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#1202 – Dick Bernard: President Barack Obama

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

POSTNOTE: Here is President Obama’s farewell address.

I remember, this evening, two events:

1. The day I first heard then Sen. Barack Obama speak at Target Center in Minneapolis MN, Feb 2, 2008

(click to enlarge)

Candidate Obama February 2, 2008, Minneapolis MN

Crowd welcoming Barack Obama at
Target Center Minneapolis MN Feb. 2, 2008

2. The day we heard Michelle Obama speak powerfully at Macalester College in St. Paul MN October 13, 2008. I specifically remember the call to the students “cell phones up!” – an organizing technique I did not know about. It was a powerful afternoon.

Michelle Obama at Macalester College St. Paul MN October 13, 2008

Tonight in Chicago President Obama will give his farewell address to the nation. I will watch it in its entirety.

It will speak for itself.

*

After the speech:

I wrote down a single quote near the end of a remarkable speech by the President of the United States: “the most important office in a democracy: citizen”

It is no secret to anyone who knows me: after seeing Barack Obama in Minneapolis in early February, 2008, a few days later, at the precinct caucus at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo, I wrote “Hillary Clinton” as my own presidential preference for 2008. I thought she had more experience for the hardest job in the world.

But I was impressed with this U.S. Senator from Illinois.

In my opinion, President Obama under the light of history will go down as one of our greatest and most transformative presidents. He and his family are, and will continue to be, class acts.

Tonight he passed the baton to all of we citizens. The ball is in our court, as it has always been. We get what we choose by our own action…or inaction.

Organizers, which President Obama is, know that change is never easy. There are always bumps in the road. But progress continues so long as people have the courage to witness.

President Obama, Chicago, January 10, 2017

Michelle and Malia Obama, Chicago, January 10, 2017

Biden and Obama on stage Chicago Jan. 10, 2017

RELATED POST: December 6. There will be other related posts at this space in coming days. Check back.

POSTNOTE: Overnite, from Just Above Sunset, here.

SOME BRIEF ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:
Those who know me well, know that I admire President Obama as being a classic community organizer. Of course, this trait of the president was derided, and is still not understood, by ideologues and purists of all stripes. To be an organizer is to be a wimp, ineffective….

More by accident than anything else, most of my work career would be defined as organizer. More or less, my assignments were to groups which were approximately 1,000 people, organized into subgroups, and having to deal with other outside groups.

I’d say I deserve at least journeyman status in organizing, from experience more than anything, but anyone who has ever been an organizer knows that you are dealing with a very imperfect whole, and you are constantly looking for ways to make small nicks in the existing status quo for each and every individual and subgroup within your jurisdiction. To attempt to ignore some constituency, however irrelevant it may seem, is dangerous. And you really have no “power” as such. This includes the President of the United States, whoever he (hopefully soon, she) might be, whether he’s an organizer or not.

An organizers job is reality based, and is truly a game of inches.

Idealists, on the other hand, of whatever stripe they might be, follow the “birds of a feather flock together” rule. If you associate only with the like-minded, your view of reality is impeded, and your influence minimized.

Sometimes, often, emotion intrudes, overwhelming reason or anything else that makes sense. The body politic, whether in some small committee in a church somewhere, or the United States of America, makes a stupid decision that they will come to regret. But at the time the decision is made, they are satisfied with their shortsightedness.

Perhaps President Trump will be a brilliant statesman and bring peace and prosperity to all.

It is not likely.

He doesn’t come from a collaborative background. Anyone who watches TV knows him very well, and his base of support also.

We shall see.

POSTNOTE: Here’s the talk given by VP Joe Biden Jan. 12, 2017 after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

#1195 – Dick Bernard: Hacking my Facebook, and the Tweet Dilemma, and a special guest.

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

A few days ago I got several e-mails reporting that my Facebook account had been hacked. There is something humiliating about such a violation of boundaries, but it happens. I changed my password (a story in itself), but decided not to close down and start over. I know, now, how to shut it down if need be.

We live in a world with plenty of evil actors, and not all of them are dictators in countries which we find hard finding on a map. They live among us, in our own towns, and in this increase to the wild west, they can be shameless, indeed become folk heroes to some. In a sense, we’re experiencing a pandemic disease, crossing borders with impunity, silent, invisible, until they elect to expose themselves.

