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#844 – Anne Dunn: A Minnesota Ojibwe Woman Remembers a 2003 March for Peace in Toulouse, France and “The Children’s Fire”

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

On February 15, 2003, the day after Valentines Day, peacemakers began a march that encompassed the world in an international protest against war! In almost 800 cities in 60 countries from 12,000,000 to 15,000,000 people took to the streets with a collective purpose.

At least one million marchers turned out in Britain, one million in Italy and two million in Spain, as people expressed their anti-war sentiment. Two hundred thousand rallied in San Francisco and New York. About 100,000 turned out in Paris, France. [Ed. note: see photo of the Minneapolis protest on Feb 15, 2003 at end of this post.]

The protests were organized to “follow the sun” from Australia to the US. Across the world the challenge came in many languages.

They say it was the first global demonstration, and the cause was to prevent war against Iraq. The war had not yet begun! No, the world was saying, we will not endorse Bush’s War. But the rubber-stamp congress would.

Although it was unseasonably cold, about 12,500 marched in the streets of Toulouse, France, to support the effort that encircled the earth. They came with balloons, banners, bulletins, badges, and babies. Quick-stepping mothers were pushing bundled babies in covered prams and fathers were carrying rosy-cheeked toddlers on their shoulders. White haired couples held hands as they strolled along.

Protestors came from across the social and political spectrum. There were representatives of democracy, socialism, communism, anarchy, business, labor, civil rights and the environment. There was at least one Anishinabe/Ojibwe Grandmother Storyteller from the Leech Lake Reservation marching the cobbled streets that day.

Yes, I was there in a borrowed ski jacket! Helene bought me a red and white checkered keffiyeh for the occasion. I tied it around my neck as I marched for solidarity and peace!

The keffiyeh is a scarf traditionally worn by Palestinian farmers to protect them from sun, cold and dust. During the Arab Revolt of the 1930s it became a symbol of nationalism. It’s prominence increased in the 1960s with the Palestinian Resistance Movement and its adoption by Yassar Arafat. He usually wore one of black and white.

From time to time the marchers joined their vigorous voices in loud anti-war chants. The words bounced around in the long stone canyons and shivered against the high windows. Some downtown residents opened their doors and leaned over their balconies to wave at the passing crowds.

As a river of people filled the streets of downtown Toulouse, traffic was brought to a standstill at several intersections. Drivers sat inside their stranded vehicles waiting patiently for the masses to pass.

Police kept a low profile and no law enforcement brutality was reported.

A statement was released the following day which proclaimed: We don’t just say ‘no’ to war, we say ‘yes’ to peace, we say ‘yes’ to building economic and social systems that are not dominated by central banks and huge financial institutions. We don’t just say ‘no’ to war – we demand an end to massive resources being squandered on the military while billions are made poorer and poorer as a few reap huge wealth totally disproportionate to any labor or ingenuity of their own.”

At one point in the march a man approached me and said his friend wanted to be photographed with the Ojibwe woman from Minnesota. Although I was quite surprised that my presence had been so noteworthy, I was more than willing to accommodate the man! Soon a short man with white hair, rosy cheeks and a cheerful smile was standing beside me. We shook hands, our photo shoot was over and he melted into the crowd.

A man standing nearby asked, “Do you realize who that was?”

“No,” I replied, ”I do not.” I had no interest in his identity. For me, it was just an encounter with a friendly stranger. It had no political significance.
But the man wanted me to know, so he went on speaking. “That was the chairman of the communist party!”

It was of no importance to me for I was marching with my friends, who were Socialists.

I flew home the following day. Like everyone else that had participated, I was exhilarated at the prospect of peace instead of war. But the leaders did not heed the wisdom of the people. So the infamous, barbarous, illegal, unnecessary and poorly conceived ‘shock and awe’ began. We became hopelessly entrenched in an unjust war. Children who were just 7 years old then, are old enough to enlist now.

Bush and his cohorts were beating a big war drum and telling loud and careless lies to the American people. The mainstream media did little or nothing to promote truth, justice and peace. Journalists simply swallowed the party line. Now we all know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and there was no reason to destroy their homeland and murder their children with bombs.

Many will say we failed to purchase peace with people-power. They will say we did not avert the disastrous invasion and bloody occupation of Iraq. They will say we did not sustain the momentum of the march. They will say we went home and gave up.

But we are holding the ground for future generations to stand upon by protecting their constitutional right of dissent. We continue to confront our communities on the issue of unsustainable militarism, which is buried deep in the bloody earth upon which this nation has been built.

For the welfare of unborn generations we must redirect military spending to create jobs, invest in schools, housing and renewable energy.

Solidarity requires that we communicate with other peoples of the world, not the rich elite who are planning for their own continued dominance! We must lift ourselves up high and stand tall enough to see beyond the barriers of tribe, race, language, culture, class, and nations.

(click to enlarge)

Anti-War Demonstration Minneapolis MN Feb 15, 2003

Anti-War Demonstration Minneapolis MN Feb 15, 2003

UPDATE from Anne Dunn, February 17, 2014

The Children’s Fire
Anne Dunn

Like many people today, I’m deeply concerned about the land and have often wondered what kind of a world we are leaving to our grandchildren. Anishinabeg were told by Creator that we were the caretakers of this land and for thousands of years our ancestors took care that the resources were not exploited. But that position was usurped by the European invasion.

Since the Leech Lake Reservation is located within the boundaries of the Chippewa National Forest, there are many Anishinabeg who feel it is time that traditional standards of stewardship be adopted here and now.

Because… in the beginning there was the land, seemingly endless stands of white and red pine, innumerable streams and sparkling lakes; and there were the peoples of the land… the Anishinabeg. The great forests are gone now, plundered for profit… the streams and lakes are under siege. The peoples of the land stand poised and expectant… awaiting their season of respect and restitution. When a new and honorable history can be written with dignity and truth.

For decades, environmentalists have warned that our planet has limited resources. Yet, we continue to destroy that which we must preserve if our children and their children are to live well on Turtle Island.

The beautiful balance of nature no longer exists. Animal habitat is steadily encroached upon and the plant kingdom is increasingly threatened.

We can no longer allow our ecosystems to be compromised. We cannot allow the fate of earth, our island home, to be determined by the well-funded lobby of powerful corporations motivated by selfishness and greed.

The Hopi tell a story of The Children’s Fire, which promotes the concept that no one should be allowed to do anything that adversely affects our children.

It is said that the children’s fire must be forever guarded by the elders… the grandparents. But how do we guard the children’s fire? By getting out of bed and doing what has to be done. By standing alone in difficult places to give the children of tomorrow a good life in a good land.

One day the children will know that in the beginning… man, animals, birds and plants lived together on our Turtle Island in a beautiful balance of nature. The needs of all were met in the bountiful world they shared.

However, man became increasingly aggressive and began to abuse the rights of the plant and animal kingdoms.

Therefore, the harmony between them was destroyed. Many animals died needlessly and whole families disappeared.

But man continued his exploitations until he brought great hardship and strange diseases upon himself.

We will tell the children how the plants, which had remained friendly toward man, responded to his needs by providing remedies for all his diseases. Every herb and root produced a cure for man’s many ailments.

But, as was his nature, man’s aggressiveness and greed threatened to deplete the natural supply of health-giving plants.

If we continue down this road we will undoubtedly succeed in creating an environment so hostile that the survival of mankind will be jeopardized. It will be said that this generation extinguished the children’s fire.

Sunrise Oct 2014

Sunrise Oct 2014

#838 – Dick Bernard: Poverty. Seeing Reality, and Consequences of Ignoring that Reality.

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The below, above the postnote, was written Tuesday, January 28, before the Presidents State of the Union.

The public relations battle around the State of the Union of the U.S., by far the richest country on earth*, will likely be around, in one way or another, America’s middle class, the haves and the have nots, the wealthy and the super-wealthy and the 99%…. The 1% always seem to seize what they consider the high ground. Where are the 99%, and why? That’s for side discussions.

1. Sunday, we took our 9th grade grandson over to Basilica of St. Mary to help with the preparation of the Undercroft (fancy word for Church Basement) for a program called Families Moving Forward, a partnership of a number of Churches who offer their facilities for a week to give overnight housing to temporarily homeless families. This particular week, there are four families who have taken up residence there, one with four children. These are families where someone is working for pay somewhere. At least one of the families has been told, since September, that they have an apartment, but the apartment owner keeps delaying their move-in, now five months later**.

It’s the “other side of town”, literally, from us. We’ve worked on occasion with this program. Our grandson was along because one of his class assignments was to volunteer for at least six hours at something. Sunday afternoon was a part of those six hours, setting up the undercroft.

(click on all photos to enlarge)

Tubs of sheets, pillows, et al, ready for set up.  They're kept at the Church for use every few weeks.  Volunteers do laundry at end of the week.

Tubs of sheets, pillows, et al, ready for set up. They’re kept at the Church for use every few weeks. Volunteers do laundry at end of the week.

A two bed room, probably for Mom and child.  Note the privacy walls.

A two bed room, probably for Mom and child. Note the privacy walls.

The "doorway" to the room

The “doorway” to the room

Even knowing the reality these families are living this week, and some have for many weeks, and even actually being there, setting up those rooms, the exercise is still an abstract one difficult for me to fully comprehend.

Even in the worst times – and I’ve had some – I’ve never been “homeless”. And now I’m fairly ordinary retired “Middle Class” and definitely not “poor”, though I had a couple of very close brushes with that state in my adult life.

A couple of hours after arriving, we left the Undercroft for a windy, chilly, Minneapolis. A number of homeless folks, adults, were in the entrance to the Basilica, warming up before going back out on the street. They’re likely out on the street today as well. I’m in comfy circumstances here at home writing about them, all of whom will be functionally “homeless” tonight in below zero weather.

2. Ten years ago, December, 2003, I was in Haiti for the first time. Haiti, then and now, is among the poorest countries on earth, less than two hours east of Miami, Florida.

One evening, our driver invited us to his home on a hillside overlooking prosperous Petion-ville. I took the below photo from the roof of his small cement block house on the side of the hill. His wife and young child were delightful hosts. The hill neighborhood was, I would guess, reasonably middle class by Haiti standards. I don’t know how his place fared in the earthquake in January, 2010. I do know the family survived.

Hillside homes above Petion-Ville (above Port-au-Prince) Haiti December, 2003.  Taken from the roof of one of the concrete block homes by Dick Bernard

Hillside homes above Petion-Ville (above Port-au-Prince) Haiti December, 2003. Taken from the roof of one of the concrete block homes by Dick Bernard

When I took the picture, my focus was on the neighborhood around our hosts house.

Today, I’m focused on the houses you can see at the very top of the hill, separated by walls and fences from those below. Your computer may allow you to zoom in on them.

Haiti has fabulously rich people too: they move comfortably between the U.S. and France and other places and back to Haiti. They’ve made their wealth in various legal ways, and they still make the rules. Haiti in that regard is not much different than the ideal United States as envisioned by the advocates for the worthy wealthy.

The very rich live within, but harshly separate from, the very poor nearby.

3. There is seldom attention to the downside of a huge gap between rich and poor. Sooner or later, as in Haiti, the rich become prisoners with in their own country, living behind walls with their own armed guards to remove any suggestion of the rabble invading. They cannot truly live free. I’ve seen the same in another third world country.

There are a lot of other consequences like, the poor cannot afford to buy the stuff that adds to the riches of the rich…. Poverty has consequences even for the rich.

It’s not a healthy state, and we’re moving in this direction, perhaps more quickly than we’d like to imagine.

We need some perspective, soon, and serious attention to closing this gap.

Polls now show that I’m not alone in my concern. Americans don’t mind wealth. They do mind an ever more greedy approach to personal wealth and power. We’ll see in November if they act on their attitudes.

