteran of the Civil Rights heavy lifting years.

The room was full of students that day, nonetheless I wondered about the state of student activism today, so after the session I wrote Dr. King a letter.

On May 13, I received a personal communication from Dr. King, much of which I reprint here, with her permission. Hers is a very interesting and hopeful analysis, coming from the trenches of the Summer of 2014 (and 1964), so to speak.

Dr. King:

“The amount of student activism today is far greater than in the heyday of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], which some historians are now calling the most significant group to emerge in the USA after World War II. Young people are vastly more engaged. The success of the Dreamers (the movement of young Latinos that dramatically succeeded in their quest for an end to children born in the USA of “illegal” parents being forcibly detained), is a model for good planning and strategizing that beats anything that went on in the civil rights movement. This year, you will see an astonishing degree of mobilization around the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer (in which I worked). In FL, NC, MS, OH, and TX hundreds of organizers will be working on voter registration, expanding education, pushing against the privatization of prisons and working to curtail the school-to-prison pipeline, and more work against deportations. I’ve just been with 45 of these key organizers in Geogia, and in depth and breadth they are in some ways more advanced than we were in their ability to plan and strategize. I, therefore, feel optimistic.

Dr. King continued at some length:

Isolated groups around the world now have some access to transnational electronic activism. Even if they are weak in their ability to reform their governments, they can cause what social scientists call a “boomerang” pattern, bringing about pressure from networks across the world (most recently visible as Nigheria’s Goodluck Jonathan did nothing about 276 abducted girls until storms of electronic protestation around the world exerted pressure on him, sufficient to get the UK, France, and USA to send personnel). This could not have happened 20 years ago.

More than 400 degree programs, centers, or institutes in the USA are dedicated to the building of peace. Peace and conflict studies is the fastest growing field of all the social sciences worldwide; in my experience it is driven by the young.”

On Martin Luther King, Dr. King recommends a new book: “In an Inescapable Network of Mutuality,” ed. Lewis V. Baldwin (Cascade Books, 2013).

Her letter also included the postcard about Risking Everything (see above photograph). She suggested “that you spread word of this remarkable book of carefully selected documents from the 1964 Freedom Summer. Every library should have it.” (At this writing, the website listed on the card is down for maintenance. Try it later.)

Back in the 60s, Dr. King concludes, “We had almost no books, other than Gandhi’s autobiography and King’s Stride toward Freedom. Today a wealth is available and much of it downloadable.”

Mistakes will be made, as witnessed by Tahrir Square mistakes, and the Occupy movement, both of which had promising starts.

But activism is alive and well.

Thank you, Dr. King. I’m glad I asked the question.

UPDATE, July 3: Overnight came Just Above Sunset with an analysis commentary about 1964 and 2014.

It is impossible, of course, to see how the long term will play out on the matters of voting or immigration or most anything else, but personally I see the climate now as very different from 1964. The Rights advocates in 1964 were starting from 100 years of inaction following the Emancipation Proclamation and it was a hard slow dangerous slog in the south. Armies of demonstrators made it possible for Lyndon Johnson to take the courageous steps necessary to get the act passed, though he well knew the consequences for the Democrats “for the next generation”.

Rolling back the clock to the good old days will be, in my opinion, a suicidal mission for the angry people who give face to the anger in places like Murieta CA.

A photo clip last night showed the California protestors brandishing American flags almost like weapons against the bus. It brought back flashback moments for me to early October, 2001, when I went to my first anti-war demonstration at the State Capitol, and across the street were flag-brandishing very angry people protesting the protestors.

It will be interesting to see the crowd at the 4th of July Parade tomorrow…the one we always attend. It is the crowd I always watch, more than the parade. The folks along the street are America….

#907 – Dick Bernard: The Tool Shed

Monday, June 30th, 2014

My friend, Bruce, and I were in one of our occasional jousting modes earlier today. I had sent along a post including a commentary by a self-described member of the .01%ers – the super wealthy. Basically, Mr. Hanauer, reminded his fellow super-wealthy folks that starving the middle class was not productive for the wealthy. The middle class was, after all, the market for the goods that drive prosperity.

There were a couple of parries and thrusts back and forth (see end of this post for the entire thread) and in his last comment Bruce said this about our future when we run out of the resources we have squandered: “I think community will be more important than it is today. Neighborhood resources will be important to sustain lifestyle.”

It happened that just 20 minutes before the above comment I had received an e-mail with the following subject line, and brief contents: “Project Update #6: Aurora/St. Anthony Peace Garden Shed + Tool Lending Library by Garden Volunteer, Kristine Miller. Project Update #6: We Made It!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you beautiful people!!!! More information soon! With love from your friends at the Aurora/St. Anthony Peace Garden”.

Kristine, who I had met just days ago, and community activist Melvin Giles, who I’ve known for years, and others, unnamed, had pulled off a major accomplishment, raising some funds for a simple tool shed in their neighborhood. The story is in a less than three minute video accompanying the final report of the fundraising success.

(Melvin is the “star” of the video. Listen for his “strawberry” story.) This isn’t a million dollar deal, but for the folks around 855 Aurora Avenue (just a block or two south of University Avenue, and a few blocks west of the Minnesota State Capitol) it surely is the very essence of “community” as described by Bruce. It is, also, a “kickstart” to encourage folks to make small and large differences in their circles.

The video shows the shed being replaced; I was privileged to see the new shed, still under construction, a few weeks ago. The photo is below. The shed was built as a project by students from the University of Minnesota School of Landscape Architecture.

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The still-under-construction tool shed at 855 Aurora Avenue St. Paul.  June 11, 2014

The still-under-construction tool shed at 855 Aurora Avenue St. Paul. June 11, 2014

Ehtasham Anwar interviews Melvin Giles in the garden June 11, 2014.  Filmed by Suhail Ahmed.  Ehtasham and Suhail, both from Pakistan, were at the end of their year in the U.S. as Humphrey/Fulbright Fellows at the Human Rights Center of the University of Minnesota Law School.  Interviewing Melvin was part of Ehtasham's year-end archival project about peace-making in the Twin Cities.

Ehtasham Anwar interviews Melvin Giles in the garden June 11, 2014. Filmed by Suhail Ahmed. Ehtasham and Suhail, both from Pakistan, were at the end of their year in the U.S. as Humphrey/Fulbright Fellows at the Human Rights Center of the University of Minnesota Law School. Interviewing Melvin was part of Ehtasham’s year-end archival project about peace-making in the Twin Cities.

It is the small stories such as this one which will save our planet.

As Margaret Mead so notably said many years ago: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.

FOR ANYONE INTERESTED, here’s Bruce and my on-line conversation “thread” which helped lead to this post. I think such ad hoc discussions (arguments) on-line can be useful to both parties, if they begin and end with respect, as I think Bruce and I have for each other, over a number of years now.

Dick, June 30, 5:29 a.m. to my usual list: If nothing else, read up on Nick Hanauer, at about the middle, about the Middle Class: [link here]

Here’s a brief bio about Hanauer.

In the end analysis, its people like ourselves, not the politicians, who’ll have to change the direction. The nature of politics is to read the wind of public opinion and get and stay elected. It’s a nasty reality in our electoral system. You are useless if you can’t stay elected, and being a representative requires you to follow more than lead.

Nobody, especially idealists, likes to hear that.

So…what do you plan to do about it, these remaining few months before the 2014 election? It’s about four months away.

