Yearly Archives: 2016

If Drones Dropped Bombs on Chicago

What would happen if China or Korea or Russia or Mexico sent drones in to drop bombs on Chicago?

Imagine for a moment the scenario. Let’s say Mexico had the influence and power, the chutzpah and the arrogance, to argue that we were not policing our drug dealers or the terrorists who live within our American borders. “Look at how many people have been shot in Chicago alone,” Mexico’s President explains. “As of November 28, 2016, 3,992 victims have been shot.” Out of these 3,992 victims, 688 have been killed, which works out to one homicide every two hours. “The United States is failing to police its own borders,” explains the Mexican President. “Mexican nationals are being massacred because of American indifference to the mayhem happening on the streets of its cities. They are fueling the illegal drug industry, which is infiltrating our borders and destroying our people, damaging our economy, and threatening our security. We cannot delay any longer–we must act to protect our interests and our citizens.” Mexico must act to obtain peace, but at a cost.

Mexico sends in its drones. “We’re avoiding obvious civilian installations,” Mexico states, “But the enemy, with its violent drug pushers, are hiding behind schools; they’re holed up in hospitals, so it’s possible that some unfortunate civilian casualties will ensue. Of course, that’s the United States’ fault, not the fault of our military. After all, they are allowing their criminals to mix with their civilian population. We’re not targeting their civilians! We would never aim at innocent bystanders.” Naturally, thus, innocent American lives would be lost, but it wouldn’t be Mexico’s fault. After all, they’re not trying to kill innocent American lives! And hey, what about the children of the drug dealers, or the wives? They’re choosing to live with a violent criminal. They’re a part of the ring of drug violence. They chose this!

Mexico would become the worst enemy Americans had ever met.

Imagine what Chicago would look like after just a few days of drone hits. Blood would run in the streets. We’d see it all on our social media feeds. We’d watch the nightly news in shock, aghast at the destruction we were witnessing. Most Americans would rise up in shock and dismay, in anger and outrage, and would call for massive retaliation. Indeed, the political in-fighting over the President-Elect would dissipate, replaced by jingoist calls for the infliction of revenge on our southern bullies. Politicians from both major political parties would call for protection of innocent America. Perhaps there would also arise a movement within Chicago itself to police itself. Indeed, the National Guard would be called in, and so would the Red Cross, and the U.N. would send in its peacekeepers.

Russia, France, Germany, and other countries would poke their noses in, offering a mix of assistance, advice, and unwanted criticism. After all, you brought this on yourselves, Russia would probably say. You allowed Chicago to rage on against itself; you and your guns and your drugs and your crime–you did this, America! Now sit back and allow us to root out the source of all this violence. Allow us to kill the killers–otherwise, we will support Mexican efforts to end your drug and gun scourge.

Meanwhile, what would self-appointed militiamen do? Millions of gun-toting Americans, after all, own guns under the aegis of the Second Amendment. Would they allow a foreign nation to attack our people without taking action? I think not. I think militias would gather, and loosely-organized battalions would walk to Chicago to protect it from foreign aggressors. And some of these militiamen would probably travel down to Mexico, and along the way, they would grab whatever Mexicans they could find. Hey, why not? Why allow these deplorable, illegal (or legal, doesn’t really matter, they’re still here and they’re bombing us) Mexicans to live off our land?

Or maybe the militiamen would start taking potshots at the U.N. peacekeepers, who would be doing the bidding of Russia. Violence would spiral out of control. Some Americans would blame the government; others would blame foreign governments; still others would call for the quashing of the self-appointed militiamen. We’d have, quite simply, civil war.

Does this make your blood boil? The mere thought of another country thinking it can police our own borders is antithetical to our nationhood, isn’t it? The sheer gall of those Mexicans is maddening and insane, right? As a country, we know our needs best. We can police our terrorists, our criminals, our people, better than any foreign nation could, and accepting for a moment that maybe we can’t root out every single criminal or terrorist doesn’t mean that we should cede control to another country. We have a right to our own sovereignty, after all. No one else can tell us how to run our country. Not even if our people are dying.

So you’re with me, I think. You get that Mexico absolutely cannot launch drone strikes on Chicago, not for any reason whatsoever. You see that it wouldn’t end well for anyone.

So what are we doing in Syria? How are we making the world safer for the people of Syria? How are we helping the souls who live in Syria pursue their own happiness? Is it right for us to value American interests above the lives of Syrians? Doesn’t that matter to us? Or do we (or our politicians by proxy of our vote) think that Syrian is less important than we are, that Syrian lives matter less than American lives?

If even one bomb dropped on American soil, we would lose our everlasting minds.

American bombs drop on Syria and civilians die, and it is happening with a shocking frequency. We turn our heads and allow the U.S. government to continue its terrifying campaign. But God help everyone if any nation dropped bombs on Chicago. We would not stand for it. But America is not only allowing bombs to slam into Syrian bodies–America is sending the bombs. Because America knows best, is protecting its interests, and is trying to stop the spread of terrorism–and unless a nation agrees to root out terrorism in exactly the way the United States proscribes, America will send its drone attacks.

Have we declared an actual war on Syria? No, we haven’t declared war on Syria. Apparently we don’t need to do that, even though Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution requires the President to ask Congress to declare war before initiating non-emergency hostilities. American Executive power has spiraled out of control, so much so that most Americans as well as the vast majority of politicians agree that a President can wage hostilities without consulting with a democratically-elected Congress. In the case of Syria or other countries in the Middle East, we basically bomb them at the will of the President. The American Executive simply declares a “war on terror”, and now the United States is to fight it by any means necessary. If those necessary means include acts of state-sponsored terrorism, so be it.

As human beings, we should realize that our war on terror must not make us terrorists.

But it is.

 




Violent Protest is Not the Answer

Where are we and what are we doing?

I awoke to this question, inchoate, unformed, and after a brief moment of reflection, elucidated in the early morning fog of my dream world. I was stuck in a recurring dream I have been having. In last night’s version, I was traveling from one side of our country to the next, in search of my children. I was waiting by the ocean side for them to return to me. Fear engulfed me, and pain. Where were my children?

I spotted them, and the three of them ran towards me. My daughter cleaved to me. I held her to my breast and whispered, “I will protect you, I will keep you safe.”

“But why did you let me go?” Her blue-grey eyes reached into my own.