* The United States as a country has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s wealth. Haiti, referred to in #3, below, has .142% of the world’s population, and .008% of the world’s wealth. (Data from Appendix 1 of Transforming the United Nations System by Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg, United Nations University Press, 2013, comparing Population and Gross National Income)

** Some years ago at the same Basilica Families Moving Forward, four of the guests were a family of four, husband, wife and two teenage daughters. The drama of the evening was the husband being criticized for causing the family to lose the chance at an apartment, where they failed to make an appointment. Listening to this, it turned out that the husband had two jobs and one car, and the apartment was difficult to reach, and they lost their chance at housing….

POSTNOTES Thursday, January 30:
This mornings Just Above Sunset, always very long, gives a most interesting perspective on the general issue of rich and poor. If you wish, here.

Tuesday afternoon, we took our grandson and his Mom to “Twelve Years a Slave“, the powerful film about a free Negro from Saratoga NY who was sold into slavery into 1841, was a slave until 1853, and lived to write and speak about the terrible experience.

It is not a comfortable film. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend it. Ryan, our grandson, who asked to go to it in the first place, pronounced it good as well.

For me, watching, the film made lots of connections already known, more clear. Plantation owners felt no shame whatsoever in their entitlement. They drew their support from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), the good old days, when Masters were men and women were subordinate and slaves were slaves, property.

We were born as a slave nation over 200 years ago, and we’re far from over it today.

But neither are we going back to where we were.

My class, “old white men” tend to vote to go back to the “good old days” – last presidential election I recall President Obama lost to Mitt Romney in this class getting only 40% of their vote.

But they didn’t prevail. And their numbers will continue to decrease, at an increasing rate.

This doesn’t prevent some of them to continue to be very bitter. I get some of the “forwards”, and even some personal invective once in awhile.

But the “times, they are a’changin’ ”

#837 – Peter Barus Remembers Meeting Pete Seeger, Twice

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

NOTE: Icon folk song composer and singer Pete Seeger passed away Monday at 94. For a common persons selection of Pete Seeger on film, check YouTube here
Your own personal recollections and Comments about Pete Seeger are solicited.

Peter Barus writes from Vermont Jan. 28:

Dick,

Pete Seeger is gone.

Here’s something I wrote when the issue was the Nobel Peace Prize (Jan 17, 2009).

The local radio station is devoting the whole day to remembering Pete, along with some big names, friends and neighbors, and family.

The world is a different shape now, without him.

Love

Peter

————-
If anyone ever deserved the highest awards for encouraging peace and justice in this world, Pete Seeger does, and many times over.

He has lived a lifetime of commitment to the great family of humanity and a world that works for all of us, with nobody left out. He has worked at this alone, when not too many people were watching, as well as in groups and teams and movements of people.

The last time I met Pete Seeger was in Nigeria, in 1963. This was one of those times when he was single handedly transforming the world, standing up before a crowd of strangers, in a strange land, and doing what he always does: bringing every single person into the full presence of their membership in the human race.

My father and mother and younger brother and I were on a little vacation from our then-home in Northern Nigeria, where Dad held an Exchange Professorship in Electrical Engineering at Amadu Bello University in Zaria. Nigeria had been “independent” for about four years. We drove into Benin City in our Ford Taurus, sort of like a ’56 Ford, but with less fins. The steering wheel was on the right, this being an erstwhile Crown Colony. Benin was not yet caught up in the throes of revolutionary war, as it would be the next year.

We stopped at a “rest house,” the usual name for a hotel in that time and place. They had a bar and a full-service entertainment establishment next door, if not actually in the hotel itself. The women hooted at me, a skinny white foreigner of sixteen, in a parody of flirtation, to see if I would blush, and laughed hilariously when I did.

That evening we all trooped down to the bar to see if there was something to eat, not to mention some Star beer for Dad. The joint was jumping. A happy crowd filled every corner of the hot, dim room. And there, in one corner, next to some French doors to a verandah out back, was Pete Seeger, banjo and all. He was sweating profusely, as always, and singing at the top of his lungs, whanging on the banjo. The crowd was entranced, enraptured. Joy was in the air. Pete taught them “This Land Is Your Land,” with local modifications for “From California, To the New York Island,” substituting some prominent landmarks.

Many in his audience could not speak English, but few seemed to care what the words to Pete’s songs were; they were soaking up the meaning through his infectious personality. When a break finally came, Pete went out the back door, and everybody politely let him have a little breathing room. So I went out there too. I had talked with him before, when I was about ten years old, fascinated with banjos, when he came to the college town I grew up in.

Pete was very tall, and gracious and kind. I mentioned a friend or two who knew him better than I, and he was pleased to hear of them. I felt that he actually remembered me, a small boy with big round eyes in a small college town where he performed sometimes. Back then, if I remember right, he was in the middle of a battle with HUAC, the so ironically-named House Un-American Activities Committee. When asked what he did for a living he had said: “I pick banjos.” McCarthy had asked him disdainfully, “And where do you pick these banjos?” What else could he have said? “Off banjo trees?”

Exotic creatures stirred in the grasses beyond the light of the verandah where we stood. Pete tuned up his famous long-necked banjo, the one with several extra notes below the usual range of the 5-string banjo, added to accommodate the key a crowd wants to sing in. He said “Take it easy, but take it,” and he went back into the raucous, happy crowd to sing them into a state of wondrous community with the whole world.

I have to say that my life’s course changed as a result of meeting Pete Seeger. I’ve always felt he was a special friend, though I only met him a couple of times. I emulated him in both his philosophy and chosen profession. This has given me a certain view of what it takes to do what he does. The memory of him and that crowd of people, who could not have been more exotic to each other, in songs of human possibility, has stuck with me for more than forty years, and inspires me today.

COMMENT:
from Mike R, Jan 29: I was in high school when the Weavers were most popular, and I was a fan like most NYC kids my age. There were folk song concerts all over the city, lots of places for folk and square dancing. Later on I became aware of Pete Seeger as a solo artist and a fan of his. When he toured in the 70′s and 80′s with Arlo Guthrie Pat and I saw him at Orchestra Hall.

His artistry was, as always, unique and he had the audience in his hands from his first song. He was known for “This Land is Your Land,” but I liked “Guantanamera” (a Cuban song) best.

He was part of my youth and I will miss him for his music and his humanity.

#835 – Peter Barus: Syrian Peace Haggles.

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Too infrequently, good friend Peter Barus weighs in on issues from his home in Vermont. Agree or disagree, his postings always make sense. Here’s his latest, about how negotiations work, as he learned it in West Africa, and how it is in many places, but not so much in the U.S. Peter always has interesting perspectives.

Dick,

The big news the other day was that the “Syrian Peace Talks” were a spectacular failure, because the belligerents were taking intractable, incompatible positions, loudly insulting each other, and giving Ban Ki Moon and our poor John Kerry a hard time too. It may no longer be so these days, but I think there are still traditions in play here that most of us here in America don’t understand.

I though back to my youth in a West African country, where there were no Wal-Marts or Home Depots or Ikeas. We had two ways to get stuff: go to the market, a vast, stinky, sprawling, brawling, noisy, colorful assault on the senses and sensibilities of we newly-arrived expats; a total multi-sensory delight, in other words. Or, the traders would come to the door.

Word got out before we actually arrived at our new home, and a line of bicycles festooned with baskets waited patiently as we unloaded and found our bearings in the pleasant, shaded, stone-walled and asbestos-roofed house. Then some mysterious signal or change in the pheromones in the air occurred, and goods were spread all up and down the gravel driveway and onto the verandah.

There were incredible bargains. Not just bargain prices, but the actual process of bargaining. We had been instructed briefly in this art and science. We had not been prepared for the theatrical lengths to which these savvy gentlemen would go.

The rule was, you, the purchaser, take the price you are willing to pay, and divide by three; the trader, meanwhile, jacks up his price by a factor of at least three; then somebody starts the game by making an offer.

The first offer elicits dismissive laughter, and (did we but know) a long diatribe concerning our ancestry, our education, and the congenital deformity of our foreign brains. Then there is a counter-offer, which we greet more sedately, but with total disdain, both parties now clearly abandoning any possibility of a deal, and going off to other prospects to start other battles. But everyone knows this is just for show.

Returning to the (actually) coveted item, if the trader has not already told you in English about each of his children, all of their diseases, and the sizes of their feet, which fall between available shoe-sizes, making life very expensive, and causing them all to go hungry or barefoot, he soon will. You hem and haw and finger the goods, and make critical remarks about their provenance and quality. You point out the threadbare sleeve, the base of the antique statue where a little chip exposes new wood, the shabby way the bits of glass are set in the tin-can bezels on the dagger’s hilt, the mangy appearance of the camel-skin purse/drum/wallet/hassock. The Kente cloth “Made in China.”

Eventually, at a pace sure to entertain for the entire afternoon, both the trader and the customer get within shouting distance of a price. At that point, another customary feature comes into play: the “dash.” There are other cultures with other words for this little extra something thrown in to sweeten the deal. In New Orleans it is called “Lagniappe,” as in “por lagniappe.” A Baker’s Dozen. A scarf to go with the handbag, some earrings to go with the necklace. An extra dollop of dessert thrown in. When the price is nearly met, this little extra bonus is displayed, and arrayed delicately with the goods in question. It is now time to be tipped reluctantly over the brink, and accept the final offer. Then is a bond of eternal friendship forged, never to be put asunder, until you ask the price of that other thing over there.

Then, everyone walks away happy, having beaten the other down shamelessly, having taken them for a ride, and having made them like it. Often it has been a community effort, with three or four total strangers chiming in, offering opinions, even making side deals. I once bought a lovely Tuareg sword with a broken watch and a few shillings, in the course of which deal the watch was sold twice to other people, including a repair man, and I never found out what the owner of the sword actually got paid, but everyone was ecstatically happy, and I managed to avoid incurring the wrath of the tall blue man.

I have been through this all around this world, in Africa, India, the Middle East, Europe, even England. It is a perfectly civilized and rational way to do business, almost anywhere but the United States of America. Here, prices are marked, and carefully calculated to meet profit margins, not to be altered by mere employees. After living in other lands, it seems rather boring and a bit belittling to all concerned.

Back to the big Syrian Peace Debacle.

It is a miracle that the killers of what, a hundred and thirty thousand people? – have now gotten together to divide up the spoils, which as I read it, is the only way the real victims – women and kids and elders mostly – are ever going to get some relief. But that’s what this game is now, and it is being done in the traditional way. Outrageous claims and laughable offerings are thrown down at the beginning, true. But this only establishes that (a) there is a deal being made, and (b) that both sides are going to move about halfway from their positions to the middle of the now-established continuum of acceptable bargaining room.

Americans are not considered smart enough to handle this, by our own media. Besides, they need to sell us the stories, not just tell them. So now what we have is one show for the East, and one for the West. Also, Americans are so incapable of enjoying the process that our national legislatures are thoroughly useless. We only understand the word, “compromise,” in its negative aspect, as in “a compromising position.” There is no sense of the joy of haggling here. In the East, nobody is happy with a deal unless it is a hard-fought and hard-won haggling session, after which the real party can start.

If the Syrian Peace Talks are not allowed to move through the stages of haggling that the antagonists’ respective cultures and upbringings require, the alternative is truly awful to contemplate. These are, after all, on all sides, the people responsible for the incredible slaughter that is still going on in Syria. Because it is a proxy war to a great extent, the haggling will be allowed, or interfered with, by the real antagonists, for their own purposes, and probably many more people will be murdered or displaced. Hopefully the talks will go out of the spotlight now, and maybe something can end the killing.

Interfering in a haggle, by the way, is very unseemly, and derided with cries of “Not your water!” by onlookers and bystanders, of which there is always a crowd when the haggling gets good. Maybe this is the Big Picture, and our media are just part of the idle crowd of shouters. I hope so.

Love

Peter

POSTNOTE from Dick:
Peter’s words are particularly relevant, in my opinion, because we Americans tend to have a rather parochial, and unusual idea of what “haggling” (bargaining) is. In most of the world, our method is pretty unusual, not at all normal, and this has been so for a long long time.

