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#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.

#883 – Dick Bernard: Fishing Opener/Mother’s Day (or is it the other way around?)

Sunday, May 11th, 2014
Mom's Day weekend at Heritage House, Woodbury MN, May 10, 2013

Mom’s Day weekend at Heritage House, Woodbury MN, May 10, 2013

Happy Mothers Day, all you Moms out there, whatever your role or gender. You know who you are.


Friday night the local CBS affiliate had its co-anchor and weatherman up in Nisswa MN for the soon-to-begin Fishing Opener in Minnesota.

In the early segment, Governor Dayton was showing, with his hands, the length of his catch last year. Then, he predicted, on camera, the length of this year catch: longer, of course. No one asked for proof. Such is the case for “fish stories”. For a Governor to miss the Opener would be political death, whispered and shouted and topics of billboards and TV ads: “HE DIDN’T GO FISHING ON THE OPENER!”

I dramatize, but only a little. Those guys in the driveway I saw earlier in the week, earnestly talking about The Boat in the driveway, can explain. The Opener is serious business…for those who like to fish. Hopefully there were no stowaways on that boat, critters like zebra mussels about to be introduced in a new lake “up north”.

(click on all photos to enlarge them)

Postcard from 1908 sent to Ferd and Rosa Busch, Berlin North Dakota

Postcard from 1908 sent to Ferd and Rosa Busch, Berlin North Dakota

Mothers Day and Fishing Opener have been twins for many years in Minnesota. It is as it is. Doubtless there are negotiations at many homes. The guys getting the boat prepared had other preparations too!

So, also on Friday, we went to our favorite Mother’s Day Flower Market, the Ramsey County Correctional Facility, which annually produces and sells flowers around Mothers Day weekend (the last weekend is next weekend.) As word gets around, this is an ever busier place, and with good reason. Inmates learn horticulture, and as I heard one inmate, a worker, say to a customer about the product he was working with: “they’re beautiful”. One-fourth of the proceeds go to help with program at the facility.

Yes, of course, inmates are also some mother’s son, or daughter…. It’s easy to forget that; as it is easy to forget that there are soft spots even in the seeming hardest of hearts.

There is something about flowers that soften the hard edge of normal existence, even for ones who’ve made mistakes on life’s road.

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Checking some plants, May 10, 2014

Checking some plants, May 10, 2014

Product on display May 10, 2014 at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility Flower Sale

Product on display May 10, 2014 at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility Flower Sale

Give some thought, today, to the Mom’s, and their kids (including well into adult years), for whom this day is less than pleasant for any number of reasons that you can enumerate.

Life is not always a dance to fine music; it can be messy and very, very complicated.

On a display wall at the flower shop was a display of four letters, from an inmate, from a college, and from two others. They’re pictured here. Most likely, you can read them, enlarged. If not, they speak powerfully to what the facility is all about.

Letters on display, May 10, 2014

Letters on display, May 10, 2014

Happy Mothers Day, all.

au Printemps at Heritage House May 10, 2014

au Printemps at Heritage House May 10, 2014

Fresh Rhubarb at Heritage House (think Mom's Rhubarb Pie!) May 10, 2014

Fresh Rhubarb at Heritage House (think Mom’s Rhubarb Pie!) May 10, 2014

#879 – Dick Bernard: Beginning the Future; Passing the Torch to a New Generation.

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

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A portion of the group at World Law Day, Minneapolis, May 1, 2014

A portion of the group at World Law Day, Minneapolis, May 1, 2014

It was about 6 p.m. on Thursday, about the time scheduled for people to gather at Gandhi Mahal for a meal at about 6:45, and a World Law Day program featuring a panel of young people scheduled for 7:15, speaking to elders about the following question: “How do you and the young persons you know see global relationships and interdependence at this stage in your life and what are your hopes for the future of the planet?” (Here are brief bios of the panel members and facilitator: World Law Day bios)

The panelists May 1, 2014, from left: Emily Balius, Stephen Eigenmann, Janelle Shoemake, Tea Rozman-Clark, Md Abdullah Al Miraz (speaking)

The panelists May 1, 2014, from left: Emily Balius, Stephen Eigenmann, Janelle Shoemake, Tea Rozman-Clark, Md Abdullah Al Miraz (speaking)

Ehtasham Anwar facilitated May 1 panel, and gave a very interesting history of May Day, here and around the world.

Ehtasham Anwar facilitated May 1 panel, and gave a very interesting history of May Day, here and around the world.

My RSVP list showed about 35 or so persons in my general age-range, a reasonable number for such an affair, and while I knew the event had been advertised on Facebook, I didn’t really grasp what was ahead when the first solitary young woman, college-age looking, walked across the street to our meeting room about 6 p.m.