“I didn’t, I wouldn’t, but you had to go, you had to see, so I let you, and ever since you left, I’ve been looking for you, I’ve been following you everywhere, waiting, waiting . . .” I brushed the hair out of her eyes and added, “I always knew you’d return, and you did, and I was never gone.”

I woke up then. It was five-something, and I didn’t want to leave the lumpy, warm sheets, so I just lay there. I know why I keep having variations of the same theme in the space where my subconscious creates its own world. My world is rooted in love, and my children reside at these roots. Together, we’ve gotten where we need to go, but my mind remains unwilling to let go of its fears. That’s okay, I realize. As one of my friends said this morning in regards to opposition to Donald Trump:

What scares me the most is that I’ve been told I have no right to be afraid. That our president says that if a man has money or power, it’s okay to violate me…and that I’m told that is not supposed to scare me . . . and I’m just supposed to suck that up. That mentality is what scares me. Being told I have no right to fear when the leader of the free world has put his seal of approval on misogyny. That’s the difference. It’s never been okay, and no one has ever done much about it, but now the president says it’s okay. So if it was never okay before to be sexist, racist, violent, etc., what is it going to be like now that we’ve been given the go ahead to hate? That’s what scares me as a woman. So please, stop with this cut and paste thing I’ve been seeing for days all over the internet saying we have no right to be scared . . . At least we have the courage to stand up for ourselves, voice our fears out loud, and say NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY. –Summer Barnes Darvischi

This was the first thing I read this morning. My mind at this very moment was a fertile field for contemplating the state of affairs in America. I found myself thinking about FDR’s famous saying: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But FDR was exhorting us to act with courage despite our fears—he wasn’t telling us we did not have the right to feel fear.

Right now, we are sixteen years into the Twenty-First Century. Over the past one hundred years, we’ve experienced war and famine, revolution and reform. We’ve seen countries rise and fall; here in America, we’ve watched Presidents come and go. Women and minorities have experienced advances in their legal and social status . . . and yet racism and sexism still exist. The specter of violence hangs over all of us, and it doesn’t come from those who voted for Trump alone. Protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities turned violent since last week’s election. Call it rioting, call it anarchy . . . no matter. Looting, burning, and breaking is violent, and violence, like hatred, begets more violence.

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trumpís victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

I see the violence.

I for one acknowledge that it has happened, and I denounce it. Violence is never the right answer. Rioting is not an acceptable means to achieve social change. I always find myself quoting this, and then I stop and begin to think it through. Perhaps it’s my legal background that causes me to ask myself, at what point is rebellion justified? At what point could violence be justified in pursuit of said rebellion? Because I respect Thomas Jefferson so much, I often come back to his writings on the matter, and he has often been misquoted as saying that rebellion or revolution should occur every generation. I think it’s worth reading the full quotation, which I am providing in a footnote.[1]

There’s a lot in this quote, but to summarize, Jefferson in 1787 is arguing with a proposed provision in the Constitution. Drafted as a knee-jerk reaction to Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, this clause would have limited the people’s right to rebel. Jefferson argued that the rebellion occurred due to ignorance rather than wickedness. He also stated that it was worse for the people to remain quiet even when they were acting under misconceptions, for remaining quiet results in lethargy, which is the “forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

Jefferson did not advocate anarchy; indeed, Shay’s Rebellion was conducted in an orderly manner and it was suppressed by state militias. Jefferson advocated pardoning those who had rebelled. He did not support the rebellion; indeed, he recognized that rebellion, when it went astray, was like tyranny in that it led to the destruction of individual rights.

Shay’s Rebellion is a far cry from rioting in the streets, and rioting solves nothing. Riots are disorganized and destructive, and they cannot lead to peaceful overthrow of even a tyrannical government. At this point, no one is advocating overthrow of the government, peaceful or otherwise.

So what are we doing, when we protest? We need to ask ourselves, just as I did this morning when I awoke from my nightmare, “Where are we? And where are we going?” To riot against the sexist and misogynistic President Elect may somehow seem like a good idea to some people, who are, as Jefferson would have said, motivated by ignorance rather than wickedness. But rioting is anarchy, and it leads nowhere good.

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale  http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale
http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

I was asked this morning to denounce these riots by those who stand with me in opposing President-Elect Trump’s policies. I can do so. Indeed, I’m HAPPY to denounce rioting. I’m HAPPY to pronounce and follow a creed in which no one has the right to violate anyone else’s rights. Indeed, that’s exactly what peaceful protestors like me are fighting for: to live in an America where the government is here to secure the rights of ALL humans, of ALL Americans.

What we are asking as champions of human freedom and human liberty, nay, demanding, is that Trump and his supporters hew to the same course. We are concerned, and we have a right to be concerned, because it seems as if white supremacists have been emboldened by this election. We would like for Trump to denounce racism and sexism, and we would like for all acts of lawless and racist aggression to end. We don’t support it under any circumstances.

Where are we going? I am not sure. But I know where I’m going. In search of the best future I can secure for my children.

That’s where I’m going.

_________________________

[1] “I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: and very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a Chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: and what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion.[1] The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusets: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order. I hope in god this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, Paris, 13 Nov. 1787[2]

 




The Desperation that Feeds Trump Supporters and the Other America

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_5.jpg

I’ve been thinking about how to address Donald Trump’s ascendancy, and it took me a few days to process the election and see it clearly for what it is. My starting place is one of love for my brothers and sisters, but I must admit this election is a little hard for me. After all, Trump has fed the sleeping lions of white-lashing racism with his rhetoric, and he has promised to ban Muslims, deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall to separate us from our southern neighbors. Moreover, at least eleven women have accused Trump of sexual assault, and Trump himself has admitted to believing that his celebrity status entitles him to grab women by the genitals. This is the man Americans elected. And the response of many Americans is one of anger, fear, and dismay.