When I was a kid, back in the 1940s, let’s say I came across an extra buffalo nickel, just burning a hole in my pocket. (I was not from the “penny saved is a penny earned” school). I’d go into the local store and see what I could get for my nickel. There was no haggling, there. If it was a nickel, a nickel it was. Cash or no deal.

That is how the “American” system works. I need a pair of socks, and I find it, and the price is marked, and that is what it costs. That’s how we do it.

Of course, there are variations: Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Antiques Road Show, etc give slight made-for-tv adaptation on the norm.

I’ve seen “haggling” on a couple of trips to Haiti, and it is a hard adjustment for an American like me.

But I’ve had the good fortune of sitting in on good tough collective bargaining sessions here in the States as well: scenarios where employers and employees come together to try to strike a bargain on wages, benefits and working conditions.

There is a strong element of “haggling” in good American bargains between Union and Management. One side starts here, the other there. Both know the general destination some months down the road, but the ritual is the same as described by Peter. Sadly, only a few who comprise the Union and Management bargaining teams experience the benefits of the haggle, among which are the elements of listening and assessing and relationship building for the longer term. (The worst example of a bargaining process was the recent attempt of Management to break the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Union beginning with non-negotiable intractable demands ending with a 488 day lockout. Finally, that too ended with a bargain, which I think was fair…but why 488 days of attempting to break the union? In our own relationships with other countries, that kind of dynamic has played out most dramatically, in my view, in our relationships with Cuba (since 1959) and with Iran (since 1979). Our inclination to want dominion and control over others is our Achilles Heel, in my opinion….)

If a bargain succeeds, regardless of how bitter it might seem, the two parties come out winners in the longer term. That’s what I hope happens with the haggle in Syria and other places.

There were many “best” bargains that I can remember. None of them were easy. They were a process, and if both parties respected the process, even if there might be a short strike to conclude the ultimate deal, both parties and the surrounding public were the better for the haggling. I know, because I was part of the team at many tables.

Experienced negotiators know this.

Unfortunately, most public members do not.

Thanks, much, Peter, for the seminar!

COMMENTS (see additional comments in the “responses” section of this blog)
from John B:
Interesting POVs [Points of View]. In school districts I think there are alternatives, optimally if there is mutual respect, trust and transparency. Unfortunately, these are often in small quantities.

Response to John B from Dick B: Of course. We both worked in School Districts. Even when there is already a well formed “family unit” with well defined community rules/roles – community, teachers, administrators, etc. – there are still problems and a need for negotiated solutions which reflect the needs of each. How much more complex this all becomes when you are dealing with different communities, cultures, values, etc.

Toss in the United States habit, over the years, of using factions of people to divide against each other for the ultimate advantage of the United States, and the problem of negotiating becomes even more difficult. This has played out in many places, famously in Iran in 1953, for instance.

In Dec 2003 – Feb 29 2004 I happened, by accident, really, to witness what in reality was a U.S. sponsored coup against the democratically elected government in Haiti. Our hands were all over this change in governments, and the people on the ground know this….

#834 – Dick Bernard: The March 1 & 7-9, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, Augsburg College, Minneapolis MN “Crossing Boundaries to Create Common Ground”

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

(click to enlarge photos)

Tawakkol Karman, Yemen, co-recipient of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, speaks at conclusion of 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College.

Tawakkol Karman, Yemen, co-recipient of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, speaks at conclusion of 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College.

This year is the 26th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum, now permanently sited at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Link to enroll, and all of the promotional material for the Forum can be viewed here*. (This years Forum is sited at three different venues: Augsburg, the University of Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Convention Center (March 1, Dalai Lama),. The place of each event is noted within the program. Augsburg and UofM facilities are just a short walk apart.)

This morning, along with 15 others from the long-standing group, People of Faith Peacemakers (POFP), I was privileged to hear Forum Director Maureen Reed take us through this years Forum agenda, which includes four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who will be in attendance. Together we spent a rich hour of discussion about the Peace Prize. The handout from Dr. Reed is here: Nobel Forum 2014001

The African Development Center near Augsburg and the University of Minnesota hosts POFP.

Dr. Maureen Reed, Jan 22, 2014

Dr. Maureen Reed, Jan 22, 2014

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum and allied Youth Festival have a very long and rich history in the Midwest and especially at Augsburg College. Here are links to the histories of the Forum and the Festival, which is now part of the Forum.

The Forum at Augsburg College is the only event outside of Norway which is allowed to use the Nobel Peace Prize name.

Originally, the Forum was rotated between the five Norwegian Lutheran Colleges in the upper Midwest: Augsburg, Concordia College in Moorhead, Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Luther College in Decorah IA, and St. Olaf College in Northfield. Three years ago the decision was made to concentrate efforts in a single location, and to partner with other institutions and businesses. Judging from the first three years, the change in structure was a benefit to all, and through in-person attendance and live stream video the Forum now reaches tens of thousands of people around the world.

This years Forum includes as guests and presentors Laureates His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (1989), Dr. William Foege of Medecins Sans Frontieres (1999), and Leyma Gbowee of Liberia (2011). The 2013 winner, Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will present two workshops at this years Forum.

Registration is open, and $46 per day, with lower fees for students. The tuition cost covers less than half of the actual cost of the Forum.

As one who has been to a number of years of the Forum/Festival, I can attest that participants will get far more than their moneys worth.

Act now.

Spaces fill very quickly, and enrollment is limited. The daily calendar as known at this moment is here.

* – The Youth Festival is not open to the public and is specifically for middle and high school students. Spaces are filled by application from schools.

People of Faith Peacemakers Jan 22, 2014

People of Faith Peacemakers Jan 22, 2014

At the Nobel Peace Prize Festival opening March 5, 2009.  Augsburg College Minneapolis.  Photo: Dick Bernard

At the Nobel Peace Prize Festival opening March 5, 2009. Augsburg College Minneapolis. Photo: Dick Bernard

#832 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King Day

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Today there’s no school in Woodbury, and on Saturday my spouse said that grandson Ryan, 14, had expressed an interest in going to the film “Twelve Years a Slave“. I had a conflict Sunday afternoon, but suggested today, and if he’s still interested the three of us will probably be in the theatre this afternoon.

It was just an idea from a 14-year old, who’s getting a day off from school, but a most appropriate choice.

It occurred to me this morning that it was 50 years ago, at this time of year, when Martin Luther King’s book, “Why We Can’t Wait” was published.

Published in 1964, and still in print, Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King Jr is an outstanding first-person view of the year 1963.

Published in 1964, and still in print, Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr is an outstanding first-person view of the year 1963.

Why We Can’t Wait chronicles the watershed civil rights year of 1963, Birmingham Jail, March on Washington, assassination of President Kennedy and on and on, and is a basic primer for me about that crucial time in history. It is still in print and well worth a read, or re-read.

In turn, January, 1963 was the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, when all of this slavery and discrimination stuff was supposed to end, and, of course, did not.

Now, of course, we are 150 years into freedom, and the problems remain and are seemingly more intense than ever. We have a black President, and that bothers some folks; and efforts are pretty intense in some places to make certain that rights, particularly to vote, are rolled back so that the wrong kind of people are less likely to be able to show up at the polls.

This morning I read a very good summary of today in the United States, which includes a link to a very long article in the New Yorker in which President Obama is interviewed, and in which he says this: “Despite [Abraham Lincoln] being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right…“I just wanted to add one thing to that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing.” Obama then adds, “Not ‘probably’. It’s definitely a good thing.”. (The link to this entire New Yorker article by David Remnick, Going the Distance, in the Jan 27, 2014, issue, is within the post linked at the beginning of this paragraph.)

There is definitely still racial tension in this country: I read it all the time in those abusive angry “forwards” sent to me by zealots – people that I actually know who send on the hate. They have never let go of slavery.

But this country, not even the deepest of the deep south states, is no longer in 1863, or 1963.

There is also disequity that is now far worse than in recent years, and other great problems as well.

But there will be no going back…if people engage in the political process this year.

Have a good day.

And set about making a difference where you live.

#828 – Dick Bernard: Revisiting Dec. 2003, and Albert Camus, 1946.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Brief Personal Thoughts are at the end of this post.

Years ago, a Kansas friend was on my network, and just out of curiosity, to go along with a Christmas letter to her (which I think will probably be returned as an obsolete address), I looked back to see if there was any file folder reference to her name, and indeed there was, as part of a Post 9-11/Iraq War network of over 110 people in December, 2003. The contents of the e-mail she and many others received follows. It is very long, but provides a great deal of food for thought; and ideas for action.

The friend in London who sent it to me is of Syrian Christian background, who’s still on the network, though I haven’t heard from for awhile. Ten years ago Syria was not on the international radar; today it is by no means an abstract proposition….

The essay by Albert Camus which follows, which I inadvertently discovered, seems very pertinent to this time in our history. Read and reflect. It seems to fit the upcoming program of Dr. Joseph Schwartzberg in Minneapolis on Thursday, January 16. I wrote about that upcoming program here. Come if you happen to be in the neighborhood on Thursday.

When Camus wrote his piece, WWII had just ended, and the United Nations was in process of being born. Here’s the essay, apparently in its entirety. The text is exactly as received ten years ago:

Sent December 4, 2003 to 110 people:
This, from SAK, was written shortly after WWII, and is quite long, but is very well worth the time to read and reflect on. Print it out and set it aside. Thank you very much, SAK. (At the end are included some additional comments by SAK, helping bring the piece to 2003.)

Neither Victims nor Executioner’s
Albert Camus, 1946

The Century of Fear
The 17th century was the century of mathematics, the 18th that of the physical sciences, and the 19th that of biology. Our 20th century is the century of fear. I will be told that fear is not a science. But science must be somewhat involved since its latest theoretical advances have brought it to the point of negating itself while it is perfected technology threatens the globe itself with destruction. Moreover, although fear itself cannot be considered a science, it is certainly a technique.

The most striking feature of the world we live in is that most of its inhabitants — with the exception of pietists of various kinds — are cut off from the future. Life has no validity unless it can project itself toward the future, can ripen and progress. Living against the wall is a dog’s life [See Note 1]. True — and the men of my generation, those who are going into the factories and the colleges, have lived and are living more and more like dogs.

This is not the first time, of course, that men have confronted a future materially closed to them. But hitherto they have been able to transcend the dilemma by words, by protests, by appealing to other values which lent them hope. Today no one speaks anymore (except those who repeat themselves because history seems to be in the grip of blind and death forces which will heed neither cries of warning, nor advice, nor entreaties. The years we have gone through have killed something in us. And that something is simply the old confidence man had in himself, which led him to believe that he could always illicit human reactions from another man if he spoke to him in the language of a common humanity. We have seen men lie, degrade, kill, deport, torture — and each time it was not possible to persuade them not to do these things because they were sure of themselves and because one cannot appeal to an abstraction, i.e. , the representative of an ideology [Note 2].

Mankind’s long dialogue has just come to an end. And naturally a man with whom one cannot reason is a man to be feared [Note 3]. The result is that — besides those who have not spoken out because they thought it useless — a vast conspiracy of silence has spread all about us, a conspiracy accepted by those who are frightened and who rationalise their fears in order to hide them from themselves, a conspiracy fostered by those whose interest it is to do so. “You shouldn’t talk about the Russian culture purge — it helps reaction.” “Don’t mention the Anglo — American support of Franco — it encourages Communism.” Fear is certainly a technique.

What with the general fear of the war now being prepared by all nations and the specific fear of murderous ideologies, who can deny that we live in a state of terror? We live in terror because persuasion is no longer possible; because man has been wholly submerged in History; because he can no longer tap that part of his nature, as real as the historical part, which he recaptures in contemplating the beauty of nature and of human faces; because we live in a world of abstractions, of bureaus and machines, of absolute ideas and of crude messianism. We suffocate among people who think they are absolutely right, whether in their machines or in their ideas. And for all who can live only in an atmosphere of human dialogue and sociability, this silence is the end of the world [Note 4].