Then a minor flood began: more than twice as many people as we anticipated, almost all of them in the high school and college age range, the room crowded by 6:30. More than two hours later, long after dinner and the panel had concluded, there was still an electric buzz in the air, the kind of feeling you get when something has really worked.

People connecting with each other.

The ones who can best tell the story of what happened May 1 are the ones who were actually in the room; and hopefully they will ‘tell’ it by sponsoring a similar experience for another group where they live. And continue the process, on, and on, and on.

One persons comment, in an e-mail when she got home: “What a great event tonight!! It was packed, including so many youth!!! All of the panelists were passionate and insightful!”. (Her son is in college, somewhere.)

There are times things come together, and Thursday evening at Gandhi Mahal seemed to be one of those times. I gave volunteer and expert facilitator Ehtasham Anwar, Fulbright/Hubert Humphrey Fellow for Law and Human Rights from Pakistan, a ride home after the program, and he asked how this event came together. I had organized it, but I couldn’t give an easy answer. It defies simple definition; on the other hand it was exceedingly simple: make it possible for the next generation to do the program; feed them; and be willing to listen actively, and learn. Here’s the program (which was modified on the run): World Law Day Prog 14001

Long and short, two days later, I would say this: truly value the opinion of young people, and publicize and do the event on their terms, and there will be a success.

This simple request is a long, long stretch for we gray-hairs, accustomed to controlling in one way or another the youngers with all the sorts of “powers”* we all too easily recognize (and fail to acknowledge)…and are reluctant to give up. But it is important to remember that the youth are the ones who are about to run things, and in fact they are comfortably occupying an alternative universe from we elders already, concerned about their own futures; using their own powerful means of communication.

A Panelist said most kids don’t even do Facebook anymore – that’s their parents medium. We Twitter…. That’s just a start.

At the same time, I noted that a Facebook event page started by one of the panel yielded more results in three days, than my old ways reservations system to old-timers had yielded in a month.

Time to catch up.

I consider a good evening one with at least one “aha” moment. May 1 there were several…. Thank you, panel and facilitator!


The following day, Friday, I was privileged to help out at panelist Tea Rozman-Clark’s Green Card Voices booth at the annual Festival of Nations in St. Paul. There were many visitors there.

Tea Rozman-Clark in the Green Card Voices Booth at Festival of Nations May 2, 1014

Tea Rozman-Clark in the Green Card Voices Booth at Festival of Nations May 2, 1014

Today, Ehtasham Anwar, Lynn Elling and myself, plus hundreds of others bade farewell to Peacemaker, Minister, Father, Grandfather, Leader and Friend extraordinaire, Rev. Lyle T. Christianson, 87. Lyle Christianson 5-3-14001

Lyle had introduced speaker former President of the American Bar Association, David Brink, at the 2013 World Law Day one year earlier in the same room at Gandhi Mahal.

It had only been a year.

I feel the future with the young people in charge is in good hands.

Here’s the last photo I have of Lyle Christianson, with his daughter Janet Johnson, at the Nobel Peace Prize Festival March 8, 2013. The kind of man he was shows in this photo.

Janet Johnson with her Dad, Lyle Christianson, March 8, 2013, at Nobel Peace Prize Forum/Festival at Augsburg College

Janet Johnson with her Dad, Lyle Christianson, March 8, 2013, at Nobel Peace Prize Forum/Festival at Augsburg College

* – “Powers”
A tiny list:
1. The money to pay for tuition
2. Living in your parents house
3. Working as a subordinate for a boss
on, and on, and on….

#877 – Dick Bernard: A message to my 401 Friends on Facebook….

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

This afternoon my young friend, Raz, prodded me into action on getting out a Facebook notice about a special event on Thursday evening, May 1, at the Gandhi Mahal restaurant in south Minneapolis (27th at Lake Street). Here’s the Facebook entry (if you can access Facebook).

This will be a very special event, probably of interest to many, but for an old-timer (as I’m willing to admit being), getting the word out is rather tortuous.

I’m a main organizer of the evening, the main sponsor is, but it’s been slow going, despite the strength of the program being offered. We’re still mostly pencil and paper folks.

Raz suggested Facebook. Here I am.

There will be five younger speakers on Thursday, from a couple of college juniors to a new PhD in her 30s, talking to us about a very simple topic: “How do you and the young persons you know see global relationships and interdependence at this stage in your life; and what are your hopes for the future of the planet?”

Indeed, they are only five speakers on a planet of over 7 billion people, but other than our own “kids” (which to me means my own children aged 38 to 50) there are few opportunities to listen to someone not ensnared in my own constellation of relationships.

It will be a delightful evening.

Facebook is a stranger to me. E-mail, and blogs, are yesterday to most youngers, I hear. They seem to speak more in short-hand and immediacy. “Let’s get together at 8 tonite”…none of this calendaring months ahead like we old timers.

Facebook should have been, should be, a no-brainer for me.