Like I said, it took me a few days to process my own feelings and thoughts. I shared some of this outrage and dismay. But I am not, as so many people have suggested, a Clinton apologist. Indeed, I see, as many others have seen, the Obama presidency as representing a dramatic expansion of Executive powers, with a corresponding decrease in American freedoms. Poverty still haunts minority populations, and we still see Two Americas, as Martin Luther King pointed out: one is rich, the other is poor. One is entitled; the other is deprived. Under Obama, big banking grew larger and continued its criminal taking from the lower and middle classes; drone attacks accelerated on innocent populations; health care grew exponentially more expensive; real wages hardly changed (except to feed the deep pockets of the autocrats who run big corporations); surveillance of innocent Americans expanded beyond measure; police brutality and militarization spiraled upward; in other words, the rich got richer, and the poor ate canned soup for dinner. If you look critically at his actual record, Obama grew the government, fed the corporate coffers, and did very little to protect human rights.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1620972255/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1620972255/

At least, that’s my take on it. In coming to my conclusions, I was influenced by blogs written by Deb Bryan and R.R. Wolfgang, as well as articles that appeared in The Intercept, Democracy Now, The Guardian, and the website Brand New Congress. Finally, I was also impacted by a book review of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Hochschild spent five years traveling to Louisiana and getting to know some of Trump’s most ardent supporters, or those who live in the economically deprived and environmentally ravaged vicinity of the Bayou in southwestern Louisiana. Hochschild listened to these southerners and tried to comprehend them in full.

I need to emphasize this point: we need to listen to one another’s viewpoints in order to understand why people voted the way they did. Instead of jumping to the conclusion (which itself relies upon a logical fallacy) that all those who voted for a man who speaks in racist and sexist terms are also racist and sexist, we need to listen to Trump supporters and seek to understand their actual point of view. Those of us who voted for someone other than Trump may well feel horrified by the prospect of a fascist takeover of America, but to arrest the movement that supports Trump, we also must understand what fuels it. We need to understand our fellow Americans and offer them another alternative. And we also need to understand that many, many Americans viewed the Obama presidency in a negative light. In fact, many of the so-called “Deplorables” felt like they were drowning under Obama. Their piece of the American Dream had shrunk to a phantasmic sliver, like silvery fairy dust dispersed over a wind-blown range.

Russell Brand spoke of this in a recent video:

As often is the case, Russell Brand delivers a solid and comprehensible perspective on how to think about the Trump Presidency. The fact is we need to listen to those who feel like Trump gives them a voice. We need to understand the failures of Liberal Democracy in America if we are to achieve meaningful political change. Russell lists some of these failures:

Photo from http://flickr.com/photos/58820009@N05/5622506846

Photo by Eva Rinaldi from http://flickr.com/photos/58820009@N05/5622506846

  • Americans are seeking true change, and viewed Hillary Clinton as likely to continue Obama’s policies. Many of these policies failed to ameliorate the lives of the common people.
  • Over the last eight years, there has been terrible unrest in many populations, fed by poverty, racism, and a sense of despair. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, drones kill, and money from America feeds the killings, which in turn feeds the growth of terrorist organizations like Isis. Amid all this appears corporate bailouts without corresponding aid to the lower classes, who flounder at subsistence wages.
  • We still have the mindset that created the nuclear weapons; we haven’t achieved disarmament, and we keep ploughing more money into armaments and foreign entanglements.
  • Hillary Clinton would have continued Obama’s war on the Middle East and she would have continued to cozy up to American banks and corporations, all of which has led to the decline in how real Americans are treated. After all, real Americans fight in these wars, real Americans are struggling to live off of subsistence level wages, and real Americans are facing their Other America each and every day.
  • The conditions have occurred under which Trump could become President. He is merely taking advantage of a failure of American Liberalism, which did not offer a choice that made sense to the electorate.
  • The political system does not connect with people or give the disenfranchised Americans true power.
  • A true alternative was not provided by Hillary Clinton. The Democrats had the revolutionary Bernie Sanders and gave the people a recycled alternative instead: a politician beholden to banks and corporate cronies.

As Russell explains, we need to offer actual not superficial alternatives. Clinton would have continued policies begun under prior administrations that did not solve the issues faced by blue collar Americans. This election, argues Russell, was inevitable and it had to happen–we needed to reach some sort of crisis, so that we could not continue on as we were.

Now we know that politics cannot continue on as they have been. But we must seek change going forward by starting with our own inner reality. In order to change the world, we must change our mindset. And we need to love one another–absolutely we must love one another. We must find a way to see how our brothers and sisters reached a place where such a desperate vote for an individual like Trump felt necessary. We need to understand how they feel; we need to comprehend and care about the Other America. And all of us need to become involved in our country’s political and social future. We must work on true democratic reform. We must prepare for revolution. Peaceful revolution.

__________

As good of a closing paragraph as that felt to write, it lacks specifics, and thus felt a little hollow to me. I want to give you things you can actually do.

For starters, you can get involved in your local community.

I volunteer through my nonprofit, Strays Welcome Interfaith Ministries. We help the homeless and abused women in particular. For certain, there are shelters in your community who need your support, and there are also churches who are helping various people who are in need. Speaking of churches, one near me is adopting a Syrian refugee family, and I am thinking of asking if my own church, The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley, will do the same thing. I’m gonna offer to help run the program. If you wanted to help refugees, you could ask your church if you could get involved in a similar program or efforts.

Another way you can help is by getting involved in local politics. There is an organization built by Bernie Sanders supporters, called Brand New Congress, that is trying to recruit 400 individuals (non-politicians) to run for political office. For more information, please go here: https://brandnewcongress.org/home. To better reach politicans, here is a helpful article: “How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You“.

You could also dedicate your art to revolutionary politics. I, for one, am beginning a new novel which will be a political saga. The entire point of this novel will be to help awaken humanity to the need for change, and the intent will be to provide a moral and positive blueprint for change. If you’re not inclined to art, but wish to speak up, you could write letters to newspapers or media outlets, or you could call your senators–just don’t be silent. Silence is what got us here. Speaking up with love and commitment to achieving political change is necessary.

You could also work with environmental action groups. Many, many organizations are rising up in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. And keep in mind, Obama is taking a “wait and see” attitude, which means the pipeline is gonna get built unless enough citizens rise up in peaceful political protest against it. Here are some places to find Standing Rock protest information:

https://www.facebook.com/nodakotaaccess/

https://www.facebook.com/Standing-Rock-Rising-1131347910264898/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1749814981940531/

http://standwithstandingrock.net/take-action/

http://hugs.world/standingrock/

And here’s a link for a list of peaceful protests occurring around the nation’s capital: Assemble

There are also peaceful protest groups you can join, like:

Peace Alliance

Nonviolent Peaceforce

United for Peace and Justice

Roots of Peace

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

My point is, get involved. Get involved locally; get involved globally. But get involved. Use your special, God-given skills and abilities to make this world a better place. With love as your root, and courage as your foundation, please, get involved.