To emerge from this terror, we must be able to reflect and to act accordingly. But an atmosphere of terror hardly encourages reflection. I believe, however, that instead of simply blaming everything on this fear, we should consider it as one of the basic factors in the situation, and try to do something about it. No task is more important. For it involves the fate of a considerable number of Europeans who, fed up with the lies and violence, deceived in their dearest hopes and repelled by the idea of killing their fellow men in order to convince them, likewise repudiate the idea of themselves being convinced that way. And yet such is the alternative that at present confronts so many of us in Europe who are not of any party — or ill at ease in the party we have chosen — who doubt socialism has been realised in Russia or liberalism in America, who grant to each side the right to affirm its truth but refuse it the right to impose it by murder, individual or collective. Among the powerful of today, these are the men without a kingdom. Their viewpoint will not be recognised (and I say “recognised,” not “triumph”), nor will they recover their kingdom until they come to know precisely what they want and proclaim it directly and boldly enough to make their words a stimulus to action. And if an atmosphere of fear does not encourage accurate thinking, then they must first of all come to terms with fear.

To come to terms, one must understand what fear means: what it implies and what it rejects. It implies and rejects the same fact: a world where murder is legitimate, and were human life is considered trifling [Note 5]. This is the great political question of our times, and before dealing with other issues, one must take a position on it. Before anything can be done, two questions must be put: “do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted? Do you or do you not, directly or indirectly, want to kill or assault?” All who say No to both these questions are automatically committed to a series of consequences which must modify their way of posing the problem. My aim here is to clarify two or three of these consequences.

Saving our Skins
I once said that, after the experiences of the last two years, I could no longer hold to any truth which might oblige me, directly or indirectly, to demand a man’s life. Certain friends whom I respected retorted that I was living in Utopia, that there was no political truth which could not one day reduce us to such an extremity, and that we must therefore either run the risk of this extremity or else simply put up with the world as it is.

They argued the point most forcefully. But I think they were able to put such force into it only because they were unable to really imagine other people’s death. It is a freak of the times. We make love by telephone, we work not on matter but on machines, and we kill and are killed by proxy. We gain in cleanliness, but lose in understanding.

But the argument has another, indirect meaning: it poses the question of Utopia. People like myself want not a world in which murder no longer exists (we are not so crazy as that!) but rather one in which murder is not legitimate. Here indeed we are Utopian — and contradictory. For we do live, it is true, in a world where murder is legitimate, and we ought to change it if we do not like it. But it appears that we cannot change it without risking murder. Murder thus throws us back on murder, and we will continue to live in terror whether we accept the fact with resignation or wish to abolish it by means which merely replace one terror with another.

It seems to me everyone should think this over. For what strikes me, in the midst of polemics, threats and outbursts of violence, is the fundamental goodwill of everyone. From Right to Left, everyone, with the exception of a few swindlers, believes that his particular truth is the one to make men happy. And yet the combination of all these good intentions has produced the present infernal world, where men are killed, threatened and deported, where war is prepared, where one cannot speak freely without being insulted or betrayed. Thus if people like ourselves live in a state of contradiction, we are not the only ones, and those who accuse us of Utopianism are possibly themselves also living in a Utopia, a different one but perhaps a more costly one in the end.

Let us, then, admit that our refusal to legitimise murder forces us to reconsider our whole idea of Utopia. This much seems clear: Utopia is whatever is in contradiction with reality. From this standpoint, it would be completely Utopian to wish that men should no longer kill each other. That would be absolute Utopia. But a much sounder Utopia is that which insists that murder be no longer legitimised. Indeed, the Marxian and the capitalist ideologies, both based on the idea of progress, both certain that the application of their principles must inevitably bring about a harmonious society, are Utopian to a much greater degree. Furthermore, they are both at the moment costing us dearly [Note 6].

We may therefore conclude, practically, that in the next few years the struggle will be not between the forces of Utopia and the forces of reality, but between different Utopias which are attempting to be born into reality. It will be simply a matter of choosing the least costly among them. I am convinced that we can no longer reasonably hope to save everything, but that we can at least propose to save our skins, so that a future, if not the future remains a possibility.

Thus (1) to refuse to sanction murder is no more Utopian than the “realistic” ideologies of our day, and (2) the whole point is whether these latter are more or less costly. It may, therefore, be useful to try to define, in Utopian terms, the conditions which are needed to bring about the pacification of men and nations. This line of thought, assuming it is carried on without fear and without pretensions, may help to create the preconditions for clear thinking and a provisional agreement between men who want to be neither victims nor executioners. In what follows, they attempt will be not to work out a complete position, but simply too correct some current misconceptions and propose the question of Utopia as accurately as possible. The attempt, in short, will be to define the conditions for a political position that is modest — i.e., free of messianism and disencumbered of nostalgia for an earthly paradise.

The Self-Deception of the Socialists
If we agree that we have lived for ten years in a state of terror and still so live, and that this terror is our chief source of anxiety, then we must see what we can oppose to this terror. Which brings up the question of socialism. For terror is legitimised only if we assent to the principle: “the end justifies the means.” And this principle in turn may be accepted only if the effectiveness of an action is posed as an absolute end, as in nihilistic ideologies (anything goes, success is the only thing worth talking about), or in those philosophies which make History an absolute end (Hegel, followed by Marx: the end being a classless society, everything is good that leads to it).

Such is the problem confronting French Socialists, for example [Note 7]. They are bothered by scruples. Violence and oppression, of which they had hitherto only a theoretical idea, they have now seen at first-hand. And they have had to ask themselves whether, as their philosophy requires, they would consent to use that violence themselves, even as a temporary expedient and for a quite different end. The author of a recent preface to Saint–Just, speaking of men of an earlier age who had similar scruples, wrote contemptuously: “They recoiled in the face of horrors.” True enough. And so they deserved to be despised by strong, superior spirits who could live among horrors without flinching. But all the same, they gave a voice to the agonised appeal of commonplace spirits like ourselves, the millions who constitute the raw material of History and who must someday be taken into account, despite all contempt.

A more important task, I think, is to try to understand the state of contradiction and confusion in which our Socialists now exist. We have not thought enough about the moral crisis of French Socialism, as expressed, for example in a recent party congress. It is clear that our Socialists, under the influence of Leon Blum and even more under the pressure of events, have preoccupied themselves much more with moral questions (the end does not justify all means) than in the past. Quite properly, they wanted to base themselves on principles which rise superior to murder. It is also clear that these same Socialists want to preserve Marxian doctrine, some because they think one cannot be revolutionary without being Marxist, others, by fidelity to party tradition, which tells them that one cannot be socialist without being Marxist. The chief task of the last party congress was to reconcile the the desire for a morality superior to murder with the determination to remain faithful to Marxism. But one cannot reconcile what is irreconcilable.

For if it is clear that Marxism is true and there is logic in History, then political realism is legitimate. It is equally clear that if the moral values extolled by the Socialist Party are legitimate, then Marxism is absolutely false sense it claims to be absolutely true. From this point of view, the famous “going beyond” Marxism in an idealistic and humanitarian direction is a joke and an idle dream. It is impossible to “go beyond” Marx, for he himself carried his thought to its extreme logical consequences. The Communists have a solid logical basis for using the lies and the violence which the Socialists reject, and the basis is that very dialectic which the Socialists want to preserve. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Socialist congress ended by simply putting forward simultaneously two contradictory positions — a conclusion whose sterility appears in the results of the recent elections.

This way, confusion will never end. A choice was necessary, and the Socialists would not or could not choose.

I have chosen this example not to score off the Socialists but to illustrate the paradoxes among which we live. To score off the Socialists, one would have to be superior to them. This is not yet the case. On the contrary, I think this contradiction is common to all those of whom I speak, those who want a society which we can both enjoy and respect; those who want men to be both free and just, but who hesitate between a freedom in which they know justice is finally betrayed and a justice in which they see freedom suppressed from the first. Those who know What Is To Be Done or What Is To Be Thought make fun of this intolerable anguish. But I think it would be better, instead of jeering at it, to try to understand and clarify this anguish, see what it means, interpret its quasi-total rejection of a world which provokes it, and trace out the feeble hope that suffuses it.

A hope that is grounded precisely in this contradiction, since it forces — or will force — the Socialists to make a choice. They will either admit that the end justifies the means, in which case murder can be legitimised; or else, they will reject Marxism as an absolute philosophy, confining themselves to its critical aspect, which is often valuable. If they choose the first, their moral crisis would be ended, and their position will be unambiguous. If the second, they will exemplify the way our period marks the end of ideologies, that is, of absolute Utopias which destroy themselves, in History, by the price they ultimately exact. It will then be necessary to choose a most modest and less costly Utopia. At least it is in these terms that the refusal to legitimise murder forces us to pose the problem.

Yes, that is the question we must put, and no one, I think, will venture to answer it likely.

Parody of Revolution
Since August, 1944, everybody talks about revolution, and quite sincerely too. But sincerity is not in itself a virtue: some kinds are so confused that they are worse than lies. Not the language of the heart but merely that of clear thinking is what we need today. Ideally, a revolution is a change in political and economic institutions in order to introduce more freedom and justice; practically, it is a complex of historical events, often undesirable ones, which brings about the happy transformation.

Can one say that we use this word today in its classical sense? When people nowadays hear the word, “revolution,” they think of a change in property relations (generally collectivisation) which may be brought about either by majority legislation or by a minority coup.

This concept obviously lacks meaning in present historical circumstances. For one thing, the violent seizure of power is a romantic idea which the perfection of armaments has made illusory. Since the repressive apparatus of a modern State commands tanks and airplanes, tanks and airplanes are needed to counter it. 1789 and 1917 are still historic dates, but they are no longer historic examples.

And even assuming this conquest of power were possible, by violence or by law, it would be effective only if France (or Italy or Czechoslovakia) could be put into parantheses and isolated from the rest of the world. For, in the actual historical situation of 1946, a change in our old property system would involve, to give only one example, such consequences to our American credits that our economy would be threatened with ruin. A right-wing coup would be no more successful, because of Russia with her millions of French Communist voters and her position as the dominant continental power. The truth is — excuse me for stating openly what everyone knows and no one says — the truth is that we French are not free to make a revolution. Or at least that we can be no longer revolutionary all by ourselves, since there no longer exists any policy, conservative or socialist, which can operate exclusively within a national framework.
Thus we can only speak of world revolution. The revolution will be made on a world scale or it will not be made at all. But what meaning does this expression still retain? There was a time when it was thought that international reform would be brought about by the conjunction or the synchronisation of a number of national revolutions — a kind of totting — up of miracles. But today one can conceive only the extension of a revolution that has already succeeded. This is something Stalin has very well understood, and it is the kindest explanation of his policies (the other being to refuse Russia the right to speak in the name of revolution).

This viewpoint boils down to conceiving of Europe and the West as a single nation in which a powerful and well — armed minority is struggling to take power. But if the conservative forces — in this case, the USA — are equally well armed, clearly the idea of revolution is replaced by that of ideological warfare. More precisely, world revolution today involves a very great danger of war. Every future revolution will be a foreign revolution. It will begin with a military occupation — or, what comes to the same thing, the blackmail threat of one. And it will become significant only when the occupying power has conquered the rest of the world [Note 8].

Inside national boundaries, revolutions have already been costly enough — a cost that has been accepted because of the progress they are assumed to bring. Today the cost of a world war must be weighed against the progress that may be hoped for from either Russia or America gaining world power. And I think it of first importance that such a balance be struck, and that for once we use a little imagination about what this globe, where already 30 million fresh corpses lie, will be like after it cataclysm which will cost us ten times as many.

Note that this is a truly objected approach, taking account only of reality without bringing in ideological or sentimental considerations. It should give pause to those who talk lightly of revolution. The present-day content of this word must be accepted or rejected as a whole. If it be accepted, then one must recognise a conscious responsibility for the coming war. If rejected, then one must either come out for the status quo — which is a mood of absolute Utopia in so far as it assumes the “freezing” of history — or else give a new content to the word “revolution,” which means assenting to what might be called relative Utopia. Those who want to change the world must, it seems to me, now choose between the charnel-house threatened by the impossible dream of history suddenly struck motionless, and the acceptance of a relative Utopia which gives some leeway to action and to mankind. Relative Utopia is the only realistic choice; it is our last frail hope of saving our skins.