Disease pandemics kill people; technology pandemics perhaps ultimately will be even more destructive in our thoroughly wired society. Most communications right now is on those little iPhone or similar screens. We are a computer driven society. If the network went down, we as a collective society wouldn’t have a clue what to do. Losing the technology grid would be as bad or worse than losing the electrical grid, where whole states go black.

I’m not telling state secrets: nefarious types probably have the technological ability to shut us all down, and we will be clueless as to how to get back on-line.

Learn how to handwrite again, and prepare for a day when even the postal service is disabled and we’re back to communicating as we did 100 years or more ago. Real envelopes, pencils and paper, real stamps, dealing with communication as if the recipient won’t see what you wrote for a couple of weeks, if ever.

Then there’s Twitter.

We both have the (I guess) antique “flip phones” which we thought were high-tech when we got them.

Nowadays I get occasional tweets – they come in with a distinctive “ring” – and I’ve figured out how to read them, but if they direct me to a link, I can’t go there; nor can I reply.

For me, at least, they’re simply a useless annoyance. Maybe a better tweet than “today is Dick’s birthday” might be “call your mother!”

The even more crucial issue is privacy. There is none. Get over it. It’s every bit as public as these few words on a public screen. A good friend of mine, 90, was incredulous that her young professional relative in another country, had a complimentary message for his ladyfriend, who sent a half-naked Facebook post. She couldn’t believe it.

Well, here we are.

COMMENT:
From Bruce: My facebook account has been hacked many times. I also see that many of my friends are hacked several times, too. The first time I saw a fake friend request “friendship”, I accommodated. Now that I’m familiar with it I just let it be. I guess being active is an inoculation against that sort of hacking.

POSTNOTES:
1. Comedy Centrals Trevor Noah did a long interview with President Obama on December 12. Here’s the link. You’ll have to watch a few commercials and its in three segments, but it is inspiring if you respect the President.

2. If you need recharging of inspiration, check out Paul Rogat Loeb’s books. They can inspire you. Here’s how to access.

3. Note to Minnesota readers re Monday Dec. 19, from Madeline: “Considering the extreme cold Sunday, I’m planning to attend this one on Monday–be warmer inside at this one too:

“Join us as we support Representative John Lesch at 11 am on Monday, December 19, in State Office Building Room 181 for a press conference announcing a National Popular Vote bill for Minnesota. This is right next to Leif Erikson park, and directly across the street from the Minnesota Senate Building where the 12 noon Electoral College vote will take place.”

Many thanks if you think you can join us!

#1116 – Dick Bernard: The Two Wolves…. A springtime reflection. And President Obama Visits Cuba.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

I have always liked the oft-repeated story about the “wolves” within each of us: The Two Wolves. Which Wolf Do You Feed?

Sunday President Obama flew into Havana and is there through today. The predictable positioning takes place in the media and from the chattering political class: what he’s doing is wonderful; it is treasonous; it is too much, too soon; it is too little, too late….

You have to start somewhere.

From my perspective, “face to face” meetings of any sort are valuable in beginning or restoring relationships. They are an essential part of the process of developing, or renewing, understanding.

The longer, or more public, or broader the estrangement, the more difficult reconciliation is. The first steps are extraordinarily difficult.

In this case, the official U.S. policy since almost the beginning (1959) has been, for all intents and purposes, official hatred of an enemy.

That is why such a beginning is feared by those with a stake in having enemies to revile (It took quite awhile for the Hatfields and the McCoys to reconcile a bit, I hear. And that was just two families….)

First face-to-face meetings tend to be awkward – we all know that from personal experience.

Rachet this up to include a “no talk” policy between two countries, the U.S. and Cuba, over near 60 years, which is essentially the case with ourselves and Cuba. Almost no one knows what to say to/about each other, except to repeat the mantras of the past.**

I wish Cuba and the U.S. well.

We both have a great deal to gain.

For those interested, I offer a chapter of an old American college textbook I found at the farm which was published just after Castro came to power in 1959. I copied the chapter on Cuba, and it is here: Cuba’s History to 1963*001.

The last sentence of the Chapter on Cuba says it all: “Reflecting upon the sorry state of Cuba in 1960, the onlooker could say that two things are reasonably clear: Cuba was indeed overdue for a revolution, and revolutions are never mild and gentlemanly.”

Of course, proceedings after that revolution were not necessarily smooth.