 

 

 




When the Legal System Fails: The DAPL Protests Part 2

. . . I read all of this with interest, and at first I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe the tribe didn’t follow the right procedures, I wonder what that means about the rightness of their protest itself.” But then I recalled my own work as a member of a community, fighting for safer walking trails and lowered speed limits on a road that passed in front of my children’s school. Basically, the citizens of my community banded together to petition for a lowered speed limit, flashing safety lights and a school speed zone, and for reasons complex and frankly silly, the state highway officials as well as the school board opposed passing our safety measures. For years, different people fought to get these safety measures passed, and the issue really came to a head when a child died crossing the street. Still, the state and the school board said, “No” to increased safety measures on our parkway.

Part Two

So we took it to our local political officials as well as to the governor of our state. A local politician formed a committee that included a few citizens, the school’s PTA president, as well as officials from the school board and the state highway safety folks. We would meet once a month, and we’d barter, negotiate, argue . . . but it looked like nothing would get done. Eventually, we came up with an odd but effective tactic to get our school zone sign and our flashing lights. The school wanted to get a hundred million dollar renovation approved by the County. Knowing the way county government land use law works, one citizen suggested that we appear before the zoning board and announce our conditional opposition to the renovation absent the approval of increased safety measures. A few of us in fact showed up at the zoning board, and we made a fifteen-minute presentation. Our measures got approved on the spot.

In other words, we did an end-around the county. We weren’t being heard, even though we were talking and talking and talking. We never stopped talking, mind you, but we went to a different governmental actor, and we found a way to get the complex strands of American democracy to work in our favor. We got a democratic body to strong-arm another arm of government to give us the safety measures we wanted.

When I survey what’s going on with the Tribe and the DAPL, I see a similar tactic being used. The Tribe didn’t think it could get anywhere with the Army Corps or with the pipeline company. Sure, the Tribe tried to use the legal system and the existing governmental processes to oppose the pipeline, and it certainly could be argued that they could have tried harder or used different legal tactics to oppose construction. But my sense from studying the case is that the Tribe (like so many other tribes and like so many citizens) has been down this road before, and it hasn’t been heard.

Indeed, the judge in the D.C. court case recognized just how little Native Americans have been served by our democratic and legal processes:

“Since the founding of this nation, the United States’ relationship with the Indian tribes has been contentious and tragic. America’s expansionist impulse in its formative years led to the removal and relocation of many tribes, often by treaty but also by force.” Cobell v. Norton, 240 F.3d 1081, 1086 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Id. at 1.

The American legal and political system, in other words, has not been a particularly just one as far as tribal rights are concerned. Anything but, in far too many cases.

I think the Tribe recognized the real politics at hand. At the heart of its protest has been an effort to garner awareness and use the resulting outrage as leverage to impel democratically elected politicians to take up the tribe’s cause. In other words, the legal challenge itself was irrelevant, and so too were early negotiations with the Army Corps or the pipeline company. The Tribe knew the results were stacked against it; the Tribe also knew that it could obtain better results through appeals to the people of our nation. Indeed, this worked, at least initially: President Obama ordered a temporary halt to pipeline construction the same day the D.C. court ruled against the tribe.

“Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” said a joint statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army. “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

It could be said that the Tribe is not really concerned about sacred or historically relevant cultural sites, but is using that as a convenient excuse to oppose the pipeline. But it could and should also be said that the Tribe is really trying to save our nation’s water supply. If this is true, the way the legal and regulatory system is set up precludes the Tribe from effectively fighting the pipeline.

By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, in our legal system, you must have “standing”, or an actual legal interest in whatever you’re objecting to or protesting. Since the Tribe’s water supply may not be directly impacted by the pipeline, the Tribe lacks a legal interest in wherever the pipeline is being built. I find this argument to be true in some ways, but it misses the point of what it means to be a Native American. From an early age, Native Americans are taught that it is their duty to protect our land and our water. They are taught that the land has life as well as life-giving spirit.

The rest of us Americans are taught to “think globally, but act locally.” Most of the time, we don’t get involved in the political system unless our own property or our families are threatened by a proposed or ongoing public measure. It’s only when a pipeline or a well or a manufacturing plant or some other externality-creating monstrosity is about to be built in our backyard that we take to the courts or the local and state governmental bodies. We are the consummate self-interested actors. We don’t get involved unless we are interested in and have an interest in a problem.

The Tribe is thinking and acting both locally and globally. The Tribe sees that the pipeline is being built near its water supply, but also realizes that the pipeline will pass by or through or under major rivers like the Missouri. The Tribe sees that the pipeline thus could harm other communities or other bodies of water that exist outside the tribe’s land. And it also sees that the energy companies cannot be trusted to comply with safety measures that will keep the water supply alive and healthy. The Tribe doesn’t trust the government to enforce its own laws on the environment; after all, what has our government shown Native Americans as far as its willingness to obey its own laws and treaties?

The Tribe is protesting more than desecrations to its own land. It is seeking to protect all life, both within and outside its borders. The Tribe says that “Water is life,” and this would sound like a cliché were it not the simple truth. We cannot go more than three days without water and live. And as the citizens of Flint Michigan can tell you, our nation cannot destroy its citizens’ water supply without the citizens suffering deleterious health consequences.

Sometimes I think we as a nation have become actually addicted to oil. When I bring up the issue of saving the water, logical people ask me, “Well, if we stop producing and transporting oil and using it for our energy needs, then what? How will we power our cars, our houses, our other energy needs?” I always shake my head and answer honestly. I don’t know. But I know that the current processes we are using to produce energy are damaging the environment. And I know that we need to re-think energy. We need to figure out a better way to produce and use energy, because the way we’re doing it now is hurting Mother Earth. We need her. We need to protect her.

11-09-fotofluege-cux-allg-25a

Oil Field Mittelplate in the North Sea By Ralf Roletschek [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

I know. We need our cars. We need our houses heated. Clean energy is too expensive, too hard to produce . . . oil and coal are cheap. I get it. The economics of the environment are complex. Simply saying we need clean energy doesn’t get us the clean or cleaner fuel we need. But do we need to get the fuel the way we’re getting it to live? Is this the best way? Or is there a better way?

The Tribe says we’re hurting the land. The Tribe says that building another massive oil pipeline is going to hurt our water. The real question is not whether we can live without oil, says the Tribe. It’s whether we can live without water. I think both questions need to be answered. But first, we need to listen to others when they ask the questions.