International Democracy and Dictatorship
We know today that there are no more islands, that frontiers are just lines on a map. We know that in a steadily accelerating world, were the Atlantic is crossed in less than a day and Moscow speaks to Washington in a few minutes, we are forced into fraternity — or complicity. The forties have taught us that an injury done a student in Prague strikes down simultaneously a worker in Clichy, that blood shed on the banks of a Central European river brings a Texas farmer to spill his own blood in the Ardennes, which he sees for the first time. There is no suffering, no torture anywhere in the world which does not affect our everyday lives.

Many Americans would like to go on living closed off in their own society, which they find good. Many Russians perhaps would like to carry on their Statist experiment holding aloof from the capitalist world. They cannot do so, nor will they ever again be able to do so. Likewise, no economic problem, however minor it appears, can be solved outside the comity of nations. Europe’s bread is in Buenos Aires, Siberian machine-tools are made in Detroit. Today, tragedy is collective.

We know, then, without shadow of a doubt, that the new order we seek cannot be merely national, or even continental; certainly not occidental nor oriental. It must be universal. No longer can we hope for anything from partial solutions or concessions. We are living in a state of compromise, i.e., anguish today and murder tomorrow. And all the while the pace of history and the world is accelerating. The 21 deaf men, the war criminals of tomorrow, who today negotiate the peace carry on their monotonous conversations placidly seated in an express-train which bears them toward the abyss at a 1000 miles an hour.

What are the methods by which this world unity may be achieved, this international revolution realised in which the resources of men, of raw materials, of commercial markets and cultural riches may be better distributed? I see only two and these two between them define our ultimate alternative.

The world can be united from above, by a single State more powerful than the others. The USSR or the USA could do it. I have nothing to say to the claim that they could rule and remodel the world in the image of their own society. As a Frenchman, and still more as a Mediterranean, I find the idea repellent. But I do not insist on this sentimental argument. My only objection is, as stated in the last election, that this unification could not be accomplished without war — or at least without serious risk of war. I will even grant what I do not believe: that it would not be an atomic war. The fact remains, nevertheless, that the coming war will leave humanity so mutilated and impoverished that the very idea of law and order will become an anachronistic. Marx could justify, as he did, the war of 1870, for it was a provincial war fought with Chassepot rifles. In the Marxian perspective, a 100,000 corpses are nothing if they are the price of the happiness of hundreds of millions of men [Note 9]. But the sure death of millions of men for the hypothetical happiness of the survivors seems too high a price to pay. The dizzy rate at which weapons have evolved, a historical fact ignored by Marx, forces us to raise anew the whole question of means and ends. And in this instance, the means can leave us little doubt about the end. Whatever the desired end, however lofty and necessary, whether happiness or justice or liberty — the means employed to attain it represent so enormous a risk and are so disproportionate to the slender hopes of success, that, in all sober objectivity, we must refuse to run this risk.

This leaves us only the alternative method of achieving a world order: the mutual agreement of all parties. This agreement has a name: international democracy. Of course everyone talks about the U.N. but what is international democracy? It is a democracy which is international. (The truism will perhaps be excused, since the most self-evident truths are also the ones most frequently distorted.) International — or national — democracy is a form of society in which law has authority over those governed, law being the expression of the common will as expressed in a legislative body. An international legal code is indeed now being prepared. But this code is made and broken by governments, that is by the executive power. We are thus faced with a regime of international dictatorship. The only way of extricating ourselves is to create a world parliament through elections in which all peoples will participate, which will enact legislation which will exercise authority over national governments. Since we do not have such a parliament, all we can do now is to resist international dictatorship; to resist on a world scale; and to resist by means which are not in contradiction with the end we seek.

The World Speeds Up
As everyone knows, political thought today lags more and more behind events. Thus the French fought the 1914 war with 1870 methods, and the 1939 war with 1918 methods. Antiquated thinking is not, however, a French specialty. We need only recall that the future of the world is being shaped by liberal-capitalist principles, developed in the 18th century and by “scientific socialist” principles developed in the 19th. Systems of thought which, in the former case, date from the early years of modern industrialism, and in the latter, from the age of Darwinism and of Renanian optimism, now propose to master the age of the atomic bomb, of sudden mutations, and of nihilism.

It is true that consciousness is always lagging behind reality: History rushes onward while thought reflects. But this inevitable backwardness becomes more pronounced the faster History speeds up. The world has changed more in the past 50 years than it did in the previous 200 years thus we see nations quarrelling over frontiers when everyone knows that today frontiers are mere abstractions. Nationalism was, to all appearances, the dominant note at the Conference of the 21.

Today we concentrate our political thinking on the German problem, which is a secondary problem compared to the clash of empires which threatens us. But if tomorrow we resolve the Russo-American conflict we may see ourselves once more outdistanced. Already the clash of empires is in process of becoming secondary to the clash of civilizations [Note 10]. Everywhere the colonial peoples are asserting themselves. Perhaps in ten years, perhaps in 50, the dominance of Western civilisation itself will be called into question. We might as well recognise this now, and admit these civilisations into the world parliament, so that its code of law may become truly universal, and a universal order be established.

The veto issue in the U.N. today is a false issue because the conflicting majorities and minorities are false. The USSR will always have the right to reject majority rule so long as it is a majority of ministers and not a majority of peoples, all peoples, represented by their delegates. Once such a majority comes into being, then each nation must obey it or else reject its law — that is, openly proclaim its will to dominate… [Note 11]

To reply once more and finally to the accusation of Utopia: for us, the choice is simple, Utopia or the war now being prepared by antiquated modes of thought. … Sceptical though we are (and as I am), realism forces us to this Utopian alternative. When our Utopia has become part of history, as with many others of like kind, men will find themselves unable to conceive reality without it. For History is simply man’s desperate effort to give body to his most clairvoyant dreams.

A New Social Contract
All contemporary political thinking which refuses to justify lies and murder is led to the following conclusions: (1) domestic policy is in itself a secondary matter; (2) the only problem is the creation of a world order which will bring about those lasting reforms which are the distinguishing mark of a revolution; (3) within any given nation there exist now only administrative problems, to be solved provisionally after a fashion, until a solution is worked out which will be more effective because more general.

For example, the French Constitution can only be evaluated in terms of the support it gives or fails to give to a world order based on justice and the free exchange of ideas. From this viewpoint, we must criticise the indifference of our Constitution to the simplest human liberties. And we must also recognise that the problem of restoring the food supply is ten times more important than such issues as nationalisation or election figures. Nationalisation will not work in a single country. And although the food supply cannot be assured either within a single country, it is a more pressing problem and calls for expedients, provisional though they may be.

And so this viewpoint gives us a hitherto lacking criterion by which to judge domestic policy. 30 editorials in Aube may range themselves every month against 30 in Humanité, but they will not cause us to forget that both newspapers, together with the parties they represent, have acquiesced in the annexation without a referendum of Briga and Tenda, and that they are thus accomplices in the destruction of international democracy. Regardless of their good or bad intentions, Mr. Bidault and Mr. Thorez are both in favour of international dictatorship. From this aspect, whatever other opinion one may have of them, they represent in our politics not realism but the most disastrous kind of Utopianism.

Yes, we must minimise domestic politics. A crisis which tears the whole world apart must be met on a world scale. A social system for everybody which will somewhat allay each one’s misery and fear is today our logical objective. But that calls for action and for sacrifices, that is, for men. And if there are many today who, in their secret hearts, detest violence and killing, there are not many who care to recognise that this forces them to reconsider their actions and thoughts. Those who want to make such an effort, however, will find in such a social system a rational hope and a guide to action.

They will admit that little is to be expected from present-day governments, since these live and act according to a murderous code. Hope remains only in the most difficult task of all: to reconsider everything from the ground up, so as to shape a living society inside a dying society. Men must therefore, as individuals, draw up among themselves, within frontiers and across them, a new social contract which will unite them according to more reasonable principles.

The peace movement I speak of could base itself, inside nations, on work-communities and, internationally, on intellectual communities; the former, organised cooperatively, would help as many individuals as possible to solve their material problems, while the latter would try to define the values by which this international community would live, and would also plead its cause on every occasion.

More precisely, the latter’s task would be to speak out clearly against the confusions of the Terror and at the same time to define the values by which a peaceful world may live. The first objectives might be the drawing up of an international code of justice whose Article No. 1 would be the abolition of the death penalty, and an exposition of the basic principles of a sociable culture (“civilisation du dialogue”). Such an undertaking would answer the needs of an era which has found no philosophical justification for that thirst for fraternity which today burns in Western man. There is no idea, naturally, of constructing a new ideology, but rather of discovering a style of life.

Let us suppose that certain individuals resolve that they will consistently oppose to power the force of example; to authority, exhortation; to insult, friendly reasoning; to trickery, simple honour. Let us suppose they refuse all the advantages of present-day society and accept only the duties and obligations which bind them to other men. Let us suppose they devote themselves to orienting education, the press and public opinion toward the principles outlined here. Then I say that such men would be acting not as Utopians but as honest realists Note 12]. They would be preparing the future and at the same time knocking down a few of the walls which imprisoned us today. If realism be the art of taking into account both the present and future, of gaining the most while sacrificing the least, then who can fail to see the positively dazzling realism of such behaviour?

Whether these men will arise or not I do not know it is probable that most of them are even now thinking things over, and that is good. But one thing is sure: their efforts will be effective only to the degree they have the courage to give up, for the present, some of their dreams, so as to grasp the more firmly the essential point on which our very lives depend. Once there, it will perhaps turn out to be necessary, before they are done, to raise their voices.

Towards Sociability
Yes, we must raise our voices. Up to this point, I have refrained from appealing to emotion. We are being torn apart by a logic of History which we have elaborated in every detail — a net which threatens to strangle us. It is not emotion which can cut through the web of a logic which has gone to irrational lengths, but only reason which can meet logic on its own ground. But I should not want to leave the impression in concluding, that any program for the future can get along without our powers of love and indignation. I am well aware that it takes a powerful prime mover to get men into motion and that it is hard to throw one’s self into a struggle whose objectives are so modest and where hope has only a rational basis — and hardly even that. But the problem is not how to carry men away; it is essential, on the contrary, that they not be carried away but rather that they be made to understand clearly what they are doing.

To save what can be saved so as to open up some kind of future — that is the prime mover, the passion and the sacrifice that is required. It demands only that we reflect and then decide, clearly, whether humanity’s lot must be made still more miserable in order to achieve far-off and shadowy ends, whether we should accept a world bristling with arms where brother kills brother; or whether, on the contrary we should avoid bloodshed and misery as much as possible so that we give a chance for survival to later generations better equipped than we are.
For my part, I am fairly sure that I have made the choice. And, having chosen, I think that I must speak out, that I must state that I will never again be one of those, whoever they be, who compromise with murder, and that I must take the consequences of such a decision. The thing is done, and that is as far as I can go at present. Before concluding, however, I want to make clear the spirit in which this article is written.

We are asked to love or to hate such and such a country and such and such a people. But some of us feel too strongly our common humanity to make such a choice. Those who really love the Russian people, in gratitude for what they have never ceased to be — that world leaven which Tolstoy and Gorky speak of — do not wish for them success in power-politics, but rather want to spare them, after the ordeals of the past, a new and even more terrible bloodletting. So, too, with the American people, and with the peoples of unhappy Europe. This is the kind of elementary truth we are liable to forget amidst the furious passions of our time.