For instance, I was a soldier in the U.S. Army during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and I know….

But 55 years of enmity is a great plenty, I would say. Kudos to the President!

This week was an awkward beginning, but it was a beginning. It takes time to build a relationship, and it has to begin somewhere. And I’m well satisfied with that.

COMMENTS:
from Alan, with permission: There is an commentary in the Star Tribune today in the editorial section from Bonnie Blodgett that I have answered:

I believe that 99.9% have no idea why the Castros threw our country out of theirs, but your article nailed it. The same mob that ran Las Vegas, and also earlier, until Tom Dewey stopped it, also ran the police and court system in New York City, and who knows where else. I have a book about a life of a man named Rothstein that you might want to read. He was very high in the mob, and even fixed a world series, which was made into a movie called 8 men out.

I was born in Hibbing and grew up in Nashwauk, MN. I had a cousin whose name was Vernon Stone, whose mother (my aunt) father (my uncle) and brother and two sisters lived in Hibbing, but Vernon didn’t live there. I never saw Vernon, and no member of the family seemed to mention him, including my father who was his uncle.

However, we were quite close to the family in Hibbing. I would guess that he was working in Vegas. Less than two years before the Castro revolution, either Life Magazine or Time Magazine did a story on Cuba that told that the mob had expanded the gambling casinos, etc. and opened up a “college” to teach the locals how to deal blackjack, etc. and who was the Professor of that “College” was none other than cousin Vernon. There is only one member of the original family, one of the sisters still living, and I will be asking her how old Vernon was when he died. He did escape from Cuba when the Castros took over and I am certain that he returned to Las Vegas. Vernon’s sister, Beattie, married a very nice man named Abe Zimmerman, and they had two children, Bob and David. The world knows my cousin, Bob.

* Source: “A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present” by Hubert Herring, second edition, revised, 1963, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. “Cuba” is Chapter 26, pages 401-423.

To be clear, this is simply a chapter of an old textbook found in the detritus of an old farm. It is no more authoritative than any writing by anyone, any time. It is, however, a good basis for discussion among those with an interest in the topic of Cuba…and the United States.

** Some months ago two of us assembled the Archives of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers (MAP) for the Minnesota Historical Society. I elected to keep one file, labeled “Cuba Embargo 2006-2007”.

At the time, I was President of MAP, and then member Ev Kalambokidis, representing Vets for Peace, passionately moved the agenda of restoring positive relationships with Cuba. The initial objective was to get the U.S. to support a “yes” vote when a UN Resolution came up on the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” at the end of October, 2007.

Predictably, in 2007, the resolution passed, 184-4, with the four “no” votes, the U.S., Israel, Marshall and Palau Islands. (The most recent vote, in Dec. 2015, was 191-2, the U.S. still a “no”. The 2015 Resolutions are here Scroll down almost to the end to Resolution 42. It is very interesting reading.)

Back to 2006-07: Ev, a persistent guy, (who died Mar. 30, 2014), kept the fires burning. He kept after the issue. In March, 2007, he and I almost had an opportunity to testify to a Minnesota Senate Committee on the issue at the State Capitol (the committee meeting had to be cancelled for some reason).

But the correspondence in my file, March 28, 2007, reveals that the chair of the committee, along with others, were planning their own trip to Cuba. Even then, even Minnesota had business interests to explore with Cuba.

Change is a process; it takes time. In the case of Cuba and the U.S., change is happening.

***

FOR THOSE INTERESTED.
I enjoy international topics, and often write my own impressions on international happenings.
Jan. 1, 2015, I posted a blog about the 70th anniversary of the United Nations here.. Much to my surprise, by the end of 2015 I had posted 55 commentaries about international issues. They are all linked at the post.

International related posts at this space since Jan. 1, 2016:
1. Jan. 22, 2016: Global Climate Issue
2. Feb. 14, 2016: Lynn Elling, Warrior for Peace
3. Feb. 29, 2016: The 3rd (12th) anniversary of the Haiti coup, Feb. 29, 2004.
4. Mar. 4, 2016: Green Card Voices
5. Mar. 6, 2016: Welcoming Refugees
6. Mar. 12, 2016: Canada PM Justin Trudeau visits the White House
7. Mar. 20, 2016. The 13th anniversary of the Iraq War.
8. Mar. 22, 2016 The Two Wolves…President Obama Visits Cuba

#1081 – Dick Bernard: Paris, November 13, 2015

Monday, November 16th, 2015

SEE POSTNOTE AT END OF THIS POST:

We learned of the unfolding tragedy in Paris last Friday evening. Immediately, at 5:55 p.m. I sent a quick note to our friend, long-time Parisian, Christine: “The tragedy is, of course, being heavily covered here in the U.S…thoughts are with you and everyone.”