If you don’t think we can live without cheap oil, I challenge you to re-think your premises. Is there a better way? Can we spend less on other things, and spend more on the development of clean energy? Can we dedicate less of our GNP to other foreign entanglements and domestic items, and more to developing clean energy? And is what we’re doing to our land and water worth the long-term costs to its health—and by logical connection, since we depend on our water, to our health?

 

 

 

 

 

 




When the Legal System Fails: The DAPL Protest Part 1

Last night I read a thoughtful post by an Independent friend of mine, in which she decried the failure of the mainstream media to cover the North Dakota Access pipeline protests. I fell down a little bit of a rabbit hole when I read this friend’s post, which was limited to the issue of critical analysis in the media, because one of her friends set forth a very logical rebuttal against the merits of the protest itself. According to this rebuttal, which was well-supported by citations to relevant case law, the tribe shouldn’t be given the attention it is receiving because it didn’t follow the proper procedures over the last two years, while negotiating with the government and with the energy company trying to build the pipeline.

I was a lawyer and a constitutional history major before I was called to the ministry, and I felt troubled when I read allegations to the effect that the tribe is somehow in the wrong and should not be opposing the pipeline. I learned in law school to question everything, and I have been reminded as of late just how important it is to dig into the original source materials—to form your own opinions.

Protestors Appear at the White House CREDIT: ALEJANDRO DÁVILA FRAGOSO/THINKPROGRESS

Protestors Appear at the White House
CREDIT: ALEJANDRO DÁVILA FRAGOSO/THINKPROGRESS

So I read the entire federal court decision on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Tribe) against the Army Corps of Engineering last night. If you’d like to inform yourself, you can read the decision here.

The Tribe, in case you’re unaware, is protesting the erection of a massive pipeline in the vicinity of their tribal lands in North Dakota. The Tribe filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineering to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The Tribe claimed in the case that the pipeline will disturb sacred tribal burial sites and that the pipeline will (both specifically and in general) harm their water supply as well as the nation’s water supply. According to an article I read yesterday, the Standing Rock Sioux failed to comply with United States regulations that provide for exactly how an entity or a people should consult with the U.S. government when they disagree with a proposed energy project.

Sure enough, the judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia lawsuit wrote in detail about how the tribe didn’t attend all the meetings, hearings, consultations, and sundry systems set up for civil discourse in these here United States of America.

Supposedly, the fact that the tribe didn’t answer all phone calls, emails, or meeting invites disqualifies it legally from opposing the pipeline construction. The Army Corps tried to include the Tribe in the decision-making process. And Dakota Access re-mapped the pipeline more than a hundred times to avoid historically significant sites. Oh, and the pipeline itself does not go on tribal land, but passes within a half-mile of it:

One place of particular significance to the Tribe lies at the traditional confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers. Id., ¶¶ 11-12; ECF No. 6-1 (Declaration of Dave Archambault II), ¶ 12. The ancestors to the Standing Rock Sioux gathered in this location to peacefully trade with other tribes. See Mentz Decl., ¶ 36. They also considered the perfectly round stones shaped by the meeting of these two great rivers to be sacred. See Eagle Decl., ¶ 11. Mighty natural forces, however, no longer hone these stones. Id. In 1958, the Corps dredged and altered the course of the Cannonball River to construct a dam. Id. As a result, a large man-made lake known as Lake Oahe now covers the confluence. Id.

Photo from http://www.daplpipelinefacts.com/

Photo from http://www.daplpipelinefacts.com/

The Tribe nevertheless continues to use the banks of the Missouri River for spiritual ceremonies, and the River, as well as Lake Oahe, plays an integral role in the life and recreation of those living on the reservation. Id. Naturally, then, the Tribe was troubled to learn in late 2014 that a new pipeline was being planned that would cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe about a half-mile north of the reservation. See Archambault Decl., ¶¶ 8-12. See case here at 11-12.

 

Apparently the pipeline where it crosses Lake Oahe travels across ground that has already been used for other pipelines or which is already used for existing overhead utility right-of ways. The Court explains that “[i]n fact, where it crosses Lake Oahe, DAPL is 100% adjacent to, and within 22 to 300 feet from, the existing pipeline.” Id. at 14. So the pipeline has been designed to avoid harming new land owned by the Tribe since it is being built where the land has already been disturbed.

Photo by Dell Hambleton courtesy of http://www.indianz.com/News/2016/09/05/army-corps-backs-restraining-order-again.asp

Photo by Dell Hambleton courtesy of http://www.indianz.com/News/2016/09/05/army-corps-backs-restraining-order-again.asp

I read all of this with interest, and at first I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe the tribe didn’t follow the right procedures, I wonder what that means about the rightness of their protest itself.” But then I recalled my own work as a member of a community, fighting for safer walking trails and lowered speed limits on a road that passed in front of my children’s school. Basically, the citizens of my community banded together to petition for a lowered speed limit, flashing safety lights and a school speed zone, and for reasons complex and frankly silly, the state highway officials as well as the school board opposed passing our safety measures. For years, different people fought to get these safety measures passed, and the issue really came to a head when a child died crossing the street. Still, the state and the school board said, “No” to increased safety measures on our parkway.

To read what happened and to learn more about the DAPL, please read the upcoming blog post, Part 2.




Intolerance and Modern Spirituality: Interfaith Outreach

Intolerance is the single greatest problem I think we face in religion. Intolerance rears its head when Christians preach that Jesus is the only way Home, and anyone whose follows a different path is condemned to hell. Intolerance rears up and screams its hateful hue and cry when secular Muslims misuse the words of Muhammad to preach violent jihad. Intolerance spreads like a cancer when fundamentalists of any cloth or wearing any frock picket and protest in denial of an individual s right to experience love when their sexual choices come in rainbow coloration.

Intolerance itself can be defined in the following manner:

  1. Lack of tolerance; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect opinions or beliefs contrary to one’s own.
  2. Unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect persons of a different social group, especially members of a minority group.[1]

Intolerance’s playgrounds, ironically enough, are vast and diverse, for intolerance is bred in any petri dish that separates humanity on religious, political, geographical, social, artistic, or historical grounds. The cause of intolerance is difficult to locate, because so many modalities of incoherence feed into it. Yet an evolution in the genus of intolerance can be found if one starts with identity, adds in the three sisters, fear, ignorance and irrationality, peppers in a false sense of separation or otherness, and ignores the divine spark that fuels individual human existence.