Yes, it is fear and silence and the spiritual isolation they cause that must be fought today. And it is sociability (“le dialogue”) and the universal intercommunication of men that must be defended. Slavery, injustice and lies destroy this intercourse and forbid this sociability; and so we must reject them. But these evils are today the very stuff of History, so that many consider them necessary evils. It is true that we cannot “escape History,” since we are in it up to our necks. But one may propose to fight within History to preserve from History that part of man which is not its proper province. That is all I have tried to say here. The “point” of this article may be summed up as follows:

Modern nations are driven by powerful forces along the roads of power and domination. I would not say that these forces should be furthered or that they should be obstructed. They hardly need our help and, for the moment, they laugh at attempts to hinder them. They will, then, continue. But I will ask only this simple question: what if these forces wind up in a dead end, what if that logic of history on which so many now rely turns out to be a will o’ the wisp? What if, despite two or three world wars, despite the sacrifice of several generations and a whole system of values, our grandchildren — supposing they survive — find themselves no closer to a world society? It may well be that the survivors of such an experience would be too weak to understand their own sufferings. Since these forces are working themselves out and since it is inevitable that they continue to do so, there is no reason why some of us should not take on the job of keeping alive, through the apocalyptic historical vista that stretches before us, a modest thoughtfulness which, without pretending to solve everything, will constantly be prepared to give some human meaning to everyday life. The essential thing is that people should carefully weigh the price they must pay.

To conclude: all I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderous themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has 1000 times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honourable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.

Notes from SAK:
(1) An 8-meter wall is indeed being built by Israel when Robert Frost (Mending Wall) asserts “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

(2) In the present age even democracies can be hijacked by ideologies …

(3) Osama B. Laden, G. W. Bush … The majority of those polled in Europe now believe the US is currently the greatest threat to world peace.

(4) Many thanks for a forum that make dialogue & sociability possible still. The advice to messianic leaders is therefore to get out more … and see not only “the beauty of nature and of human faces” but also the results of their actions on “people”.

(5) Michael Moore has single-handedly brought the catastrophic effects of fear to light.

(6) The capitalist ideology magnified by globalisation might indeed be causing the more damage currently if only because the Marxist ideology is no longer being tried!

(7) Although interesting historically this section is no longer very relevant to French politics.

(8) Hence the growing resistance to a unipolar world – it takes great intelligence for a single super power to resist the temptations of world domination.

(9) Europe lost more during the 10 years of world wars I & II on a daily basis (on average) than the US suffered in the World Trade Center attack. This might explain why Le Monde’s headline on Sept. 12th was “We Are All Americans” but the solidarity seemed to dissolve when the US reaction became aggressively evident and Europe suddenly turned wimpishly pacifist.

(10) The “clash of civilizations” in so many words and in 1946! That should give credence to Camus’ whole thesis. This is a matter of life or death indeed.

(11) So has the Bush administration come out? “Once such a majority comes into being, then each nation must obey it or else reject its law — that is, openly proclaim its will to dominate.”

(12) All those working for Peace & Justice are the realists, not the utopians.

Dick Bernard, Jan 14, 2014, thoughts after reading Camus and the end notes from SAK
1. Every ideology has its hierarchy, and as it begins to reach its seeming goal, all goes awry. So, the radical extremes of socialism in the twentieth century were National Socialism (Nazis) in Germany, and Communism in the Soviet Union. The closer on came to utopian ideals the greater the disaster. So, I believe, it can be said for those who strive for the perfection of any ‘ism’, the ascendance of money, freedom, unfettered capitalism, some religious dogma or other. Any and all of these have charismatic leaders who if unchecked ultimately bring disaster to their subjects.

2. Those “married” to their own favorite ideology will deny #1.

3. Camus, I would argue, was attempting to talk some sense into rigid idealists, ideologues, who would if given free rein simply replace one ideology with another which in the end, if their goal was realized, would be equally disastrous.

4. Currently, unfettered Capitalism and Money dominates the American conversation. Money is Power. We are sowing the seeds of our own destruction by the ever-increasing gap between have and have not; but…

5. …it is easier to complain and aspire to an unreachable ideal, than to work for incremental and slow change, which requires compromise.

6. It is possible, perhaps probable, that it is the nature of humans to procrastinate on everything, including waiting for a disaster to happen before attending to the causes that created the disaster in the first place. If this be true, we are probably “toast”, since we possess the capability of essentially destroying what we know as “civilization” in the next war, simply using the technology that we now possess.

I hope that this is not the case.

#824 – Dick Bernard: “Christmas” Mail; thinking ahead as the New Year begins.

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

This is a very long post, and includes very divergent opinions from several people. I pass it along because I think it is interesting, and of current interest and concern. I invite comments. I muse about how to break the ideological polarity that is slowly strangling us as a country. For those readers who do not know me: I was born in 1940, born and reared amongst the so-called greatest generation which survived the Great Depression and WWII, and is now most departed. I am a military veteran (Army 1962-63) from a family full of military veterans, documented at least as far back as 1862-63.

Among ample “Christmas” mail, were two e-items from people I know. The “forward” is printed in its entirety at the end of this post. Following it is an impassioned more personal letter from a friend I’ve known for most of my life.

A third comment, below, is a letter to the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, written by a long-time neighbor two houses over from us, who’s a great guy, mid-80s, who if asked about us would say we’re great neighbors too, though it probably didn’t compute with him that he was, in effect, writing about us in his rant to the world, as we are “liberal” Democrats and active Catholics who might actually agree with portions of his letter. We never have we talked “politics” with him – one picks ones battles. The contents of his letter are not surprising, though it was surprising to see he’d actually written the letter. He and his wife are very nice folks, good to share a neighborhood with, as are we…. [Carol responds to this letter later in this post, before the "forward".]

(click to enlarge)

Letter to Editor Dec 15, 2013

Letter to Editor Dec 15, 2013

I never decline the angry “forwards” – there are a few who send them regularly. I reply to them; most are false either in fact or implication, most are from people in my generation (older, social security and medicare recipients) and all are in one way or another seething with anger, resentment and full of fear.

But they’re worth looking at (at least so I think) and worth responding to. These folks are an ever smaller minority in this country, but they vote, and they are useful tools for those whose agenda is against their own selfish interests….

In the below instance, I sent the “forward” (“The typical U.S. household” one) to a number of friends, and got some interesting responses, which are passed along as received. I didn’t ask for responses, and I didn’t edit, or remove any. These are people sharing back their own feelings.

As for the folks who send along the angry and false stuff, I feel badly for them, but they simply energize me to do more to make sure their attitude does not result in the kind of “Tea Party Nation” we almost dissolved into between 2010 and 2014.

This is an election year, and if we want positive change, be aware of what happens when greed and anger prevail…. Become aware of the issues, register and vote.

My introduction to the “forward” as I passed it on: The guy who sent this to me is somebody whose Dad was an immigrant. He spent many years in the military, enlisted and civilian, and he’s in a network out west which seems to be heavily military oriented.
I might respond to the [originator] guy though, as with [my friend], who sent it to me, it is wasted words.
This is the bitter, angry, old fringe that still has a lot of power, fueled by anger and, as is said, money.
They believe their own propaganda. You know people like them, certainly.
The only antidote is to work like you’ve never worked to elect some viable alternative. I emphasize “viable”.

The responses to the “forward”, unedited:
from Joyce, a quote from Charles Pierce: “The Scary Liberal is still a formidable bogeyman to people terrified of their own best interests.”

from Jeff: I just delete this stuff… I am not sure what one can honestly say to it. If you posted a point by point rebuttal with reasoned thought, they would only delete it too. No generation deems worship… life goes on.

from Carol: There are no links to these guys, but could you pass this on??

I also am an “old geezer,” I guess (female variety). I voted for Obama. Twice. I don’t understand your reference to “tasting socialism.” As far as “seeing evil face to face,” yes – most any time we watch the news or pick up the newspaper. Evil has been around longer than you or I. I don’t happen to think “evil” resides in the White House (or in a President who happens to be of a different color than I am). I don’t choose to blame the Obama administration for the problems that started before he was even in office. Or those created by a greedy Wall Street.

People like you (and yes, it’s almost always old white men) make me sad. You deserve our nation’s greatest thanks for your military service/sacrifices. You deserve credit for your hard work, raising good families, and for voting. You do not deserve credit for your paranoia or racism. The world changes – with or without your approval. Your bitterness only serves to make people avoid you (trust me, I had angry old uncles…) Those outdoor biffies (my family had one) are gone – along with your “white bread” world. (Back then my German immigrant ancestors were treated with suspicion and persecuted here, by the way. There’s always somebody around we can find who’s scary, and to whom we can feel superior – if we choose.)

Adjust. It’s really not your/my world anymore. You act like “mostly the young people of this nation” had no right to vote for Obama – or maybe to vote at all, without your permission? Befriend someone who doesn’t look exactly like you (maybe one of those feared “immigrants”). You may get a whole new outlook on the life you have left.

from Peter (see also additional response in “responses” section): I’m always a little puzzled when you talk about “viable” candidates. There are several reasons for this. I understand that in your life you have worked in a domain where cooler heads were essential to progress, and moderation could actually work. At the national politics level, however, I don’t think anything works as designed anymore; it has been broken, maybe purposefully, so that now (as your correspondent below believes) money is key. So it boils down to this: money equals viability as a candidate. But we can’t win that game by trying to out-spend the opposition, especially when the opposition is not confined to party lines in the least. We’re playing tennis, while they play football.

That situation is so antithetical to democracy that until it is resolved I don’t consider that we have any vestigial shadow of the thing left to us. It is decades beyond time for national strikes and massive demonstrations, and these have been forestalled, so far, largely by convincing people that they are futile, and the rest by the simple expedient of news blackout. How many of the massive turnouts on the DC Mall this year reached the ears and eyes of, say, 20% of Americans?

What I think we disagree on here is that I believe working to elect a candidate who is “viable” is a dead end, that Obama is doing pretty good for a guy who certainly wouldn’t survive a full term if he stood up to the banksters and the fanatics, but a President is not the real power in the country, nor is Congress, any more. We are now non-voting shareholders in a wholly-owned subsidiary of what Jane Stillwater calls “War Street.” We all need to catch up to this, or we will continue in the downward spiral we see unfolding now. Under that scenario, when enough of us have died off from poverty and pandemic disease that the climate can stabilize, humanity may yet survive. In some very stunted form.

“They don’t think it be like it is but it do.”

Dick’s response to Peter about “viable”: Since 1787, the U.S. has been governed by people elected by rules in place at the time. In order to make any difference at all, you need to be elected, which means you need a majority of the people who vote, to vote for you. There is no alternative. The Tea Party types got in more because more reasonable people didn’t go to the polls in 2010. We got the bitter, anger, selfish folks we deserve, and we’ve seen the results – the Congress with the lowest approval ratings ever in 2013.

I always remember the advice I gave my sister when she was elected to a school board years ago. She would be the only liberal on what sounded like a very conservative board: “remember, that to get anything accomplished, you first need to find someone to second your motion; and then you need to find two more members who will also vote with you”. It’s simple common sense. And she ended up serving two successful terms. Governing by influence of money and raw power is how things work now. We are the ones who have to change that.

from Bob: Actually, it’s worse than “bitter and angry,” it’s downright stupid! It’s really too bad that some that close to the military is so ignorant. Apparently, when he listed his studies, it noticeably did not include civics, and his history teacher failed miserably. He hasn’t a clue what socialism is.

Then he says the very people who aren’t interested in voting actually elected Obama. And those are the same people traitors like him are trying to suppress in the voting process. He also has to understand the Constitution before he starts spouting off about patriotism.

Then he laments “No jobs, lost mortgages, higher taxes, and less freedom,” most of which have been caused by the Bush/Cheney crowd who I assume he adores.

To put it mildly, this writer is a moron. I’m a “geezer,” but I’m sure not a friend of his.

from Howie: I am not sure why either you or Dick are forwarding this message to anyone. In doing so, you run the risk of putting it into the hands of other crackpots who are teetering on thinking in the same way. I get from one to several of this kind of rant every week. Some I critique and return to the person who sent it to me as a way of cauterizing the infection. Others go right into my “trash” file. I suggest you do one of the same. There is no need to tell others that there are crazies out there. We know. Ten minutes of Fox News accomplishes that goal.

from Carol: Dick- Sometimes I think it’s amusing/amazing to google a line from things like that “old geezer” rant you sent out. This one is all over the place – inc. versions with some interesting edits (below). But check out the end for part of a long online rebuttal… :)

from Carol, Jan 4, 2014, responding to Letter to Editor above: Interesting that your (really nice) neighbor blames the “degenerate liberal culture” and Democrats for the law since the state senate voted for it unanimously. And he’s pretty paranoid about it being targeted only against the Catholic Church – not the Boy Scouts, etc.