I opened Facebook and at the time of opening this evening, I had 401 “friends”, who are friends because I accepted their friendship one time or another, but as my family knows, I’m notorious at not being a friend on Facebook. I just don’t use it.

I have 43 photo albums there too. I just haven’t warmed to the great utility of the device.

So, I’ll publish this, and post it on Facebook, and if you happen to live within a reasonable radius of the Gandhi Mahal and are doing nothing else on Thursday night, May 1, drop over for the conversation (about 7:15 to 8:15, free) and, if you wish, the buffet beforehand ($20, RSVP to me, please, dick_bernardATmeDOTcom or 651-334-5744.)

And don’t worry, my 401 friends on Facebook. I won’t begin doing daily posts there.

I like blogging. Stop in once in awhile.

And thanks for the needed jog, Raz.

#876 – Dick Bernard: The new Saints…and the real ones.

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Two recent Popes were officially declared as Saints on April 27. Here is the flier which we Catholics could pick up yesterday at Mass, probably at all churches: Sts Jn XXIII and JP II001.

They’re very different folks, these two new Saints. John XXIII would be my fave by far. He became Pope five months after I started college, and gave meaning to the word “ecumenical”. Back in those good old days of the 1940s and 1950s, being Christian didn’t mean getting along in any sense of the word. Denominations emphasized the differences, and did things to ensure that their young uns had little to do with each other. Until mobility started mixing nationalities, even Catholic Churches (and others, too) were largely ethnic: Norwegian Lutheran; French-Canadian Catholic, etc. Times have changed, thank goodness. Things aren’t perfect by any means, but better, in my opinion.

I got closest, physically at least, to John Paul II. In the fall of 1998 I was in Rome, and managed to get a place next to the Pope’s route through St. Peter’s Square and got a closeup view of this increasingly infirm man. Two years later, late in the evening of early May 2000, enroute to Krakow Poland with a group of Catholics and Jews on pilgrimage to holocaust sites, soon to include Auschwitz-Birkenau (at Oswiecim), I convinced the tour leaders to have the bus go through Wadowice, Poland, to the very near proximity of the place where John Paul II grew up.

We didn’t stop, of course, it was late at night. Later I was to learn that Oswiecim (Auschwitz) and Wadowice (John Paul II’s home) are only 20 or so road miles apart, with Auschwitz actually a few miles closer to Wadowice. Of course, the Polish Jews were essentially obliterated by WWII; Polish Catholics were also killed by the millions. And after the war, Poland became a satellite Communist state of the Soviet Union.

One can understand how JPII’s attitudes developed (and were, in my opinion, manipulated) by the anti-Communist forces. He was never viewed as a particular friend of Liberation Theology in the Global South, for instance; and his ultimate successor, Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was even less so. As I say, “Communism” was a useful word….

But that’s a debate for someone else, some other time.

There are two new official Saints in the Catholic Church, both with their fan clubs.

Another publication caught my eye at Basilica yesterday.

It was the usual weekly newsletter and the cover story, by Janice Andersen, Social Justice coordinator, bears reading. Jackie under the bridge001.

We lose something in the adulation of certain individuals who are set apart to symbolize something or other, as is the case with the two Popes who were just canonized.

In small and large ways, every day, everywhere on earth, there are endless examples of ordinary people, Christian or not, doing extraordinary things, and thinking nothing at all about it. It is just who they are.

My guess is that most all of us once in awhile are in this category of “saint”. There are no books of miracles attributed to us; that’s not the point.

We put one foot in front of the other and do our best.

That’s sainthood to me.

#875 – Dick Bernard: Visiting History…including in the making

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

NOTE: See postnote about Hubert Humphrey at the end of this post.

Friday I decided to attend the Panel and Global Webinar “Living the Legacy of Hubert H. Humphrey” at the University of Minnesota Law School. The event celebrated the “35th Anniversary of Humphrey Fellowship Program..web-streamed for access by the other 15 Humphrey campuses and for Humphrey alumni around the world.” I expected an interesting program – previously I had attended the 25th anniversary in 2004 – but this years was particularly interesting.

The old history was recalled in a video by President Jimmy Carter (1977-81). The program was established in honor of Hubert Humphrey after his his death in 1978. In addition, Fridays program also recognized “the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Hubert H. Humphrey regarded the Act’s passage as a crowning achievement of his political career.” Seven of Humphreys family circle spoke as briefly as any Humphrey can speak (which is to say, 5 minutes means 10!) But everyone’s remarks were very interesting about their Dad, grandchild, uncle….

Two Humphrey alumni spoke (more a bit later).

Leading off the second panel was Bill Means, Lakota Elder and Board Member, International Indian Treaty Council.