In minutes came Christine’s reply: “We are now talking up to 100 dead and as many heavily injured. It is so frightening…. It is not even finished yet….. Snipers everywhere…. Some are talking about 200 dead now as I am writing…. I can’t sleep and I am crying alone…. None of my family are unsafe, thanks God.”

*

Saturday morning we headed to North Dakota for a long-planned weekend.

I never travel with computer, and rarely listen to the radio on the road, so I don’t stay up to date.

At the motel in LaMoure, the TV brought the media interpretation.

A congresswoman from Indiana was voicing a common talking point from the right: essentially, the problem was President Obama’s fault.

A later clip talked about an alleged perpetrator having a Syrian passport, and a direct inference to the refugees flooding into Europe: a rich opportunity to gin up anti-immigrant hysteria.

Sunday morning the story focused on the one known American victim, a young woman from California.

Sunday night, back home, Sixty Minutes had an instant analysis with Scott Pelley interviewing (so I recall) three people in the allotted fifteen minutes or so. Being Sixty Minutes, it brought an authoritative “first rough draft of history” to the crisis.

So it goes with short-hand and instant journalism….

*

Christine’s response was totally normal. Shock. Something very bad had just happened in her city; something very bad had happened in Paris in January as well: the Charley Hebdo massacre. It is very easy to lose equilibrium, at least temporarily. Anyone of adult age has experienced some crisis; one that leaves us reeling.

Time most always brings balance, but it takes time.

The congresswoman and the media spin present a unique problem of contemporary media: a race to a sought conclusion; to make news instantly. Here, somebody must do something, and destroy the problem RIGHT NOW.

Such a problem is also a political opportunity to move a particular agenda. Anyone with a keypad (including me) can speak. Being adult, thinking things through, and acting accordingly, is less desirable.

*

My mind keeps going back to 9-11-01, and our collective national response at that time.

There was, let’s be honest about this, a near universal call for some kind of revenge after 9-11: 94% of the citizenry approved the bombing of Afghanistan in October, 2001 (Afghanistan Oct 7 2001001). There was something akin to nationally sanctioned murder: it felt good, apparently, for us to get even, immediately. Any politician at the time can be excused for being soft on the going after the evildoers. We, the people, wanted revenge; each and every politician casting a wrong (anti-war) vote would have been an easy target. We demanded retribution.

(I was in the 6% against sanctioned violence then. I could see no good coming out of our response.

It was a very lonely place to be, then. My thoughts in the Minneapolis Star Tribune six months later: Dick B STrib 4-20-02001

I think I was right, then.

*

What is ahead, three days into a genuine tragedy in Paris?

After 9-11-01, normal shock was transformed into a disastrous war with Iraq which lives on in ISIS in its assorted descriptions and manifestations. The monster has been created, and we created it.

Odds are 100% certain that there will be other incidents, if not in France, somewhere else. Let’s not forget, however, that there have been other incidents, before. Oklahoma City in 1995 comes to mind; the Littleton school killings in 1999. On and on.

What I hope for now is what I hoped for 14 years ago: a mature adult response by national and world leaders to a serious problem. Hopefully we learned at least a few lessons from the post 9-11 debacle.

I’ll watch how the French respond, and I hope it won’t be hysterical as ours was, after 9-11-01.

*

Here, with her permission and my thanks, are Christine’s comments earlier today: “We are hearing now [lunch time in France, 6 a.m. Minnesota time] about the war developments (bombing from the French over Daech headquarters in Dakka, the US initiative from President Obama about oil tanks in Syria (New York Times) …. It does not stop. And testimonies, interviews….The terrorists were preparing the attacks from Belgium and the Belgium people are collaborating with the French….