That “local attorney” has been filing these types of cases for like 30 years (the law firm where I worked was involved in the huge “Father Porter” case). If becoming rich were his goal, he probably arrived there long ago.

I see it’s everybody’s fault but the Catholic Church.

******
“There are those who want to destroy and change this land we love but, like our founders, there is no way we are going to remain silent and allow them to do it without a big time bloody fight.
This land does not belong to the Marxist puppet in the White House nor to the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
We didn’t fight for the Socialist Communist States of America, we fought for the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”

on-line response from someone from “Youth Fix-it Brigade”
“So, Gray-Haired Geezer, please don’t stampede to the polls with your walker and your equally delusional friends. As noble as you think your sentiments are, we know they aren’t true. You’ll keep on voting to extend Social Security, to keep Medicaid around so I can subsidize the continuation of your artificially preserved life and you’ll keep sending back the same losers you’ve been sending to congress for the past 50 years. And, you’ll either cause an accident on your way to the polls or drive so slow getting there that you’ll prevent five members of my generation from getting to the ballot box on time to cast their more informed votes.”

* * * * * *

The “forward”, received January 2, 2014 from Robert, via Steve, via who knows how many others:
“The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday. If all of us “old farts” have all of the money, then let us try to elect someone who might be near honest and not be after feathering their own nests.

They like to refer to us as senior citizens, old fogies, geezers, and in some cases dinosaurs. Some of us are “Baby Boomers” getting ready to retire. Others have been retired for some time. We walk a little slower these days and our eyes and hearing are not what they once were. We have worked hard, raised our children, worshiped our God and grown old together. Yes, we are the ones some refer to as being over the hill, and that is probably true. But before writing us off completely, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration.

In school we studied English, history, math, and science which enabled us to lead America into the technological age. Most of us remember what outhouses were, many of us with firsthand experience.

We remember the days of telephone party-lines, 25 cent gasoline, and milk and ice being delivered to our homes. For those of you who don’t know what an icebox is, today they are electric and referred to as refrigerators. A few even remember when cars were started with a crank. Yes, we lived those days.

We are probably considered old fashioned and out-dated by many. But there are a few things you need to remember before completely writing us off. We won World War II, fought in Korea and Viet Nam. We can quote The Pledge of Allegiance, and know where to place our hand while doing so. We wore the uniform of our country with pride and lost many friends on the battlefield.

We didn’t fight for the Socialist States of America; we fought for the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” We wore different uniforms but carried the same flag. We know the words to the Star Spangled Banner, America , and America the Beautiful by heart, and you may even see some tears running down our cheeks as we sing. We have lived what many of you have only read in history books and we feel no obligation to apologize to anyone for America.

Yes, we are old and slow these days but rest assured, we have at least one good fight left in us. We have loved this country, fought for it, and died for it, and now we are going to save it. It is our country and nobody is going to take it away from us. We took oaths to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that is an oath we plan to keep. There are those who want to destroy this land we love but, like our founders, there is no way we are going to remain silent.

It was mostly the young people of this nation who elected Obama and the Democratic Congress. You fell for the “Hope and Change” which in reality was nothing but “Hype and Lies.”

You have tasted socialism and seen evil face to face, and have found you don’t like it after all. You make a lot of noise, but most are all too interested in their careers or “Climbing the Social Ladder” to be involved in such mundane things as patriotism and voting. Many of those who fell for the “Great Lie” in 2008 are now having buyer’s remorse. With all the education we gave you, you didn’t have sense enough to see through the lies and instead drank the ‘Kool-Aid.’ Now you’re paying the price and complaining about it. No jobs, lost mortgages, higher taxes, and less freedom.

This is what you voted for and this is what you got. We entrusted you with the Torch of Liberty and you traded it for a paycheck and a fancy house.

Well, don’t worry youngsters, the Grey-Haired Brigade is here, and in 2014 we are going to take back our nation. We may drive a little slower than you would like but we get where we’re going, and in 2014 we’re going to the polls by the millions.

This land does not belong to the man in the White House nor to the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It belongs to “We the People” and “We the People” plan to reclaim our land and our freedom. We hope this time you will do a better job of preserving it and passing it along to our grandchildren. So the next time you have the chance to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Stand up, put your hand over your heart, honor our country, and thank God for the old geezers of the “Grey-Haired Brigade.”

Footnote:
This is spot on. I am another Gray-Haired Geezer signing on. I will circulate this to other Gray-Haired Geezers all over this once great county.

Can you feel the ground shaking???

It’s not an earthquake, it is a STAMPEDE.

Dec 17 letter from someone I’ll call Jim, who I’ve known near 70 years, who is fond of sending “forwards”, mostly false, but this time, spoke personally to me:
“Mr. Bernard . You call yourself a catholic and you support the democrats and Obama. They support abortions even late term abortions. They also support gay marriage. Gay men have anal sex.(Sodomy) and call it love. Sodomy is one of the capitol sins that calls to heaven for vengance . And Obama says after his speech God bless America. I don’t think God listens to him. Israel is under the protection of God. How else could they have won all those wars with the Arabs when they were greatly outnumbered and out gunned. God has said if you support my people I will bless you and if you are against my people I will curse you. Israel can not be taken. Its under the protection of God. Things in our country are getting worse and worse since we took God out of our schools and public places. If kids don’t know the laws of God they will not keep the laws of men. Obama care is a joke and will not work. Hopefully the democrats will loose control of the senate in the elections coming up. Your are not getting any younger you better change your way of thinking before its too late. The last pope said to the Europeans you need to straighten out your moral house or your financial house will never get better. I think this applys to our country also. I suppose you say happy holiday instead of merry christmas.”

I responded, respectfully.

Haven’t heard from him since, but chances are in the near future will come a new batch of “forwards”, churned out wherever such things are churned out, most likely false or so put together as to be false.

#820 – Dick Bernard: The Homeless Guy

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

UPDATE: This commentary has several comments. They can be found both in the Responses section of this post, as well as directly below the content of the originating post. One of the last updates, from myself, includes a few paragraph comment made in in 1982 by the then-Director of Catholic Charities of St.Paul-Minneapolis, Monsignor Jerome Boxleitner. It is an especially power commentary on the issue of the homeless and society at large. You can read it here: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001

We’re accustomed to street folks at Basilica of St. Mary, so when I saw the guy standing in the parking area this morning, it was nothing unusual. What was unusual was that he was standing in the line of traffic into the church. He had a cardboard sign that said “Homeless”. I had to pass by him going into the church, and I said “good morning”, and didn’t leave a dollar.

I rarely do.

It was cold, zero degrees at church time, but sunshiny and calm, and this man was dressed for the weather.

This was not a desperate time for him.

I walked on towards the church, and the guy caught up with me and passed by muttering something about going to jail, which seemed directed at me, but he just walked on, catching up with some other guy with a backpack and the two disappeared towards nearby downtown Minneapolis.

There was a little twinge of guilt, but, honestly, not much. Basilica has a very active social justice ministry with a broad range of programs to assist the disadvantaged in many ways, and this man was within a block, or less, of a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the rectory, or coffee and donuts in the lower level of the church, and he wouldn’t be considered a nuisance, in fact he’d be welcomed. And the downtown Minneapolis Branch of Catholic Charities, that deals pretty specifically with homeless is three short blocks away. And we contribute a lot to both the Church and Catholic Charities.

Basilica is very heavily involved in helping those “down on their luck”.

Inside the Church, it was the Feast of the Holy Family, and the celebrant, Fr. Graham, preached a most meaningful homily about Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Most everyone, Christian or not, knows this story. Today, Fr. Graham put the scene in clearer context talking about what society was like back then: hierarchical and male dominated, women and children exceedingly vulnerable, an entire people essentially subjects of an alien government, nobody safe and secure. Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a smelly barn, as it were, surrounded by barn smells. No room in the Bethlehem “Holiday Inn”….

Fr. Graham didn’t know what I had experienced a half hour or so earlier.

The two experiences caused me to think a lot, today, about this entire issue of people and society.

At Basilica, it is recommended NOT to give money to the occasional panhandlers outside. It might seem a surprising position, but apparently is shared by other churches similarly situated: to give is to in effect enable unproductive behavior by such entrepreneurs as the man who I’d passed by. Charity is easily available, and given without question or judgement, but the movement to justice for such folks is not helped along by encouraging a career of begging, or so I remember the surprising column in our Church newsletter some months earlier. [NOTE JAN 2, 2014 see comment and link from Janice Andersen, and my comment, at end of this post]

But this day, my thoughts were also impacted by the sermon about the old days of 2000 years ago, augmented by the news of the previous day, announcing the cutoff of long term unemployment benefits by the Congressional Budget Agreement in Washington.

Was Basilica’s recommendation the same as the policy of Congress? How did these fit with the norms of the harsh society of 2000 years ago?

The man who was cadging me would have been pleased to get a buck. I don’t know if he was “homeless” – all I know is that he had a sign so announcing – an advertisement as it were. I also knew that he knew something about marketing, where to set up his temporary business for greatest likelihood of success.

How did he differ from other entrepreneurs, including those who’ll make a billion dollars this year alone?

Probably no difference at all: just a matter of number of zeroes following the $1.

Will we ever end the problem of stark inequity? Probably not.

Should we stop trying? Certainly not.

Is there a legitimate need for a social safety net broader than simply the man’s family? Of course, there is. Children and women are most often the victims of disequity; Vets, addicts, mentally Ill often fall through the cracks. And that’s where government, the private sector, and institutions like churches and ourselves come in. All are needed on the team.

Did I act appropriately, not giving the guy a buck? I don’t know. I think I pay for this guys care in other ways and I can understand and appreciate the Church’s position on the matter of discouraging panhandling.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Thoughts?

POSTNOTE Jan. 2, 2014:
from Janice Andersen of Basilica of St. Mary: Attached (Janice Andersen Sep 16, 2012) is something that was published in September 2012. I am not sure if this is what you were referring to in your note. This basically states the guidelines that the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness agreed upon.

I would put a stress on the preamble, which invites people to follow their heart and conscience. There is no black and whit in this, for sure. Also, I put a stress on the first point, which encourages relationship.

Thanks for your thoughtful communication and dialogue!

Peace, Janice

Dick to Janice: The attachment is what I referred to. Thank you. Very helpful. This is a vexing issue, as can be noted by the additional comments. Lurking not far in the background for any Christian, of course, is the message that the divine manifests in the sick, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, etc. Then the issue becomes how best to help, when you know that some (many?) are simply masquerades?

It has been a good dialogue, and I hope it continues.

UPDATES:

In addition to the following, there are comments made directly to this post. Click responses tab at the end of the post to see those.

I have not yet found the originating commentary from the Basilica Sunday newsletter, but did find an e-mail I wrote about a meeting I had attended at Basilica nearly five years ago which speaks for itself. You can read it here: JaniceAndersen022209 (Janice Andersen, who authored the commentary I speak of above, directs the social ministries at Basilica of St. Mary. She is a Saint, highly respected. “Families Moving Forward”, referred to in my letter, gives emergency housing to homeless families, and is a shared venture between about a dozen Minneapolis downtown churches.

from Carol T: Interesting, Dick. I understand how you felt. My son and family live in So. Minneapolis, and we take the Cedar exit. There’s almost always someone standing at the bottom of the ramp with The Sign. You don’t know my son, but honestly, he and his wife are some of the kindest people I know (and what a warm feeling to be able to say that :) Both of them work in senior care, and are involved in more neighborhood helping projects than I know about. So I was as surprised as you were about your church’s position when my son lectured me long ago NOT to give to those on the ramp. He claimed that if you do, and then watch, they just head across the street to the nearest bar.