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Bill Means, April 25, 2014

Bill Means, April 25, 2014

Mr. Means, a powerful Native American leader, had just come from the Minneapolis City Council, which had just voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis. It was, he said, the culmination of 50 years of effort.

I was always aware of the American Indian Movement, but never an active part of it, but I recalled a May, 1990, Pow Wow I’d attended in Minneapolis, and a page of the program booklet from that day which I published in a newsletter I edited in the summer of 1990. It speaks for itself: Heart of the Earth My 90001

I had taken quite a few photos that day, 24 years ago. Here are two. I believe the lady in the wheelchair is the legendary Meridel LeSueur. The event apparently recognized The American Indian Movements Heart of the Earth Survival School

Possibly Meridel LeSueur, May 26, 1990, Minneapolis MN

Possibly Meridel LeSueur, May 26, 1990, Minneapolis MN

Speakers at Pow Wow May 26, 1990, Minneapolis MN.  Is that Bill Means speaking?

Speakers at Pow Wow May 26, 1990, Minneapolis MN. Is that Bill Means speaking?

Part of the backdrop behind the speakers, May 26, 1990

Part of the backdrop behind the speakers, May 26, 1990

Mr. Means gave a short but powerful talk on April 25. He along with other powerful Native American leaders like Leonard Peltier, Dennis Banks, the Bellecourts and many others, brought attention to the native community ‘back in the day’ 50 or more years ago.

He said, I recall, that there are about 375,000,000 Indigenous Peoples in the world today. That would be about 5% of the worlds population, and more than the entire population of the United States.

Another speaker, Kaka Bag-ao, a Humphrey Fellow from 2006-07, powerfully talked about her post Humphrey career in the Philippines, including a powerful video of a 1700 kilometer (about 1000 miles) walk to Manila by many indigenous farmers successfully protesting seizure of their small farms for use as a golf course. At issue, it seemed, was 144 hectares of land – about 344 acres. The powerless got the attention of the powerful, but it wasn’t easy. Hopefully, I will be able to include the link to the video at this place soon.

Edmon Marukyan of Armenia (Fellow 2009-2010) had a similarly inspirational message to this and previous years Humphrey Fellows.

Among the many Humphrey family members, the one who impressed me the most was the youngest, Jordan Humphrey, Humphrey’s grandson. He was born a number of years after Humphrey died, and he’ll be a worthy representative of his grandfather.

It was a good day.

I’m glad I went.

Jordan Humphrey, April 25, 2014

Jordan Humphrey, April 25, 2014

POSTNOTE: About the time of the 25th anniversary of the Humphrey Fellows program in 2004, I came across an old recollection about Hubert Humphrey, and his reflections on politics, competition, and compassion. It became my 2004 Christmas message, and it can be read here. (The link is immediately after the painting at top of the page.)

The three visitors were visiting then-Senator and previously Vice-President Humphrey about compassion in politics. They recalled Humphrey saying this: “Senator Humphrey walked back to his desk, picked up a long pencil with a small eraser at its end, and said in his famous high-pitched voice, “Gentlemen, look at this pencil. Just as the eraser is only a very small part of this pencil and is used only when you make a mistake, so compassion is only called upon when things get out of hand. The main part of life is competition, only the eraser is compassion. It is sad to say, gentlemen, but in politics compassion is just part of the competition….”

Humphreys was a powerful message: it takes more than being compassionate to implement a policy of compassion. Politics, with all of its nastiness and competition, is a necessary part of the process of successfully implementing compassion. Walking the talk can be messy.

But Humphrey lived compassion through his deeds, not just his words.

One family member recalled that when HHH was nearing death, he made a point of calling his archrival, President Richard Nixon, urging Nixon to come out of self-imposed isolation and attend Humphreys funeral. Nixon had for a short time been Humphreys U.S. Senate colleague and later defeated Humphrey in the 1968 election, and resigned from the Presidency in 1974.

It was not mentioned, and I do not recall, if President Nixon came to the funeral in St. Paul, but the point is that the gesture was made. Humphreys “eraser” never hardened.


Thank you for this message, Dick.

I took some time here to read your blog post.

Frankly, I worry that the way this has been “messaged” in the media, and even shown through your blog post about we have ‘changed’ the day for the city… we are adding to Columbus Day at this point, to add recognition of Indigenous Peoples. We haven’t changed it the way most people outright said. These small increments will take some time, and a part of me fears that the actual language of what was approved last Friday is not what a number of the public speakers in the indigenous communities have made it out to be. I hope that come October, folks don’t feel anyone has pulled the wool over their eyes, so to speak.

I really, really liked reading about the Humphrey event and your pencil message. I have written it down and taped it beneath my computer screen. “… it takes more than being compassionate to implement a policy of compassion. Politics, with all of its nastiness and competition, is a necessary part of the process of successfully implementing compassion. Walking the talk can be messy.”

Thanks for reaching out.
Yours in Service,