We have an extraordinary meeting of the Senators and Representatives together in Versailles to listen to the President Hollande. (He has no right to penetrate any of the Chambers) at 4 o clock (our time of course). President Hollande is extremely worried about more imminent terror attacks and therefore keeps people being frightened and anxious. He wants to keep the “emergency state” up to 3 months and that is the reason for bringing this extraordinary assembly because he, alone, can only make that decision for 12 days. To make it longer, he needs to be approved by both chambers. This emergency state gives the government more rights over private rights like arresting people, searching in private houses, expelling people and depriving some from the French nationality… and more….”

POSTNOTE November 17:
Several days after Friday the 13th I’ve been attentive to the “chatter” of genuine real people (beyond on the headlines and the news leads on television news).

Out in LaMoure we were at a gathering of 150 people Saturday night. A few hours after the tragedy, the topic of Paris didn’t come up in any way in my hearing; at another meeting last night, it wasn’t mentioned either. Yes, there is e-chatter, but it is far less than after 9-11-01.

My favorite summarizer of national news helps bring me up to date each day, and here is his digest overnite. He seems to catch the mood pretty well.

Perhaps, just perhaps, unlike 9-11-01, 11-13-15 is potentially reflecting more of an adult response to a situation.

I can hope.

In my home office, within eyeshot to my left, are two boxes full of paper, 9″ in height. They have been there for a dozen years, and I cannot bring myself to throw them out. They are two years of e-mails between friends between 9-11-01 and the end of November, 2003. Someone else will have to throw them out when I’m out of the picture. I guess they represent an important part of my own personal history.

#911 – Dick Bernard: Those “illegal” children: whipping up the hysteria.

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

The below letter of mine, published in the July 9, 2014, Woodbury Bulletin seems to fit todays post about the so-called crisis at the Mexico border. My letter was about war versus peace; the letter to which I refer in my letter was about revulsion towards a certain flag that represented “utopian” ideals. No matter, it all basically is the same story: fear and hate sells easily with predictably negative results.

(click to enlarge)

Letter to Editor, July 9, 2014, Woodbury MN Bulletin

Letter to Editor, July 9, 2014, Woodbury MN Bulletin

The past week I spent most of my time out of sight of the internet and even newspapers and other media. I was 310 miles away in North Dakota: I’ve been to the ancestral farm many times in recent months, many more trips to come. As I’ve come to say, frequently, I can’t make the 310 miles (5 1/2 hours at my pace via freeway) any shorter. It is as it is.

I arrive at both ends, tired.

Enter the latest fear and hate issue: “illegals” pouring across our precious border with Mexico, but they’re not even Mexicans this time.

The recent news narrative, near hysterical in some quarters, has been the seeming flood of children from certain distant Central American countries. Were the scenario not so tragic – four year olds and younger (and older youngsters, too) facing immediate deportation, and apprehension by latter day militia at the border – it would be so absurd as to be amusing: hordes of children racing hundreds of miles across an entire country to the sacred destination of the United States of America.

I believe the real story in this case is hidden behind the reported story. I certainly don’t know the facts; but neither do the hysterical ones.

In my college years I was very much into geography, and out of these came a desire to seek a bit of context.

So in this case, children apparently traveling from places like El Salvador and Honduras to U.S. border states, it seemed useful to do a sketch map, using as base a page from my 1961 Life Pictorial Atlas of the World. (I added the map of Minnesota, simply to get an idea of scale).

Adaptation of an old map to show relative scale of Central America to Minnesota.  1961 maps

Adaptation of an old map to show relative scale of Central America to Minnesota. 1961 maps

Minnesota, north to south, is just over 400 miles, 90 miles further than I travel to North Dakota.

For these poor families coming north through Mexico has to be a daunting trip of its own. I am not prepared to believe any story about how they were convinced to leave and came to take a trip with a certain unhappy ending.

There are elements of this story that literally smell of “false flag” – a situation set up by unknown parties designed to make a problem, then confuse and inflame emotions over immigration reform efforts in the United States. Some in Congress say that $2.7 billion is too pricey to emergency fund the agencies that have to deal with the refugees. Some quick arithmetic reveals that comes out to about $9 per American.

Yet we can spend trillions (three more zeroes than a billion) to war on Iraq and Afghanistan, and not bat an eye.

One will need very hard evidence to convince me that someone with impure motives is neither funding nor encouraging illegal immigration of mostly young people to whip up the fear (hate) in far too many people north of the border in the U.S. just in time for the 2014 elections. Add in President Obama (considered the deporter-in-chief by some) and this reeks of political motivation, in other words. NO, I can’t prove it. But it is as strong a possibility of any other theory advanced by anyone.