I think it was last winter when I was on my way to their house and it was below zero. There was actually a woman standing at the bottom of the ramp. Big sucker me – I stopped and gave her a little money. When I told my son and hubby, they both jumped on me…

My son knows the neighborhood, and I respect what he says. However. Once he was talking about someone they knew who they found out had fallen on the proverbial hard times, and they actually saw the guy standing on an interchange ramp… What hurts is that somewhere there may be that one deserving person.

Here’s what I did once. There was a young man (but already minus several teeth) standing on Robert Street with The Sign. I stopped and said that I was going to go eat across the street at Taco Bell, and if he walked over there and met me, I’d feed him. He did, and I did. He told me a story of how he was living in the woods with some people somewhere near Robert Street, in a shack which included an illegal heater, etc. He said he was looking for work but didn’t have a resume or any way for someone to reach him. I was teaching an ESL class near there on Robert Street at the time, and I told him if he’d show up at my next class with any info, I’d print him up a resume. Of course he never did.

Now there’s sometimes a guy in a wheelchair on the Cedar ramp. If I get caught by a red light, I busy myself digging in my purse or whatever – and of course feel really guilty. But also. If you watch how many drivers actually do “donate,” even if they are only handing over a dollar, those guys are definitely making more than minimum wage…

One other observation: Over the years I think only once have I ever seen a misspelling on one of those signs. Now, the general run of the population (I’m sorry to say) has a much worse record than that… Political protests and such – misspellings all over the place. I have this vision of them scheduling their shifts (there’s never more than one on those ramps) and then handing off those signs at the end… :\

But still it hurts – and it probably should. Maybe next time invite him to church…

PS from Carol: link here.

from Lydia H: Here are some of my thoughts re:your experience w/The Homeless Guy & its larger context from my own perspective.

For most of the 25 years I’ve been in Minneapolis, I’ve lived within a few blocks of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It’s a regular part of everyday life for me to be asked for money when I;m waiting for the bus or walking somewhere. Sometimes I give money, sometimes I don’t.. Sometimes I feel guilty about not giving, sometimes I feel intruded upon by those who ask for money. As with your experience, sometimes “panhandling” feels like an “enterprise” —not desperation. As a low-income person myself, I think I have some “intuition” on this. Sometimes I don’t give simply because I don’t feel safe pulling my wallet out on the street with a stranger.

Over the last 25 years what I’ve noticed most—both “on the streets” and in the upper levels of “power” in our society (government & media) is an increased MEANNESS. Those at the top demonize the poor more & more, snipping away at what;’s left of the safety net. The latest attack is cutting $40 Billion from FOOD assistance, but, Minnesota hasn’t raised the welfare grant for families on the bottom in 27 YEARS—so,, while certainly still better than my home state of Texas (which is currently REFUSING to accept federal govt money to expand Medicare for healthcare for the poor)—something has shifted. And that means it’s also shifting at “street level”, too: random violence that makes no sense reported to regularly on the 6 o’clock news or considered “fun”, like the rampage of hundreds of teens (organized through Facebook) in a NY shopping mall.

Is “inequality” the reason for these things? In significant part, yes. But, I think it’s also a fraying of SHARED social expectations–whether to care about each others well being or that some behavior is simply totally UN-acceptable–regardless of one’s economic status. The Wall Street “banksters” felt no shame at robbing the nation blind and street thugs seem equally blind to conscience.

Yes, we must reverse the widening chasm of inequality. But, we must also close the gaps in connection and compassion. Raising the minimum wage or demanding a stronger safety net and more job creation is a lot easier than deepening our connections and compassion.

from Madeline: I don’t trust the motives of panhandlers, and have often thought, if anything, one should hand them a card telling where help is available. A buck plus a few others wouldn’t solve the problem of homelessness, unless this a very successful panhandling entrepreneur, which perhaps a few are, and if it is that lucrative, it really wouldn’t be legitimate need, but rather a scam. More likely, the few dollars received in this way would go for alcohol or other drugs.

from Jeff P: I always struggle with that, but we also give to local charities that help the homeless.

The one thing the billionaires and the panhandlers have in common, the income ends up tax free, the billionaires thru loopholes in the system, the panhandler as it is Cash. That is not a value judgment, just an observation.

Response to Jeff from Dick: I have a friend, who at the time was a Priest in an impoverished area of a major city. One time he told me about the ‘circuit rider” charity folks, who did the circuit of churches for handout, say, enough money for their family to spend the night at a inexpensive hotel. The pastors who knew each other knew these folks, since they were regulars. My friend said that some of them were really good at their pitches, and could really have succeeded in regular jobs, but for whatever reason they stuck with their street trade.

The essential difference between millionaires and the rest of us is, in my opinion, that they have (and know how to use) the power to make the system work in their behalf. The rest of us – the so-called 99% – have even more power, but for assorted reasons, like failing to vote, etc., don’t exercise the great power we possess.

from Judy B: I’ve often thought about the issues you raise in this excellent commentary. For years, I would give money, because need might exist — especially if children were involved. In recent years, I’ve walked by panhandlers without guilt. But I’m starting to feel guilty again. I don’t like my callous self. The other day, when a desperate-looking woman approached me outside [a major store] and said she needed money for food, I told her we would go into the store together and she could pick out the food she needed. She refused, but I’m going to try that tactic again.

from a person who prefers name not be used: One time [then-MN] Gov. Pawlenty wanted them to register as panhandlers??? So Nick Coleman, who wrote for the St. Paul paper, went down to Hwy 55 and asked a woman about her typical day. She said they work in groups, one on the street the other 3 women under a tree. By the end of the day they hope to be able to buy one bag of pot, one bottle of wine..and if they are lucky a sandwich. [Twin Cities homeless advocate] Mary Jo Copeland says not to give money send them to her.

from Peter B: More people should read Richard Wolff and Howard Richards on economic issues. My take is that unless there is a change in the cultural norms, anything we do perpetuates the status quo.

This doesn’t mean don’t give people money, etc., but it does mean that these are conscience-soothing but futile gestures. ON the other hand, the homeless guy can’t be making much even if he is merely an “entrepreneur,” so no harm in playing into his game.

Where we need to put our energies is behind substantive change of the rules of the game, which under capitalism are: private property is sacred, contracts must be fulfilled, and investors are free to put their money wherever they like.

If you look at these, they mean the following: if a person has nothing to sell that anybody wants to buy, that person is soon to be homeless, and subject to arrest and indefinite detention. All people, communities, states and nations are at the mercy of the “law” of supply and demand, so they must cut taxes, give away infrastructure, and do whatever the corporations like, or the owners will invest their money some other place where the labor is cheap and the regulations as thin as smoke. Moreover, people are essentially enslaved by this system as life-long workers with no hope of escape.

These cultural norms are totally made-up fictions. There is no “law” of supply and demand, no “invisible hand,” and no reason why a few men in some boardroom should get to decide what to produce, and what to do with the profits. It is a complete scam.

There are many surprising examples around the world in which people have taken over the management of their factories and shops, and manage the distribution of profits in an open and democratic process. But we don’t hear much about them, as the corporate powers that be fear them more than anything, and will stop at nothing to prevent more such successes. It’s why we’re supposed to hate the South Americans and the Europeans and so on.

Meanwhile, those places also enjoy healthcare and unemployment and retirement benefits just for being alive in this world.

So, I guess my take is that the presence of the “Homeless Guy” is a shameful thing, not on him, but on all Americans who have bought this bad deal.

from Dick, Dec. 31, 2013:

It appears that the comments have run their course, as always. As always, there is something to learn from each, whether agreeing or disagreeing.

The most powerful comments, doubtless, are those unexpressed: too close to the surface, too painful, too personal. There was one such comment yesterday at the end of which were some powerful words: “don’t print”. I didn’t, and won’t….

The homeless issue, like any issue, is not simple, and the closer one gets to the day-to-day work with it, including within ones own family, the more complex it gets, though the simple part is always the business of relationship, sometimes impossible to maintain.

I had no relationship context whatsoever with Sunday’s panhandler. His was the “storefront” I didn’t enter, but he did cause me to wonder.

Neither did I relate, as an usher, with the drunk street person who showed up at Mass on Christmas morning, full of Christmas cheer, there to celebrate some long ago memory, but by all appearances likely to interfere with a thousand or more others in the church in one way or another. The gentleman had no boundaries.

What to do?

Everybody was courteous with the gentleman, but one minute I looked and he was gone, most likely ushered out. For every one like him are a large number of others, seeking some kind of personal solace in the church, some very well disguised; some like the guy who quietly sat at the very back of the church, apart from everyone, his apparent wish, standing out, but not outstanding.

In my personal end analysis, with the homeless and the like, it comes down to trying to do a decent job of helping those who need help, wherever they happen to be on their personal journey. Top of the list has to be the most truly vulnerable, the children, and their mothers, and the mentally ill. But there are more as well for whom the family has to be “society” at large (it is called “government”): the people who have no lobby.

Back in 1981, when I was on the Board of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities, I heard the need powerfully expressed by the then-Director and legendenday Fr. Jerome Boxleitner. I and likely others thought his message was so powerful that it was reprinted, and I’ve kept a copy in my file ever since. Here is what he had to say, then: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001

Have a Happy (and contributing) New Year.

from Kathy M, Jan 1:
The ramps off 35W to St. Joan’s are “staffed” regularly with a revolving group asking for money. I frequently feel conflicted…randomly though seldom give a dollar.

Good discussion with comments and your wrap up. Anyone must be fairly desperate. I always think it would be humiliating to beg.

#817 – Dick Bernard: The Eve of Peace as a real Possibility.

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Yesterday as I leafed through the Minneapolis Star Tribune I noted the obituary of John Eisenhower, the son of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces at the end of WWII, and later two term President of the United States. John S.D. Eisenhower001

What especially drew my attention was this comment, made about young Eisenhower’s aspirations on graduation from West Point in 1944: “John Eisenhower hoped to see combat as an infantry platoon commander, but his father’s fellow commanders, Gen. Omar Bradley and Lt. Gen. George Patton, feared the impact on his father if he were killed in action or captured. He was assigned to intelligence and administration duties in England and Germany.”

That there was concern about Eisenhower’s emotional reaction if something happened to his son is not surprising. What did surprise me was the expression of very human feeling by two high level commanders about their even higher level commander was specifically mentioned in the obituary itself. Perhaps that is why the on-line obituary differs from the print edition linked above. We like our war heroes to have a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude.

But War kills, in more ways than just physical death.

All who have ended up in battle somewhere, or lost a friend or relative to war, know this.

Just last Friday, I had displayed models of the USS Arizona and the Destroyer Woodworth DD 460 at the local Caribou Coffee, and a lady came up and recalled her Dad’s visit to Dachau after the liberation of that horrible death camp at the end of WWII.

She said he never wanted to talk about what he’d seen.

I asked for her address, and later that same day sent to her a recollection of a visit to that same camp, at the same time, by another GI who, his niece told me some years ago, was tormented by the experience for the rest of his life. His writing and photographs are here: Omer Lemire at Dachau001

Within Omer’s text is this quote: “…we received word (posted on the bulletin board) from Generals Patton and Eisenhower, encouraging us to visit newly liberated Dachau Camp in order to witness for our children and grandchildren the horrible destruction between human beings…”man’s inhumanity to man”. I believed that we would be witnessing a historical event but had no idea what I was about to experience. This singular event changed me for the rest of my life….”

Tomorrow is Christmas, and celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

This season, for the first time in a long time, I see significant openings for the pursuit of peace, in small and not so small ways. I referred to this in my December 7 post, here.

The route to Peace is rough and ragged, but it is certainly a better option than staying on the rutted path of War, the practice to which we have too long been accustomed.

In all the ways you can, make this season truly a season of Peace.

Merry Christmas.

Today, relook, or look for the first time, at the recounting of the Christmas Day Truce during World War I. There are many writings about this. Pick one or more from this menu of choices.