Where otherness blooms, hatred spreads. Combating this growth is akin to preventing the spread of invasive bamboo in a mid-American back yard. You can rip each instance of it out, but if you do not dig a canal around the bamboo, or dig an entrenchment before the bamboo reaches across your land, it will shoot across any other plant or bush or grass or flower in its path. In other words, it’s much easier to attack bamboo before it takes root than to pull up each weed as it appears. Bamboo, like intolerance, must be met at the outer gate, before it takes hold of the yard.

The key to fighting intolerance is prevention. It must be fought before the roots that feed it find home in your heart, or in the hearts of those surrounding you. The keys to overcoming intolerance, fortunately, are as varied as the causes of it are varied. After all, the antidote to an unwillingness to tolerate others lies in love and acceptance. The answer lies in unity.

How, though, do we sow unity? One of the best engines for achieving social change lies in our religious institutions. At first glance though, hope for using religion to instill such unity seems like a task brimming with difficulty. Each week, I talk to people about religion in America, and all too often, people express anger and disillusionment towards the church they were raised in, or deny God altogether. Raised by fear-based and shame-engendering teachings, Americans either embrace pulpits that brandish the weapons of disunity and intolerance, or they reject religion altogether. They call themselves spiritual, not religious, and many good souls (far too many good souls) give up on church altogether.

In some ways, I was one of those souls, except instead of rejecting religion, I started the difficult process of trying to form my own ministry. No matter how disappointed I’ve gotten with the actual practices of churches, I still like the concept of church. I have seen the importance and utility of combining with others to fuel social justice and to synergize interfaith growth and dialogue via the sort of collective action that occurs within the walls of a worship center.

Yet when I looked around, I saw nothing that seemed to match my own beliefs. Interfaith ministries, as far as I could tell, did not exist. So I figured I would build one, but I discovered early in the process that there is a tremendous difference between serving others and doing the structural work of church building. The mere process of starting a non-profit requires cutting a swath through an endless sea of paperwork and red tape, and the actuality of creating a sacred space for worship services includes outreach, salesmanship and organizational vigor. I found that I was somewhat grinding my gears.

chalice_2011_cropped

Photo Credit: http://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/chalice_2011_cropped.jpg

That’s when I discovered the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. One day, I was researching the dogma of the trinity. I realized that the opposite of trinity was unity, and I began to read more carefully about the Unitarian tradition. For some reason, I clicked on UU instead of Unitarian when I got to the search page on Google. That’s when I came to the main UU website.

I had to keep rereading what appeared there, because it was so unique and yet so familiar. Indeed, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I first read the seven Principles that guide UU practice, which focused on the worth of each individual, acceptance and compassion, the goal of community peace, and “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.[2] This, I said to myself, is exactly what I believe. And these principles, if applied by individuals when supported by a strong religious institution, would result in the propagation of love, unity and tolerance.

And it was about that time that I read a sermon that had been shared at a UU congregation. In the sermon, the preacher (a woman!) weaved Rumi and Buddha into a discourse on a problem of some sort . . . ironically I don’t even remember what the problem was—which is to say the problem itself seemed almost irrelevant. What impressed me was how the preacher tried to solve the problem, which was by searching for truth across cultural boundaries and within multiple sacred traditions. All I knew at that moment was that I had found a place where I could comfortably serve and contribute.

After all, it was Rumi that gave me the motto for my own religious approach:

Not Christian or Jew or

Muslim, not Hindu,

Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.

rumi_religionNot any religion

or cultural system. I am

not from the east

or the west, not

out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not

natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all.

I belong to the beloved,

have seen the two

worlds as one and

that one

call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner,

only that breath breathing

human being.

No matter where I serve, THIS is what I will teach. Because it captures the essence of what human institutions, particularly religious ones, should exalt: the oneness of humanity. We are not other. We are not different. We all bear a spark of the divine. And if we can teach one another to see this divinity in one another, we can all walk one another Home.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/intolerance.

[2] http://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles.




Shame is Not a Good Teacher

Shame is one of the worst emotions we can teach our children to feel. It’s difficult to wade through spirituality without finding shame, though. We see the hint of it, the strong suggestion of it, throughout Christian schooling as well as throughout the Bible. We see it in the story of David and Bathsheba, for example. We also see it embedded in the teachings of Paul in the New Testament. Far too many preachers and ministers take these stories or these scriptures and use the stories to make us feel terrible, and this isn’t a proper or the best use of the Bible.

The great Christian writer and teacher, C.S. Lewis, wrote about this in a 1952 letter. He wrote:

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our ancestors too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and read without attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.” Letter November 8th 1952

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7049156

By Scan of photograph by Arthur Strong, 1947 Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7049156

We need more love-based, gentle teachings like those espoused by C.S. Lewis. We need to guide our children to the best path without using the weapons of shame and fear as our artillery against their spirit. When we focus on sinning and the blood of Jesus, we often cause pain and suffering in the exact people we’re trying to help. Basically, we are taught to feel shame when we “sin,” and then we are taught that Jesus died for or sins, and that in turn makes us feel even more ashamed for the mistakes we make as young men and women. Instead of feeling relieved, we feel sad and ashamed, and we carry that sadness and shame out of church into our daily lives. But aside from pain, what does feeling shame really give us?

It’s true that Jesus was crucified. It’s true that David made a big mistake by sleeping with Bathsheba. It’s also true we all make mistakes, both as children and as adults. Taking responsibility for our errors, for the hurts we cause others, can help us make better decisions in the future. But shame mires us in pain—and when we heap the death of Jesus on top of this pain, we end up suffering.

When we hold the image of a suffering man on the cross in our minds while we think about our actions, we end up replaying all our mistakes in a dread-inducing atmosphere. We get mired in sacrificial blood so to speak, rather than moving on to the real task of becoming the best people we can be. Carrying the cross is really not our job, but in effect that’s what we do when we obsess over concepts like sinning and sacrifice.

If we hold onto our mistakes and to the notion that every mistake we’ve made dirties us, we create a sort of hell on earth for ourselves. When we fear dying because we are afraid of what we will face after death because of the mistakes we make when we’re down here in our human shells, we end up afraid of living; we end up afraid of life. Priests and preachers should help guide us, but too many of them use fear as their cudgel.

For example, my children once attended a traditional Methodist church without me. And the kids listened to a lecture from the minister about how your sins down here on earth caused you to suffer judgment back Home. The minister gave a sermon in which he asked the members of the congregation to picture a stack of index cards laid out on a table. Imagine that you’ve died and have gone Home. You go up and even before you visit with your family and your friends, you go before a board or a council and you undergo a life review—all of which is accurate. We do go before a board and go over the good and the bad decisions we made throughout our lifetime, but in reality, the focus is much more positive than negative.