Whipping Americans into a frenzy is nothing new, of course. Think of 9-11-2001 for starters.

The poor people who were the cast of characters for John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” were not met with open arms when they entered California during the Dust Bowl. We banished Native Americans to the left over lands with hardly a tear; starving Irish arrived in the U.S. to less than a warm welcome.

There are endless stories.

Some, like our response to 9-11-01, solved nothing. 9-11’s cost short and long term is measured in the trillions of dollars, and this doesn’t even include loss of Americans and those in other countries which far exceeded the number of casualties during 9-11. After 9-11 we engaged in an endless war with no “win” at the end, except in the minds of certain folks defending their stupid decisions back then.

As I said, a 310 mile drive is no cakewalk, even on a freeway in an air conditioned vehicle.

Believe the narratives about the children from Central America invading the U.S. if you wish.

There is a much larger story behind this tragic migration, I submit.

PS: I predict that this latest issue will magically disappear after the 2014 election, and simply be replaced by some other outrage of choice afterwards; and perhaps be ginned up again in time for 2016.

A common sense suggestion: ignore the certain propaganda.

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

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Parekh, June 19, 2014

Dr. Parekh, June 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Peace Celebration June 20:

Neighborhood musicians June 20, 2014

Neighborhood musicians June 20, 2014

Peace Pole

Peace Pole

among the tables, some items for home gardens.

among the tables, some items for home gardens.

Peace Bell maker and artist at Veterans for Peace table

Peace Bell maker and artist at Veterans for Peace table

Message from Dwight Eisenhower on Peace

Message from Dwight Eisenhower on Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. How does keeping Guantanamo open serve our interests?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk.

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

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

Take a look.

#893 – Dick Bernard: The VA Hospital System

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

My family is chock-full of military veterans, including myself, thus the word “VA” is a readily recognized acronym.

My first living memory of the VA Hospital was Fargo, 1946, where my Grandpa Bernard (Spanish-American War) had his leg removed (diabetes related). He was 74 then, which happens to be my present age…. In 1957, Grandpa lost the second leg, and died, at the same VA Hospital: age 85. He served his country. VA served him.

(click to enlarge)

Josephine and Henry Bernard at VA Hospital Fargo ND 1946 after amputation.  I don't think Grandma's strategic position in front of Grandpa's leg was a coincidence.

Josephine and Henry Bernard at VA Hospital Fargo ND 1946 after amputation. I don’t think Grandma’s strategic position in front of Grandpa’s leg was a coincidence.

Later I had plenty of contact with the system between the early 1980s and 2007 (St. Cloud, Minneapolis, and Fargo again) when my brother-in-law was confined, first for mental illness (I don’t think that was military related, though he was an Army vet 1971-72, serving in Germany at time of Munich Olympics disaster); then hospitalized several times relating to major aneurysm surgeries. Especially given the severity of his disabilities, there was nothing to complain about. The system did its best, and its personnel were attentive.

Of course, politics didn’t enter these earlier experiences. Now all there is about the system – is partisan politics: how to spin the crisis.

The VA is a huge, complex system dating back to 1930: an organization whose mission is care of veterans of military service, by people, and thus a place in which, at the micro level, it is 100% certain that flaws will be found, and then magnified. Of course, corrupt people don’t advertise their corruption: such is hard to uncover.

But politically, as now, heads can be made to roll: the big juicy target, the target the one farthest away from the specific examples of corruption. Here it is Eric Shinseke whose head rolled, but the real political target is President Obama (who, paradoxically, is not running for anything this year, but has been made the symbol of his political party in advance of the 2014 election….)

There are other factors, too: I am active in the local chapter of a group called Veterans for Peace and annually attend their Memorial Day observance. These days the stories told are less about horrible battles of WWII; more about homeless vets; vets whose demons of one sort or another control their life: substance abuse, etc.

Grandpa saw combat in the Philippines but to my knowledge he did not come home shell-shocked, mortally wounded psychologically.

Used to be, in the good old days of war, say the Civil War, that you were killed in combat, or badly physically wounded, with minimal access to treatment. It was simple to count “casualties” then in the man-to-man days: killed or (physically) wounded.

Enter the era of new war: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and their companions.