Bruce, 9:27 a.m.: “…thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it.”

What has American prosperity done to the environment? That question looms large in the presents of human influenced climate change & global warming. Our economy is predicated on infinite expansion, while our planets resources are finite. Because of dwindling quality of natural resources( the high quality stuff that built the middle class is gone), the economic expansion that the rebuilding of the middle class depends on becomes far more expensive than what it took to create the golden years of the middle class from 1946 to 1980. And, the degradation to the environment becomes more severe.

I think this model that the Sunset guy [the blog referred to above] is trying to get back to is a broken romantic dream like the return to the Garden of Eden.

Dick, 9:38 a.m.: So, I challenge you, what is the alternative…a viable solution in our country, when even folks on welfare decline to accept certain kinds of used furniture because they’re not good enough….

I’m a bit more sensitive than usual about this as I’m beginning the process of closing out the history of a 110 year farm, as my 89 year Uncle, the last survivor, never married, is in the nursing home in the nearby town.

In some of the old farm photos, recently, I found two iconic images of the good old days (before prosperity). One is of a two bottom, four horse, cultivator, tended by the hired man, who probably slept in a grain bin during his summers there. The other is “Edithe’s favorite milk cow” (my aunt Edithe died in February). This from the day when she and Grandma, basically, milked the cows by hand, and had a hand run cream separator.

This was the “pitchfork” era, as you know. We’re heading back to it [“pitchforks”, literally] quickly, but the solution is not to go the utopian route. Its a bit like being addicted to something: initially, the cure is worse than the disease, and most people can’t take the transition (poverty) between wealth and reason….

Bruce, 11:31 a.m.: I’m not sure what alternatives we have. But, what I am sure of is that we aren’t given the truth of what the consumerism & materialism has done to our home. The high quality natural resources that were taken out of the earth to build the society was used to manufacture, buy, and sell things for profit. These precious natural resources that are real wealth are expressed in the stuff called junk thrown in landfills & dissolved into the atmosphere, land, and water.

The articles like the Sunset guy wrote perpetuates the destructive dream of a new middle class where labor is equal to capital so that the ever expanding economy can march timelessly on into the sunset. It can’t.

The next twenty years will be different from the past twenty years. Cheap oil is gone & the alternative fossil fuels are very expensive and don’t provide the net energy gain that the quality stuff did. The alternatives to fossil fuels will not support or sustain the consumer life style that built the middle class as we remember it. We will have to drastically change life style and the ultra-rich are the ones who will suffer the most relatively to what they are accustomed to. That is why some like Hanauer advocate for higher taxes on the rich, better wages for labor, and stronger safety net for the needy. It’s to grow the middle class. They are liberal market place capitalists that want to generally perpetuate the status quo.

The solution is to understand what the consumerism of the middle class did to the planet. Then we can move forward with solutions. People hate change, but they get use to it and it becomes normal. But, time is dwindling.

Dick, 1:04 p.m.: The Sunset Guy just reflects on stuff, as you know. [ED. NOTE: In my opinion Just Above Sunset is a very useful (and free) daily musing on matters national and international]

What would happen if we were forced into the horse and milk cow stage again? My relatives knew that era. I witnessed it in action when I was young.

The grandkids generation (mine are from about 8-27 years of age) are going to be the first generation to fully bear the brunt of our wastrel ways.
It is complicated, beyond that.

Bruce, 3:55 p.m., June 30, 2014:
I think community will be more important than it is today. Neighborhood resources will be important to sustain lifestyle.

What is a better indication of a vibrant middle class: a high quality education system, transport system and health care system or individual material wealth? Values will change.

The rich of the 50s through 70s thought that the planet’s natural resources were infinite and understood the way to wealth & perpetual growth was to grow the middle class affluence so they could consume material goods, which would keep the economy expanding making the wealthy wealthier. They for the most part thought like Hanauer. But today the wealthy understand the finite nature of the high quality natural resources of years gone by. Their answer to grow there wealth is to hoard and strangle the middle class because there isn’t enough to go around. Their answer is short sighted. The middle class is shrinking & will not return to the position it once maintained. But, the wealth of the wealthy will collapse too, because their money depends on the health of the primary natural resources( the planet) and the resources that manufacture & create things. From what I’ve read, the Thomas Pikkety book, CAPITAL IN THE 21st CENTURY gets at this point. The wealthy would rather invest in the investment markets than grow the economy. The potential to make higher rate of return is better. That is a big disconnect.

Politically, this argument is being made by fringe parties & candidates for office. I don’t see any one running for office of any kind from the two major parties making this argument. Jean Massey’s IRV [Instant Runoff Voting] voting system is the best way to effect the political changes we need. It will allow the marginal candidate with the best ideas a good chance to be elected.

Dick, to everyone who’s read this far: So, what is your opinion?

#906 – Dick Bernard: A “Fortnight for Freedom”. The Tyranny of Belief?

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

A few hours after publishing this post, I went on my daily walk, and found this in chalk along the curb. It had been placed there since yesterday (I always walk the same route)*.
UPDATE on the photo, June 29: I went by the spot about noon, and no evidence of the chalked saying – it rained overnight. So the photo is the only reminder that it was ever there. One of the truths of accomplishing big things is the adage: “if you can believe it, you can achieve it”. This applies to many things in many ways.

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June 28, 2014

June 28, 2014

At the exact same time as the disastrous sectarian (religious) war in Syria and Iraq, another religious inspired event, an essentially covert religious “war” of its own, is being marketed in the United States. It began on June 21, Summer Solstice, and runs through July 4: a fortnight involving an annual natural phenomena, a national holiday and a religious initiative. It is quite a marketing package.

Today is the half-way point of the official observance; but it will continue long past July 4th, rest assured.

It is called “Fortnight for Freedom” and its marketing focus is on an alleged heavy-handed federal government coming down on poor beleaguered Christians who are, it is suggested, forced to compromise certain religious beliefs to obey laws with which they disagree, such as parts of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Just one example: being required as a company or employee to dispense birth control to others who desire that particular service when ones believes birth control is a sin. It is, indeed, a clash: a demand of freedom for one; with no apparent attention about freedom for the other whose views might differ.

The initiative seems to make so much sense, if you go no further than the surface rationale. As you think more deeply about the implications, though, it is really a tangled web of deception. “Freedom” apparently only applies to those who can then restrict certain others freedoms. Thus Fortnight for Freedom isn’t about freedom at all, it is about domination and control, imposition of beliefs, only without the bombs and bullets. It is about marketing an idea, a belief, as superior to other contrary beliefs.

Here is a description of Fortnight for Freedom. “Fortnight for Freedom” and its companions have come at me from a number of different directions in the last week or so.

Last Friday, the local Catholic Archdiocese newspaper, the Catholic Spirit, had a photo of four earnest looking Bishops on page 11, all intently looking at an iPad above a headline “Bishops focus on religious liberty….” I am Catholic. I get this paper. I know their story….

Catholic Spirit June 19, 2014 p. 11

Catholic Spirit June 19, 2014 p. 11

Here is the article that accompanies the above photo: Bishops focus….002

Technology and Media and Words are wonderful…and awful. The words “Fortnight for Freedom” are not even mentioned in the accompanying article; but the timing of the article is no coincidence.

The Bishops of my Church (I am an active Catholic), have far more than enough “freedom”; there is no need for them to demand even more freedom to take away freedom from others who have differing beliefs than they do, including great numbers who consider themselves, as I do, “active Catholic”.