But the minister wanted the focus to be about sinning, so he said, “Jesus is waiting for you, and he will point out all your sins, and then he will show you all the same cards, but with blood smeared all over them. HIS blood. See, he gave up his blood so that all the awful things you do on earth won’t keep you from getting to heaven, but if you don’t atone now, you will have to explain yourselves to Jesus.”

When my kids told me this part of the sermon, I exclaimed, “No! This is fear-based, shame-engendering nonsense. Sure you’re not supposed to hurt others while you’re down here. You’re not allowed to rape or murder, you shouldn’t steal or tell lies to hurt others . . . but no one is waiting for you with blood-crusted index cards. The teaching back Home is much more positive. The aim isn’t to scare you or make you miserable; the goal is to emphasize areas where you did well, where you helped and served others, and to teach you places where you could have done better—all with the intent of helping you learn to do better, to become the best souls you can become.”

My children were a little confused, so we talked about it some more. They asked me what sort of mistakes could result in your getting punished after death, and of course I mentioned that killing, raping or sexually abusing others could get you punished, and as soon as I said that, my eldest asked about sex. About whether having sex could get you in trouble.

I shook my head and said, “Sex is not something to fear. Overall, it’s a positive and lovely thing that brings us joy, particularly when we experience it with someone we’re in love with and who we respect. We live in physical bodies. When religion emphasizes fear of our physicality, of what it causes us to do or to be or to enjoy, this is not good for us. Our bodies are built for certain things, and among those is sexual pleasure. It’s part of our human nature.”

the_kiss

By own photo of the sculpture of Rodin – own photo in the Rodin Museum, Paris, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4145510

“So should priests not be celibate?” My daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Celibacy has been touted as a virtuous accomplishment. In fact, it can also be a perversion of nature. Even though we are animals, and sex is one of the single most important instincts nature has given us, and perhaps the strongest of all of our instincts. It’s impossible to be human without embracing our sexuality, and true happiness and contentment are the rewards of a strong, loving relationship; this includes a sexual relationship.”

“So are you saying we shouldn’t be celibate? That it’s wrong for us to be deprived of sex? I thought you also taught that it’s okay to fast sometimes, Mom,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s good to fast, yeah,” I agreed. “But that’s not the point of celibacy. The point of celibacy is to find purity through deprivation, and fasting is another type of deprivation, but it reminds us that we are able to overcome our instincts, at least for a little while. No one can exist forever without eating, and I don’t know that it’s good to try to exist without satisfying our physical needs.”

“Might make it easier,” my son chipped in, “ Not to have to eat. Then you wouldn’t have to cook, and we wouldn’t be led by our donkey souls into eating so much junk food.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Well, that brings up an interesting point. Hunger is easy for us to understand. When people are starving, their morals quickly evaporate, and they take to stealing, fighting, and rioting to get food. Our bodies tell our brains that we’re in trouble, that we’ll die if we don’t get food soon, and the primitive part of our brains turn loose our most primitive emotions.”

“So are you saying we go crazy if we try not to have sex once we’re adults?” My daughter was trying not to smile.

“Not exactly, no. Maybe celibacy is fine for some people, I dunno. But in general, sex is perhaps our strongest instinct, because it represents how we express our love physically. We need to be able to express our love. We really need it, at least once we’re grown up and mature enough to handle all the emotions that come with it. So sexuality is a very strong instinct, and it’s tied into love. The way it’s taught though is like it’s a bad instinct. Sex is perhaps our strongest instinct, and yet it is to be ignored, restrained from or used as a weapon against us?”

How have you been taught about sexuality?

How would you teach your children differently?


David by Michelangelo; Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna (Own Source, Wikipedia)

David by Michelangelo; Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna (Own Source, Wikipedia).

When I say that we should use gentle, love-based teachings to guide our children and help them make good choices about their sexuality, I’m not saying anything goes. I don’t think we should teach our kids to simply do whatever they wish to do. We should teach our kids to value their bodies. We should teach our kids how to say no, either to other kids, or to adults who don’t respect proper boundaries. We should teach our children how to stay safe, and how to respect the safety and well-being of others.

Indeed, we have a duty to teach our sons in particular that “No” means “No,” and that a women’s body is hers alone to assert control and dominion over. We should teach our children that experiencing sexuality without love and commitment is something that will often leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled. We should teach them that sex is an adult act with adult consequences, such as pregnancy and disease. And we should help guide our children on a path that emphasizes discernment and the other side of free will: consequences.

Everything we do, after all, has consequences. But making the best choices occurs when we are unafraid and not laden with shame or dread. We should accept ourselves as well as seek responsibility for our actions, but we should not fear judgment or carry our mistakes as burdens. We should not feel ashamed, because shame is not a kind or a good teacher.




As Black Deaths Pile Up, Peace Matters

It’s International Peace Day, but our nation is riven by dissent. A football player kneels during the National Anthem to protest police brutality, and he’s accused of being unpatriotic (and worse). Two more black men die at the hands of police (in Tulsa and Charlotte), and a city erupts into peaceful and then violent protest. Sadly, I open the newspaper or scroll through my newsfeed and the first thing that I think about is, I wonder if anymore blacks have been shot today?250px-peace_sign-svg

As far as the football player kneeling during the National Anthem, I would remind others that this is by its very essence a peaceful and orderly form of protest. If Colin Kaepernick feels like the National Anthem does not adequately represent him as a black man, then perhaps it’s up to us to listen to how this could be so. Did you know, for example, that the third verse of the National Anthem refers to terrorizing hirelings and slaves?

No refuge could save the hireling and slave’

From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that the British freed more than six thousand slaves during the War of 1812, and then allowed these freed slaves to fight against their former captors (and the country that allowed this bondage). I didn’t know it either, and I was an honors history major and a lawyer.

In fact, I always wept during the Anthem when I attended ballgames—because I was proud of the home of the free and the brave. I didn’t know that the verses left unsung referred to defeating slaves in battle . . . and that’s of course the nature of history. It’s told by the victors. I think we all can accept that as great as this country is, the United States is (rightfully) ashamed of its slave-owning and trading heritage.

After knowing this fact, am I still proud to be an American? Of course I am. I know our nation isn’t perfect, but the ideals we embrace in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation and The Two Americas—are beautiful ones. Equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the enfranchisement of individual rights, tolerance, public welfare, freedom of conscience—these ideals are ALL beautiful.