The number physically killed – at least on our “side” – has been greatly reduced, largely due to technology. Those physically injured are less likely to die, but the cost of surviving is great. We see and hear examples of this all of the time.

Civilians on the other “side” bear the brunt of the killing these days.

Here at home, the incidence of “walking wounded”, post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, now rages due to multiple tours of duty in combat areas, and all the other reasons not necessary to recite here. These are people who may not have been physically wounded, but are all but totally destroyed mentally and emotionally. Pair all of these incidences of need for treatment which an easily documented reluctance by Congress to appropriate needed money to shore up the system, and the supposed scandals down-line at Phoenix and elsewhere pale in comparison.

The systemic problem we’re dealing with here, in my opinion, are a combination of our own casual attitude, as citizens, towards war; and Congress tendency to starve the VA system while playing politics with each and every situation.

We citizens aid and abet by our silence, or our unwillingness or disinterest to learn the facts.

In every system in which people are involved and there is a hierarchical structure, there is the potential for problems. This includes the biggest and most efficient of businesses. The desired alternative is to find the problems and fix them; not the oft-chosen political way, to find a scapegoat, and punish the entire system by firing the boss because of the sins of a few.

Sundays St. Paul Pioneer Press had a great column by Ruben Rosario on this topic. You can read it here.

#871 – Dick Bernard: “The Mountaintop”, revisited

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Mountaintop MLK001

Sometimes seemingly unrelated events just fit together, like random pieces of a puzzle that together make a confusing mess make sense.

For me, such a convergence happened on Friday in three bits; preceded by two larger and more publicized national events.

I just happened to be at an intersection where they came together, connected, at least to me.

The events:
Friday morning, first, a briefing about education legislation at the State Capitol by the Executive Director of the outstanding parent public school advocacy group, Parents United.

Two hours later the appointment with the Tax Man, to square accounts with the IRS and the State of Minnesota for 2013.

Seven hours later, attending a powerful play about Martin Luther King’s last evening alive, “The Mountaintop”.

A day or so before came the resignation of Jean Sibelius of the Department of Health and Human Services. This was a hate feast for some; a celebration of the alleged failure of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when the actual results have been very much the contrary: millions more Americans now have health insurance despite desperate attempts to kill the beast labelled “Obamacare”.

(Of course, in these kinds of things, facts really don’t matter. I heard report of a recent survey done on the street: when asked to compare ACA and Obamacare, ACA was the winner – even though both are the exact same thing….)

And about the same time, the recognition of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, passed 50 years ago this year.

All these events fit together, at least in my seeing them converge on me.

The tax man told me that State and National government wanted about 20% of our taxable income (which differs, of course, from actual “income”).

Minnesota is a relatively high tax state: about a third of that 20% went to Minnesota; the other two-thirds to the United States of America.

That tax doesn’t seem excessive to me. Before the tax appointment, the early morning event talked about the state of legislation for Minnesota’s children in public schools – about one of every six persons in our state of well over 5 million.

Those kids range from those tiny few who recently got perfect scores on the ACT, to the 13 year old in our town who is in jail today for violence against someone in her family and hasn’t been in public school but a few weeks all this school year and whose self-made future is very much in doubt, out of control.

Triumph or Tragedy: all of those kids are our future, regardless of their ability or disability or where they happen to live. And this goes for most every other service to which we allocate tax dollars.

Certainly there are inefficiencies – show me the system, including the most outwardly perfect nuclear family, that is completely efficient…I doubt, frankly that such a family exists.

Government of, by and for the people makes for a civilized society; the opposite is anarchy, hardly a recommended route.

Which brings me to “The Mountaintop”, which has been to four cities now, and if it comes to yours, do see it. It’s at the Guthrie Theatre through April 19.

The 90 minute play explores what might have transpired on the evening of King’s last day alive, April 3, 1968, in a motel room in Memphis, between King and a hotel Maid.

Of course, no one knows what might have happened had MLK himself lived on – he would now be 84, by my arithmetic.

The fact is that he didn’t live on, except through all of us who learned from his message and need to carry it forward.

These are not especially good days for the Civil Rights ideals expressed back in 1964 and before.

But there is a base built, and with some conscious effort by those of us who care, there will never be a return to the terrible old days, even given the immense gulf now existing between rich and poor – far worse than then.

But it is each of us who need to be on that “Mountaintop” MLK left, April 4, 1968.

#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’ ”