But this is not just a Catholic hierarchical notion. Last Sunday, a good friend gave me a letter “Standing Together for Religious Freedom, An Open Letter to All Americans“, issued by a Southern Baptist entity, whose first signatory is a Catholic Bishop. The few other signers are, it appears, almost all Catholic or Evangelical Christian leaders of one denomination or another.

This is a top down deal between very odd bedfellows; not a bottom up groundswell. When I was growing up, we Catholics avoided Evangelicals. It was probably also true, vice versa: Catholics were Papists, not Christians.

I see no signers of the Open Letter from mainstream Christian denominations, Jews and Moslems, nor the great numbers of people who do not happen to share a particular belief system. They appear to be only Catholic and Evangelical “leaders”.

There is a bottom line for me in this:

There is a certain amount of “freedom” and “liberty” available. Think of a very large soup kettle full of liberty and freedom.

The Founding Fathers of the U.S. had the right idea about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but even for them, then, the concept was essentially reserved to white men with property (including slaves).

At the same time, our founders purposefully and deliberated separated Church and State, an inconvenient truth for some who now actively attempt to rewrite our national history to fit their version of the facts.

We’re now at 238 years of the experiment called American Democracy. It took nearly 200 of those years, some of them very hard years, to come to some fairly reasonable equilibrium about what freedom and liberty meant in practice: ending slavery; securing the right to vote for women (1920) and others (universal suffrage); more universal rights like the Voting Rights Act, Womens Rights, (1960s) etc.

In each of these cases, and others, there was a need to equalize “power”; to share in the wealth of that container of life, liberty and happiness. Each person has a right to that freedom and liberty.

Notions like Fortnight for Freedom want to turn these around; to redefine or to establish new definitions of what “freedom” and “liberty” mean.

Their intent, under the guise of seeking freedom, is to take it away from some as a benefit to others.

To go backwards, not forwards.

Be vigilant.

What do you think?

After I completed the above, I was scrolling through unread e-mails from earlier in the week. This particular one, passed along by Joyce, is particularly telling about the relationship between todays Piety and Power.

As I was writing the above, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Massachusetts law requiring a 35 foot “buffer zone” for protests at abortion clinics violated free speech. It was noted that this same Supreme Court has a much larger “buffer zone” at it own Court in our Nations Capitol, and doesn’t get the contradiction between its own behavior and its own ruling. Here’s a good commentary on that issue.

from Carol A:
Really liked your post, Dick. For a long time, I’ve thought our country has lost its way on the issue of freedom. Freedom without responsibility and respect for others freedom is merely freedom only for a few. Freedom is like individualism in this country. Both need to be balanced and if there is anything we lack, it is balance. We see that in the Tea Party who refuses to address any issue where they might need to compromise. They’re dead set on destroying Obama in whatever way they can. My way or the highway.

I think the issue needs to be discussed and be out in the open. It’s not whose freedom is most important, but how do we balance it with respect for other people’s freedoms.

from Norm N: A link from Time. “Doctors urge more hospitals to perform abortions”.

Response from Dick: Per both Carol and Norm’s comments, I think the weak link in the advocates arguments (i.e. to end abortion, etc) is that it completely dismisses any other point of view, and pretends that a simple solution, perhaps legislatively or by court decision, can be crafted and controlled by advocates for a particular point of view. We are a pluralistic society, and more so than ever, “the other” can never again be driven into silence. Difficult issues require compromise, and compromise requires people to dialogue, truly, with people who have different points of view.

from Peter B: It would be useful if we could be clear about the issue of insurance covering women’s health care: the institutions are not “required as a company or employee to dispense birth control…” Only qualified medical professionals and pharmacists do that.

If I were taking this on, I would focus on the muddying of the waters that is the usual strategy for those who wish to raise these tempests where there is no real Constitutional issue. Whenever they get us to argue the pros and cons of their supposed grievance, they have already won the argument, because they have established in the discourse that there is an issue there. It is bogus.

There’s no “there” there, but as we see, these tactics of confusion and mendacity work all too often. It is a lot trickier to try to argue that a company is infringed upon because its insurance package covers things they don’t like covered (as, I read somewhere, the Hobby Lobby company has provided its own employees for years). People smart enough to make that case face an uphill climb if they want to rouse up people stupid enough to buy it.

I have a good friend who is now in trouble for not paying taxes, forty percent or more of which support the bloody wars of aggression and conquest now conducted in our names, and for private profit. If there is a bright line between the obligation to pay taxes and our religious objections to mass murder, there must be a bright line between paying for health care coverage without discrimination, and our personal religious objections to family planning, etc.

It’s all about what is done in your name, with your money, and the real question is, what’s yours? What constitutes an act for which you are accountable? And to Whom? The definition is completely arbitrary and made up out of whole cloth. It is an impossible question that we had hoped to resolve by just putting it off limits in the Constitution. But language doesn’t hold still. Even the meaning of a comma after “well regulated militia,” has changed.

Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that establishing a perimeter around abortion clinics where people are not allowed to scream in the face of a girl walking toward the building is inhibiting the screamers’ free speech rights, which trumps the girl’s right to walk unmolested down any street in America. (How do they even know whether she is trying to deal with private issues that are hers and hers alone to live with, or just looking for a clean bathroom?) It is (or was) actually only the government that is accountable for any infringement of free speech in the Constitution. It’s a “Congress shall make no law” thing, if I am not mistaken. And what about all those restrictions on protest in D.C.?

We need to work farther upstream than the political conflict itself: literacy and critical thinking skills are the worst casualty of the Education Wars. Democracy cannot stand against ignorance, and you can’t win a shouting match.

from Bruce F: You are correct, Dick, Hobby Lobby’s idea of freedom is based on power & domination. Their entire business model is based on that precept, especially their relations with their employees. The answer for their employees is to unionize. A very difficult proposition for them, but if they were unionized, this law suit regarding the ACA wouldn’t be, along with a whole host of other assaults on labor. Hobby Lobby, like many business, are taking advantage of and thriving in the week economy & labor market to exploited there employees, and it’s in the name of freedom.

I fear a 5-4 decision in favor of the plaintiff.

from John B: Organized religion is a part of the establishment. Most religions espouse the delayed gratification in an after life paradise IF the believers obey the teachings, and we know what that means.

I want to believe there is a higher order to life, maybe even a GODHEAD, but beware of conflating mainstream American religion with freedom. Most religions are dying in a slow and painful manner. Some of them, like certain ones originating in the eastern Mediterranean region are promote despicable social practices. These are the opposite of freedom. As examples, consider the breakdown in negotiations between the Jews and Palestinians or the wars between the Sunnis and the Shias.

I long for a day when a LOUD voice from the sky says: “You guys don’t get it. It was love each other, not loot each other, pray for each other, not prey on each other, share with one another not steal from one another.”

The number one freedom valued in America is the freedom to make money. It is the highest value.

from Jeff P:Well, if this is a major event, its odd I hadn’t heard of it till you
mentioned in this post, but then , as you know , I am a godless apostate.
I think the public at this point, from Ireland to the USA to Germany to
Mexico and most Catholic countries finds the words of bishops particularly
meaningless given the record of the self same clergy in policing itself.

Otherwise , I defer to the Founding Fathers :

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people
maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of
ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always
avail themselves for their own purposes.
-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of
the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting
“Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus
Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the
great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of
its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the
Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for
Religious Freedom

“What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society?
In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the
ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen
upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been
the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the
public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries.
A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”
[Pres. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General
Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1785]

Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?
— John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 19, 1821

.”…the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political
direction.” [George Washington, 1789, responding to clergy complaints that
the Constitution lacked mention of Jesus Christ)

from Andrea G: An excellent read. I couldn’t have stated the issue better. As I scrolled through the letter and the signatures, I wondered how much progress would be made regarding ‘traditional’ social justice issues (poverty, housing, education) if those entities collectively focused on such issues.

from Ray B: When politicians take our tax money and use it in a way that supercedes our basic right to religious freedom must concern us all. Notice and genuine concern through a process starting with the people to stop this downward spiral of our systematic loss of political and religious freedoms must take place. Our well thought out constitution saw the need for democratic freedom and the separation of church and government and must not be tampered with in the un democratic way of this time in our history by those in power and ignore these rights in the name of protectionism with no restraints, all in the name of “the country’s best interests”. Concern for our own people should not be ignored by wars, playing big brother to the world at own demise and financial near insolvency. Our people’s basic rights and the right to jobs, food, safe haven are in our best interest”

from Flo H, Jun 30: I’d never heard of Fortnight for Freedom, but certainly experience the effects of the movement in my community and church. What happened to the belief that, “Your freedom ends where my freedom begins.“? [Ed. Note: Flo didn’t suggest any link, but I’ve added a bunch of links about the phrase.]

from Greg H, Jul 1: I share your sentiments. The conservative tide, at least in the courts, is strong. We will just have to ride it out; I don’t see any alternative.

Curious as I am, I Googled Hobby Lobby to learn if they have any Minnesota stores.

Would you believe their only Minnesota store now is in Woodbury [55125]? Another will open in Maplewood at some point. You may wish to click on this link to view their home page.

response from Dick: We happen to live in Woodbury, about 7 miles from the store. I am not a shopper, so had never heard of this store; my wife is a shopper, but has never mentioned this place. Such is how shopping is. I won’t waste gas or time to even go see the place.

At the home page for Hobby Lobby there is a momentarily appearing ad with two quotations attributed to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (they are portions of the first and third quotations which can be read here). They aren’t up very long. They are probably like all such quotations: a bit like distilling the Bible into one verse without context….

Here is the wikipedia entry about Hobby Lobby.

I know lots of people who believe lots of things. In our free society, the danger is when someone with a particular belief embarks on a course to impose that belief on everyone else through Law. The only remedy I see, personally, is staying active politically. For someone with the interest, and time, here is a long post that discusses the implications of Hobby Lobby.

* – The sign was very tastefully done, and I have no objections to such an expression at all. When I was taking the photo at the beginning of this post, I noticed a lady in a black car stopped near the corner. Possibly it was because I was standing in the middle of the road! But when she turned the corner, she rolled down her window and said – as if friend to friend – words to the effect “really true”.

She drove on, and I left. It is a safe speculation that she had something to do with the neatly done graffiti.

At home I read Jeff’s comment, below: “…if this is a major event, its odd I hadn’t heard of it till you mentioned in this post….” In my opinion, movements – makes no different the issue or ideology – often take root quietly and unnoticed, until something happens. The lady likely knew about this sign, as did her church, whichever that happened to be, and she was glad somebody (me) was looking at it. And I thought it important to pass the word about it. (The Bible quote is from Mark 9:23, so says the chalk. I have four Bibles here, three Catholic and one the “red-line Bible”, and in each of the four the quotation is worded a little differently. Below are the respective quotations I have. With the Bible, in particular, it depends both on the translation, and the context that is given to certain phrases or passages….)
1. The post on the curb: Everything is possible for one who believes. Mark 9:23. Possible origin of this translation, check here.
2. Grandma’s 1906 Douay-Reims: Verse 22: “And Jesus saith to him: If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
3. My 1961 St. Joseph Catholic Edition: also Verse 22: “But Jesus said to him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him who believes.
4. Dad’s 1978 Good News Bible: Verse 23: “Yes” said Jesus, “if you yourself can! Everything is possible for the person who has faith.”
5. From 1989 Revised Standard Version: Verse 23: “Jesus said to him, “if you are able! All can be done for the one who believes.

#902 – Dick Bernard: The Summer Solstice, Reflecting on Global War and Peace.

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

“Outtakes” after the photos. Check back in two or three days for additions at that space, and comments.

Today is the Summer Solstice. On June 7, between meetings, I drove over to the Lock and Dam by Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Bridge, and a group of people were rehearsing a dance (see photo). Turned out, they were rehearsing for a free program this evening at the Stone Arch Bridge. Here’s details.

(click to enlarge)

Rehearsing at Minneapolis Lock and Dam Parking Lot June 7, 2014.

Rehearsing at Minneapolis Lock and Dam Parking Lot June 7, 2014.

During 24 hours time period on June 19 and 20, I had the opportunity to both witness and participate in three activities about matters of Global War and Peace. My role was more than ordinary, standing in for Drs. Joe Schwartzberg and Gail Hughes at the Annual meeting of Citizens for Global Solutions, Minnesota, on June 19; and as one of the three panelists about the current Iraq-Syria crisis on Lydia Howell’s one hour Catalyst program on Minneapolis’ KFAI radio on Friday Morning, June 20.

Then, in the afternoon, I dropped by a Community Peace Celebration in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul MN.

The entire radio program is accessible here. It was a stimulating and interesting hour, and the comments of myself, Sarah Martin of Women Against Military Madness, David Logsdon of Veterans for Peace and Lydia Howell speak for themselves. We covered a lot of ground in the one hour available. Of course, each of us left with assorted “soundbites” left unsaid (I’ll add some of these at the end of this post.)

(KFAI, to those not familiar, is a local radio station with a 35 years history which began as a 25-watt neighborhood station in the belfry of the old Walker Methodist Church in South Minneapolis. It is now live-streamed anywhere internet access is available. A look at its programming schedule reveals a most interesting selection not available on most “mainstream” stations. By near-happenstance, I was an on-air guest on KFAI program “Me and the Other” in October, 1982. This program continues as “Bonjour Minnesota” to this day.)

The radio program was about the beating of the war drums, yet again, by certain elements in the United States. As you will gather, if you listen to the conversation, there is difference of opinion about what all of this means. Even peaceniks (I am one, as were all of the others) have differing perspectives.

June 19, at the Citizens for Global Solutions meeting, I had the privilege of introducing colleague, Dr. Bharat Parekh, who took the Millenium Development Goals seriously, and after 9 years of effort is beginning to see significant success in a project to alleviate child malnutrition in, first, the Mumbai (Bombay) portion of his native India.

Dr. Parekh, June 19, 2014

Dr. Parekh, June 19, 2014

A summarized version of Dr. Parekh’s talk will be subject of a later blog at this space.

Succinctly, it takes lots of slogging along to achieve success, even small success, and Dr. Parekh’s determination is beginning to pay off. In my introduction I pointed out two quotations which begin and end the home page of Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead. And, We must be the change we wish to see in the world. Gandhi

Finally, Friday afternoon I dropped by at the beginning of the 18th Annual Community Peace Celebration gathering on the Grounds of Ober Community Center, in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. I was there early, and could stay only a short time, but already in evidence were the three Fs of a successful gathering: Food, Fun, Family. My friend, Melvin Giles, is one of the unsung community leaders who put on this successful event. This is yet another example of the truth of the Margaret Mead and Gandhi quotes recited above.

The final photos are all from the St. Paul event.

As Melvin always says: “May Peace Prevail on Earth”.

He and legions of others like him will get it done, one step at a time.

At the Peace Celebration June 20:

Neighborhood musicians June 20, 2014

Neighborhood musicians June 20, 2014

Peace Pole

Peace Pole

among the tables, some items for home gardens.

among the tables, some items for home gardens.

Peace Bell maker and artist at Veterans for Peace table

Peace Bell maker and artist at Veterans for Peace table

Message from Dwight Eisenhower on Peace

Message from Dwight Eisenhower on Peace

“OUTTAKES” from the Radio Hour:
Dick: Four of us had perhaps 40 minutes to share our thoughts. Here is one of my own, too complex to share in the brief time allotted. (The other panelists are asked for their opinion too.)

The current Iraq/Syria conflict seems to be a Religious Civil War, in some respects like our own Civil War 1861-65. I don’t recall ever reading that there was outside (i.e. English, et al) intervention on either side in that war. It was an internal matter to the United States of America.

Some statistics largely gleaned from the 2007 World Almanac and Book of Facts, and other sources.
I invite challenge on any of these numbers, as I am quoting from seemingly reasonable sources, but have inadequate context in some cases about what the numbers include, and thus what they mean.

The U.S. Civil War, 1861-65, including statistics for both “sides”:
31.4 Million Population of U.S. in 1860
2.2 Million Troops in the War
215 thousand Deaths in Battle
780 thousand total Casualties

544 thousand Maximum U.S. troops in Vietnam (1969)

Iraq et al 2003-2008
27 Million Population
200 thousand Iraq deaths in war
2.5 million American troops deployed to area conflicts
4.5 thousand American deaths in Iraq War
32.2 thousand American injured in Iraq War

from Jeff P, June 21: The deaths from usa civil war are over 500,000 , still debated by historians… the problem being that wounded or sick soldiers died, from lack of sanitary conditions.

#897 – Dick Bernard: Voting and Polls…Virginia’s 7th Cong District Primary and a vote at a Peacemakers meeting

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Some quick comments. I generalize the data in below paragraphs, but I don’t think I’m far off.

Last night part of my daily news watching time was interrupted by reporting on the Cantor-Brat Primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, a place far away from where I live.

There was endless breathless chatter about this last night, and today. What does this all mean? My favorite distiller of national political news, Just Above Sunset, has this overnight post. Here and here is some information about the aforesaid election and congressional district.

For me the basic relevant data was the voter turnout. That is always the important baseline in American election: Who showed up at the polls?
In general (not attempting to be precise, though I don’t think I’m not too far off):
757,917 is the 2010 population of the 7th District.
Over 60% of these, it would appear, would be of voting age.
That would be, perhaps, about 450,000 potential voters.
Of these, most would appear to be Republican leaning, perhaps 250,000.
Yesterday, 65,000 voted (heavy turnout for the Primary); 29,000 of those for Cantor.

There can be endless arguments about what yesterdays vote in suburban Richmond VA means.

For me, the essential fact is (as it always is), who showed up at the polls to actually vote. Cantor got, perhaps, 12% of those who would probably be inclined to agree with him. Maybe 13% voted for Brat. 75% of Cantor’s natural “base” didn’t bother to vote at all.

Voting matters. Well informed voting matters even more.

Yesterday, I was at a meeting in which I participated in another interesting vote.

It was the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers (MAP), a group in which I have long been active (Their website is down at the moment, so I can’t provide a working link). I’d guess we people in MAP would self-describe as peace and justice activists. Others might call us “leftists”….

We’ve been around since 1995.

There were about 25 of us at this summer meeting, and at the end, someone suggested complimenting President Obama on the courage to do the prisoner swap with Afghanistan. More on that in a moment.

Back home, last night, on the CBS evening news, the latest poll was reported that a majority of Americans “disapprove” of the Prisoner swap. It was a typical piece of reporting – no idea of what the exact questions were, etc. But probably accurate data, as it stands, involving, perhaps, a sample of 500-1000 people across the United States.

Back at the MAP meeting, the suggestion morphed into a motion that our organization should write the letter of compliment. In fact, I was the one who made the motion.

After a short but very active flurry of debate, a recorded vote was taken: 14 in favor, 7 against, 4 abstaining.

I cannot comment on why people voted as they did, except that it is a safe bet that those objecting were not birds-of-a-feather with those who are wanting a continuation of Guantanamo and a continued U.S. dominance through military in the south Asia region. The “no” voters in my particular circle likely didn’t think that the Presidents action went far enough. But, of course, I don’t know that.

In this small group, which includes, now, about 75 organizations, only about a third of the delegates were in attendance (here, that is called “summer vacation”).

But, like the vote in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, the decisions are made by the people who show up and vote. Those who stayed home have no say.

If you want the right to complain, you have to show up….

The political parties know this, through endless examples like Cantor’s defeat in his home district.

Best we learn that same lesson.

POSTNOTE: Also at yesterdays MAP meeting, a filmmaker discussed her major project, “9 Pieces of Peace” Nine Pieces of Peace001, described as “A universal story of courage and compassion as a Vietnam veteran, a peace advocate, and a community struggle to find common ground.” More about the upcoming release here.

#895 – Dick Bernard: Swiftboating Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an opportunity to change the narrative on war.

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

The week just completed marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day (June 6) but the June 4, 2014, USA TODAY someone left in the McDonalds in Wahpeton ND, marks the true nature of “news” this past week. Indeed, the newspaper carried a long article on D-Day on page three; but the front page lead story was: “Bergdahl under new scrutiny”. A safe assumption: anyone who follows “news” knows who “Bergdahl” is, at least as portrayed in the media.

June 1-8 was a busy and sometimes stressful week for me, so I missed many things. But to the best of my knowledge, as of today, Sgt. Bergdahl has not had the opportunity to say a single public word: indeed, he was in captivity in Afghanistan for five years, and was simply an Army man before that, not called on for interviews. Others for whatever reason and with whatever motive can offer their own “truths”, which may or may not be true. Bergdahl has had no such opportunity.

Having been an Army man, serving in an Infantry Company for a year and a half, most of that as Company Clerk, I know far more than most the general lay of the land in this basic level organization of people, usually more or less 100 people. Picture a tiny town where people are gathered together on a common mission, and even need each other, but don’t necessarily like or even know each other. There can be and there are relationship problems. The reality is not “Hogan’s Heroes” or “MASH”. Even in peace-time.

I will not rush to judgement about Bergdahl, his Dad and Mom or anyone else from the fragments of information available.

In my opinion, Bergdahl is being swiftboated much as Presidential candidate John Kerry (now U.S. Secretary of State) was swiftboated in 2004. No one knows (or may ever know) what the “truth” might be, and the rush to judgement is shameful. The soldier is a useful pawn for those who don’t give a damn about him.

I’m reminded of the Jessica Lynch case in the early days of the Iraq War. Lynch, too, was a POW, similarly misused, but early portrayed as almost a female Rambo, singlehandedly taking on the Iraqis. Later it fell to Ms Lynch to personally reveal the truth about her captivity, which was very different than the fictional account that was spun about her exploits. She had been used, without her knowledge. She was just an ordinary GI found in extraordinary circumstances.

There is, as I suggest in the headline of this blog, an opportunity within the circus of speculation about Sgt. Bergdahl, and that is the opportunity to deal with many important questions which have long faced the United States, and which the action of the Prisoner swap has brought to the public eye. Just a few of these questions: (I have tried to phrase all of these questions in the affirmative; I could as easily phrase them in the negative. They should be answered from both perspectives.)

1. We’re hopefully ending America’s longest war, which began in October, 2001, directed at Afghanistan. (It was the bombing of Afghanistan which caused me to become a peace activist, which was, then a very lonely position. 94% of Americans supported that bombing, and a majority felt it would be a long war. Afghan War Oct 2001001)

Every American owns this war, through our action, or inaction.

What are the components of the “balance sheet” of that war? Wins. Losses. We need to talk about that, honestly.

2. The five Guantanamo detainees released in trade for Bergdahl are portrayed as the face of evil. How can we keep them incarcerated without so much as charges against them? How does keeping them imprisoned make them less dangerous?

3. How does keeping Guantanamo open serve our interests?

4. What conceivable good have we done for ourselves by sanctioning torture?

5. Then there’s the great ado about Sgt Bergdahls Dad speaking a sentence or two in Pushto at the White House. What’s wrong with that?

I have my own answers to each of these, for other settings.

Back to Army man Bergdahl: before I began this post, I read an excellent piece in the New Yorker by Charles Pierce, recalling a piece of Ernie Pyle writing from the front in WWII. This was straight talking Ernie Pyle, talking about straight talking GI’s in the midst of battle. (Pyle was one of the first authors I remember reading as a teenager, out there in North Dakota. He was a gripping read.) Pyle writes, here, about arm-chair quarterbacks of War. Take the time….

The conversation we need to have, in my opinion, is whether to revere War or Peace.

No question in my mind as to which will ruin us (War); and which gives us a possibility for a future on this planet (Peace). As a nation we have revered War. Just look at the monuments: are they primarily related to War or to Peace?

Changing a narrative is difficult. It involves personal change, regardless of “side”. Peace is very complicated – consider your basic family unit co-existing together even day-to-day. But is daily War better? What family survives constant War within?

Let’s talk.

My e-mail on June 2 – which I didn’t see till later in the week – included a very interesting “forward” from a friend about “The Fallen 9000” on D-Day.

I tend to check these things out, and looked at the website which turned out to describe a Peace project on a Normandy beach put up on the occasion of Peace Day, September 21 last year. (Peace Day is September 21 each year).

Take a look.

#894 – Dick Bernard: Remembering Pete Seeger

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

UPDATE JUNE 8, 2014: Here’s the May 3 “For Pete’s Sake” program.

Today, June 5, and Friday, June 6, a very special event, the radio replay May 3, 2014, concert in tribute to Pete Seeger.

As announced by the show producer, Larry Long, “We are happy to announce that For Pete’s Sake: Celebrating Pete Seeger’s 95th Birthday will be aired in its entirety through Heartland Radio (Minnesota Public Radio/The Current) on June 5th, Thursday, noon – 2 pm Central Time, and June 6, Friday, 7 pm – 9 pm Central Time.

Radio Heartland is a 24-hour folk, roots and Americana music stream over 89.3 The Current ( and on HD radio at KNOW 91.1 FM HD2 in Minneapolis/St. Paul).”

We had a conflict on May 3rd, so we weren’t able to attend the actual concert. A friend, David, who was there, shared the program booklet with me. It can be read here: Pete Seeger w Larry Long001

More about the concert at Larry Long’s website.

In an e-mail to his list subscribers yesterday, Larry Long also said this: “We are presently looking into the possibility of making both the audio and video documentation of For Pete’s Sake: Celebrating Pete Seeger’s 95th Birthday available to the general public through a KICKSTARTER campaign.”

Stay tuned.

Here’s a memory article about Pete shared by another friend, Kathy: Pete Seeger Remembered001

#889 – Dick Bernard: Working Towards Peace: A War Well Worth Fighting

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

RELEVANT ADDITION TO THIS POST, added May 29, Just Above Sunset, here.
UPDATE to May 26 post, first paragraph, here.
NOTE: Previous 889, Dad’s Flower, will be 890 for May 29, 2014

(click on photos to enlarge them)

Bill McGrath, Northfield MN, sings Pete Seegers "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" May 26, 2014

Bill McGrath, Northfield MN, sings Pete Seegers “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” May 26, 2014

Today, President Obama speaks at West Point. The previous days he’s been in Afghanistan and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. My intention is not to report on what’s already been, or will be, said. You have many independent sources. The White House website will have the actual words. My favorite re-capper of the previous days news six days a week is Just Above Sunset, including the May 27, 2014 post, Most Likely to Succeed”, from which I take the below pull-quote from the 5th paragraph playing on previous and following paragraphs about graduating from high school, and our propensity to self-select into “tribes” and persist in the insanity of talking “war”.

“…there are no quiet nerds who no one noticed in politics, or not many of them. The job is to display the tribe’s norm, and personify them. For example, Democrats don’t like wars, on principle – we should fight them when we have to, but not fight the when we don’t have to. Obama, long before he ran for president, famously said he wasn’t opposed to all wars, just dumb wars. He had Iraq in mind, not Afghanistan, but even that was heresy to many…Democrats see the sacrifice of our soldiers as worthy of great honor, but often sad. This appalls Republicans. In a nation of warriors the heroic cannot be sad. War makes us who we are, and feats of derring-do to overcome evil [is] pretty damned cool – and we can’t show weakness. That’s a tribal norm and also Obama’s problem. Putin has walked all over him. Everyone has walked all over him. McCain would have bombed Iran the day he took office. Mitt Romney would have eliminated capital gains taxes and then bombed Iran the day he took office. Obama is talking to Iran, and it seems they will end their nuclear weapons program, but he’s doing it the wrong way. Obama should have bombed them. Our military is awesome, from awesome individuals to our whiz-bang secret gizmos – the tribe has said so. We are a Warrior Nation after all – not a nation of diplomats and thinkers.” (emphasis added)

The U.S. functions as a two-party country, Republicans or Democrats, much to the chagrin of purists who’d like more options, but when we watch, listen or read commentary about moving away from deadly combat to solve world problems to something more rational, like negotiations, the commentary will be spun one way or another: Fox News vs MSNBC, etc. And the conversation becomes “Warrior” versus “Diplomat”, or other softer words.

My natural affinity group is “Progressive”, which in days past counted amongst its ranks legions of high profile and highly respected Republicans; but these days seems an outlier on the left who seem to consider both Republicans and Democrats to be twin evils against Peace when, in fact, there are huge and substantive differences (“warriors” versus “diplomats and thinkers”).

The right wing warriors, the Tea Party, have essentially frozen the Republican party in a perpetual radical mode: progressive types need not apply.

On the left, there will be scant celebration of a move to a new reality in our relations with the world: Obama has sold them out; there will still be troops in Afghanistan; and until every sword is beat into ploughshares the protests will continue.

I’m a ploughshares guy who, on the other hand, can see little common sense in not accepting that incremental improvements in a dismal status quo are, indeed, improvements, not simply the lesser of two evils. Since the beginning of his term, I’ve been impressed with President Obama’s skill in managing this impossible to manage country.

Today, most my friends on the Left (and that is where my friends are, mostly), will say about Obama’s words “there he goes again”. You can’t compromise with evil”. Of course, the other side says the exact same thing, though they define “evil” a bit differently. But the Right is more entrenched in positions of power in politics; while those on the Left migrate to fringe groups which have no power at all, except the purity of their position – a story we know all too well.

I’m sure I’ll find disagreement….

My good friend, Ehtasham Anwar, who’s just completing a year of study in the United States before going back to his South Asia home country sees this pretty clearly, I feel. He is troubled by the dichotomy he has experienced: at home in his country, signs of the U.S. “hegemony” are everywhere – us meddling in their affairs in sundry ways. Here in the U.S., on the other hand, he sees a population full of marvelous, peace-loving people. It’s a troubling contradiction to him.

Why the difference?

Can we as a country truly export our best and truest “face”, the face of Peace?

Working towards Peace: it’s well worth truly dialoguing about, often, very seriously, friend-to-friend, opponent-to-opponent. Read Just Above Sunset for a start.

Barry Riesch at the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day at the Vietnam Memorial at the MN State Capitol May 26, 2014

Barry Riesch at the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day at the Vietnam Memorial at the MN State Capitol May 26, 2014

Joyce D, May 28 (commenting on a Letter to the Editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press May 28)

Original letter follows this response.

Just some quick addenda and a correction to “Blaming Obama” (Letters, May 28.) I would add to the writer’s defense of President Obama the facts that Obama successfully got the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks (GWB, it should be remembered, declared he really wasn’t all that interested in getting Osama bin Laden,) ended our heinous policy of torture, ended the misbegotten war on Iraq and is in the process of ending the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, President Obama used diplomatic means to rid Syria of most of its chemical weapons and to halt nuclear development in Iran, without committing us to more wars. He improved America’s standing in the world, he enabled millions of Americans to access affordable health care for the first time and, though the VA still has an unconscionable backlog, that backlog was dramatically decreased under Eric Shinseki’s leadership, despite the influx of war veterans and the refusal of Republicans in Congress to fund the VA adequately.

The correction: Obama did not vote against invading Iraq as a US Senator. In fact, at that time Obama was still a member of the Illinois legislature. He did, however, speak out forcefully against attacking Iraq, something few politicians had the courage to do. Our current Governor, Mark Dayton, was one of the few brave legislators who had the guts to vote against that damaging war of choice.

The Pioneer Press letter: Blaming Obama
James R. LaFaye, St. Paul

It is impossible for me to read the diatribe in Monday’s Pioneer Press “Opinions” and remain silent. The author is typical of so many hardcore anti-Obama dissidents — long on opinion and short on facts. Ever since Barack Obama became our president, his critics have been dead set on blaming everything but the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination on him. I am sure the letter writer is able to afford his own health care coverage unlike the millions of uninsured Americans who benefit from the Affordable Care Act. Its critics insist on calling it “Obamacare” simply to engender disapproval among like-minded individuals.

“Our foreign policy is a joke.” I guess he would prefer that we return to the policies of the previous administration whose response to the 9/11 tragedy — which occurred on their watch — was to invade Iraq under false pretenses when the perpetrators of this greatest domestic terrorist attack in American history were not even from that country. Maybe the letter writer is upset we haven’t invaded any more countries during Obama’s presidency, like Syria or the Ukraine, to demonstrate America’s invincible might.

Finally, although I am as deeply saddened and upset about the VA debacle as any American, to blame this situation on Obama and the Democrats is absurd. A cursory investigation of the VA’s (or its forerunner’s) history in providing health care services to our Veterans will quickly reveal a long history of malfeasance going back to the Civil War, WWl, WWll, the Korean War and Vietnam, which obviously included many Republican administrations. The current tragic conditions at the VA are only aggravated by the great number of returning disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which wars are attributable to our current president. In fact, as a senator he voted against invading Iraq.

Bruce F, May 28: I agree with you and the Sunset guy about the tribal differences between Democrats & Republicans, Obama & McCain /Romney. I also understand the incremental differences that pass for progress, which displeases me more & more as I move into the last quarter of my life. I think what your friend Ehtasham doesn’t understand is that the friendly American people don’t make foreign policy. That policy is made by corporations through officials that are elected by the friendly American people. The corporate interests are seen as our national interests. It appears to me that both Democrats & Republicans, Obama & McCain/Romney understand that. The hegemony your friend sees is directed through soft power(Obama & the Democrats) or hard power(McCain/Romney & the Republicans). Whether hard power or soft, they are meant to dominate America’s competitors. Make no mistake, hard power will be used by both Democrats & Republicans when soft power options are not effective. Although, the Republicans are less patient.

Peter B, May 30: There are competing narratives gushing at us from every screen and earbud and woofer and tweeter in our environment as the “news cycle” cycles. There is a flavor of opinion for every taste, and a level of sophistication, of nuance, of validation, to satisfy the most rigorous intellect. And not a byte of it makes any difference: let me know when the wars end, the hungry are fed, and the refugees returned. And I’m not being cynical, that is the possible future in which I live and work. I’m just not holding my breath.

Because. Because, you see, all this patter, these “competing narratives” are competing, but not for credibility, as one might assume. but solely for attention. And quantity is what matters, not quality. Any attention, as long as it is of sufficient focus and duration to pay off the advertisers and provide marketing data. That amounts to about a nanosecond apiece, about the amount of difference one person’s opinion makes in any of this. The system does not care what you think, or how you respond; they have what they want before you blink one eyeball.

This system is terribly effective at disabling any seriously dissenting view, that is, any contagion of thinking that might interrupt the parasitic extraction of wealth, by converting any such expression into yet another contender for eyeballs, drowning in the waves of professional reaction to the previous set of reactions to the carefully shallow and belated stories on the Feed. If you have trouble with this notion, get some app like Ghostery on your browser, and see how many marketing analysis ‘bots are tracking you on your favorite political websites.

Omitted from entertainments like NPR and Fox is any insight into the background of this endless repeating sequence of purportedly unrelated disasters; that, or a pale simulacrum of it, is the purview of bloggers in the hierarchic layers of op-ed websites, or bestselling authors flogging this week’s disposable insider look at the Real Deal, or indy filmmakers exposing the seamy undersides of fatcats. By the time one burrows down into the dense language of psuedo-academic think-tanks or even actual academic research, even if the funding trail is transparent, there are only about forty people in that space who can grasp such complexity, or simplicity maybe. And they’re only talking to each other.

All this is quite integral to the machinery of our modern corporate feudalism, because the main purpose of this segment of the enterprise is to entertain us. That means, occupy our attention, encapsulate public discourse; it is far more valuable commodified in the Attention Economy than for any informative content it may hold. And if you wonder how to tell if you are in one of the back-eddies or blind alleys or dead-end sinkholes of irrelevancy for intellectual discourse referred to here, don’t worry, you are: that is what the publishing industry, the telecommunications industry, the entire higher education system, and the internet, have become: that’s where you can still get paid by the word, or actually, the letter.

While we argue over whether Obama is what we think he is, or does what we think he’s doing, the global oil and banking extraction industries grind on, now seamlessly integrated with “our” government, which provides infrastructure and military backing. This is not some sinister world domination scheme concocted by some secret fraternal order. Or maybe it is: but this does not matter at all. As with all such machinery, its highest purpose, the driving force behind it, is no more than to preserve and perpetuate itself, at all costs. It has no functioning awareness or concern for humanity, its creators. Now that it is set in motion, it will run until we stop it, or until there are no commodities left to exploit. And like some retrovirus, it is very, very good at extracting energy even from serious attempts to disable it. We work for it, we feed it, and it feeds some of us, more or less.

This is a problem.

#888 – Dick Bernard: Memorial Day and Disabled Survivors of War

Monday, May 26th, 2014

UPDATE May 27, 2014: Here’s a Facebook album of photos I took at the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day observance at the MN State Capitol Vietnam Memorial yesterday.
A very worthwhile summary of the tension which seems to surround the Memorial Day observances (Pro-War or Pro-Peace) can be found here. It is long, but very worthwhile.

TWIN CITIES READERS: join with the Veterans for Peace today at 9:30 a.m. at the Vietnam Memorial area on the State Capitol Grounds for the annual Memorial Day reflections. I have attended this observance for years. It is always moving.

May 29 UPDATE: Thoughts after the Memorial on Monday May 26
After the annual Vets for Peace Memorial on the Minnesota Capitol Grounds Vietnam Memorial, I went home to try to reconstruct my attendance at these events over the years. Almost certainly they go back to 2003, which was about when I was becoming an activist for Peace, and was a new member of Vets for Peace. I didn’t make all of the Memorials: sometimes I was out of town; but if in town, I’d be there. Ditto for Armistice Day each November 11, most often at the USS Ward Memorial in the same neighborhood; the first one, though, at Ft. Snelling.

2014’s observance was better than last, which was better than the year before, and the year before that…. Slowly, surely, the observance grows in attendance and in quality.

My friend, Ehtasham Anwar, from Pakistan and a Humphrey/Fulbright Fellow at the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota, counted 150 of us at the observance.

From the first Pete Seeger song by Bill McGrath of Northfield, to Taps at the end, the one hour event was its usual quiet, powerful self, with memories, both of the structured sort (reading the names of the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan), to individuals recalling their own victims of war, both living and dead.

Jim Northrup, Objibwa author and Vietnam vet spoke powerfully about his personal family history with the Vietnam War. It began with memories of watching Albert Woolson, the last survivor of the Civil War in parades in Duluth, “surrounded by pretty girls” – pretty cool for young Northrop. Then memories of the War itself, abstract demolished by reality. Seeing John Wayne appear and as immediately disappear in a cameo appearance on a battlefield somewhere over there….

One of the vets rang a hand-made bell eleven times, remembering 11 a.m., on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when Armistice was declared in the “War to End All Wars”.

We adjourned, quietly, and went our separate ways.

There were no gun salutes. It was all about Peace.

At the wall, at the end, organizer Barry Riesch and myself found that we both knew, in different ways, one of the names on the wall, Joseph Sommerhauser, killed 1968. He was Barry’s classmate; and he’s my long-time Barbers brother. Tom, my barber, was also a Marine in Vietnam.

So is how it goes with circles, only through gatherings like this can dots be connected.

(click to enlarge photos)

Barry Riesch identifies name of Vietnam casualty, Joseph Sommerhauser, May 26, 2014, at the Vietnam Wall, MN State Capitol Grounds.

Barry Riesch identifies name of Vietnam casualty, Joseph Sommerhauser, May 26, 2014, at the Vietnam Wall, MN State Capitol Grounds.

Original Post for Memorial Day 2014

About three weeks ago, my wife and I stopped downstairs after 9:30 Mass at Basilica for our usual coffee and conversation.

This particular day we joined a man sitting by himself at a table. He was a very dapper older gentleman, well dressed, wearing a boutonniere.

We introduced ourselves. He gave his name. I’ll call him Roger.

Roger, it turned out, grew up in an eastern state and was drafted during the worst parts of the Vietnam War. He was a Conscientious Objector, and went into alternative service aboard a Hospital Ship just off of Vietnam during 1968, one of the deadliest years of the Vietnam War.

He told his story that morning at coffee. He came home from the war, and went to work in the medical field. All went okay for something over 20 years, then PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) took hold. His personal hell was compounded because no one would believe him; he was, after all, “normal” for over 20 years. It took a long and very frustrating time to verify his career-ending disability.*

We shared contact information before leaving coffee.

Later in the week, came a packet from my new friend, including several photos, three of which are below.

Hospital Ship Sanctuary late 1960s

Hospital Ship Sanctuary late 1960s

"Roger" is in this picture, 1968

“Roger” is in this picture, 1968

Gen. Westmoreland visiting the ICU on the Hospital Ship.

Gen. Westmoreland visiting the ICU on the Hospital Ship.

I’ve seen him each Sunday since, and each Sunday he’s wearing that boutonniere, dressed very well.

This day, Memorial Day 2014, at 9:30 a.m. at the Vietnam Memorial on the State Capitol Grounds, I may see Roger, who I invited to the annual Vets for Peace Memorial Day observance. Each year this observance grows in numbers of participants. It is always impressive. Whether or not he chooses to come, I’ll dedicate the day to him.

I’ll also bring to the observance two new friends from Pakistan, Humphrey/Fulbright Fellows in the University of Minnesota Human and Civil Rights Center, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. I have been assisting them in identifying Americans to interview on the topic of Peace. The interviews, their stories, and their perceptions of America both from at-home and here are most interesting, and perhaps a topic for a later post.

But these are tense times in the issue of care of the desperately wounded coming home from combat oversees, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

This evening 60 Minutes had a powerful segment on PTSD programs. You can watch it here.

There is a great deal of political controversy, lately, about the Veterans Administration Hospitals. My Grandfather Bernard died in a VA Hospital in 1957; so did my physically and psychologically disabled Brother-in-Law, who I spent time with at three different VA hospitals during assorted confinements. A VA Nurse I know is an outspoken advocate for better funding of health care in the system. Etc.

Still, the entire system, especially the Director, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and, of course, the President of the United States, is under attack as this Memorial Day dawns because of assorted outrages at a number of VA Hospitals in that immense system. Rather than fix the problems, the political strategy is to demand that the top guy be fired, and blame the President (and Democrats) and reap political points in the process.


If you’re interested (I hope you are) a long post on the topic I would urge you to read is here. There is a short comment of my own at the end.

I close with this personal comment: we are a nation that seems to revere war, when war has never and will never solve anything; and it is war that will ultimately kill us all. We have created and continue to refine the monster that can kill us all.

What I look for is the day when we can celebrate the death of war: now that will be a cause for celebration!

We Americans, indeed the vast majority of all citizens everywhere in the world, are a peace-loving people. Just look around at your friends, neighbors and communities. The vast majority of us do not celebrate war.

But it will take our individual work to end our national obsession with it, and to reduce the numbers of our fellow citizens killed or mortally and permanently wounded by it.

Let us make Memorial Day a day to celebrate Peace.

* – POSTNOTE: My barber, a retired man, is a Marine veteran of Vietnam. His brother died at 18 there; his name is on the Wall in DC and Minnesota. In Vietnam my barber was one of those who went into the tunnel system constructed by the enemy – he was willing and had the build for it. This was in the 1960s.

Tom and I talk a lot while I’m in his barber chair, and in recent years he’s talked about claustrophobia as a fairly recent and disabling issue for him. It sounds odd, coming from him, a former tunnel rat, but it is truly a problem for him, and he receives treatment from the VA for it.

War, it turns out, never ends.