By Daniel Hartwig - Derivative of file:Colin Kaepernick and Kyle Williams warm up.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29243682

By Daniel Hartwig – Derivative of file:Colin Kaepernick and Kyle Williams warm up.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29243682

But I’m white. I’m privileged. I am privileged simply by dint of my ivory skin. If you question whether white privilege exists, then ask yourself this: why do we try to find a reason for why all black men are shot, while we search equally hard to justify why a white man had sex with an unwilling female? Why, in other words, is it easier, less frightening, less dangerous to be white than it is to be black in America?

I ask these questions in honor of International Peace Day. Until we understand why blacks are throwing rocks and water bottles at police officers in Charlotte, until we try to comprehend why so many blacks are being shot by white police officers, we will not have peace in our country. Peace exists only when those who are assigned the duty of serving and protecting us can set aside skin color when deciding who is worthy of protecting as opposed to who represents a threat to public order.

When Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, I wasn’t sure how I felt about his gesture. I recognize American greatness, and I love my country. Why can’t we stand in respect during a song that extols our country’s greatness, I mused. Standing quietly never hurt anyone. On the other hand, the act of kneeling was itself peaceful. It posed no threat to public order or the peace. It was an act of not even civil but social disobedience . . . and as such, don’t our very highest values protect a man’s right to speak up or fail to speak when his conscience demands otherwise?

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in 1519, was he following social norms? I highly doubt it. He was rebelling against an established religious and political order because he thought it was corrupt. Priests, after all, were selling salvation for money. And when Martin Luther King led marches on the South, was he obeying the established political and social order? Of course not. He saw that there were two Americas; one white and privileged; the other, black, impoverished and oppressed. These two great Martins spoke out against the Establishment of their times.

Kaepernick speaks out against the killing of blacks by police officers, and he gets crucified by many for his outspoken assault on America. My question is: how is it not patriotic to speak out in favor of the sanctity of black lives, unless we as a country do not believe those lives really matter? Doesn’t it come down to whether we value the lives of all our citizens, including black lives, enough? If whites were suddenly the minority and whites were being killed at the rate blacks were being killed, wouldn’t white men and women feel attacked, appalled, and even embittered?

I really think that’s the issue at hand. Black lives for some reason don’t seem as precious as white lives. A black dies in the inner city? “Oh well, it’s just black on black crime,” we shrug. Or a black man is shot during a routine traffic stop? He must have done something wrong. He probably talked back to the cop, or maybe he had several outstanding tickets, or maybe he owned a gun, or perhaps he didn’t follow voice commands quickly or suppliantly enough. He MUST have done something to provoke the officer.

As one of my friends said, “Mothers worry for their black sons when he walks out the door to walk four blocks to his friend’s home not because he may get hit by a car or there might be rain but will he come home in a body bag at the hand of an officer of the law? A mother makes her black son call home every hour, on the hour, just to make sure he’s not in trouble. A black boy’s mother must think differently than a white boy’s mother. She must worry about the police, and whether they will hurt her son.”

As a white mother of white sons, I don’t have to worry that my son might be harassed by the police. I also don’t have to worry about getting pulled over. In fact, I’m famously lucky and well-treated by officers of the law. Every time I get pulled over, I receive a smile (sometimes many smiles) and assistance with my trunk and little stickers for my kids and directions to wherever I’m going. I cannot imagine what would happen if I were black. I know I wouldn’t get treated as well. And I know it would weigh on me. How about you? Would you feel angry or frightened if you were pulled over for an expired tag? Or if you were on your way home from work after a twelve hour day? Or if it was the fifth time you’d been pulled over that year—each time for nothing or next to nothing?

And yet as a black citizen, you must be perfect. A white can talk back to a cop, but blacks are taught to be on perfect behavior and hope for the best. This is wrong.

Photo by Tulsa Police

Photo by Tulsa Police

Our system says that we’re all created equal. And our officers of the peace are supposed to serve and protect all lives with the same ardor—and yet blacks are too often treated as more of a potential threat to safety than whites. In fact, the average black views the police as more a threat to his or her safety than he views the police as a source of safety. Again, this is wrong.

There’s been a disconnect in how our police officers are being trained. They’re taught to stay alive and make it home to their families, after all, and they are taught to distinguish between those in need and those who are a threat. The threat matrix police officers use is supposed to be color blind. Police officers are not supposed to treat blacks more suspiciously than they treat whites, but in general I think they do. At some point in the training process, police officers are either being taught to distinguish people based on color, or they’re not being trained to resist the urge to check skin color first, everything else, second.

That’s a bold statement, you might be thinking. But the black deaths keep piling up. The officers in Tulsa are now under investigation by the Department of Justice for the shooting of Terence Crutcher on Friday, September 16, 2016. The shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte involves conflicting reports by police and by family members of the deceased, and there is no available video footage to review. So I feel unable to analyze this shooting effectively. But the black deaths pile up, and as a peace advocate, I must ask why, and all I’m left with is that at least some if not most of these shootings could have and should have been avoided.

What’s the solution? Peaceful protests, like that of Colin Kaepernick, are a good starting place. Writing opinion pieces may help. Trying to understand the plight of blacks in America should most certainly help us better comprehend the problems involving law enforcement in this country. Reform of police training should also be undertaken immediately, and I would hope that federal and state governments would involve black leaders and civil rights leaders in this process.

If cops are killing blacks disproportionately and without justification, then people are dying unnecessarily. No one should be allowed to die unnecessarily. And it’s our duty as American citizens to make sure that all Americans receive equal treatment under the law, and at the hands of those who enforce that law. May peace and freedom reign—for all of us.




250,000 Gallons of Gasoline Spilled by Colonial Pipeline

250,000 gallons of gasoline recently spilled from Colonial Pipeline into the land in Shelby County, Alabama. Colonial Pipeline, which is based out of Alpharetta, Georgia, announced the spill on its company website on September 9, 2016. The company claims that there is no threat to the public and is working with the EPA and local fire and emergency personnel to clean up the spill. A No-Fly zone has also been established in the vicinity of the spill due to volatility concerns, and residents have been warned not to use firearms. Due to the sheer size of the gasoline that is leaking into a remote patch of land, interruptions to eastern seaboard fuel supply are anticipated.

The Colonial Pipeline transmits refined gasoline products, such as diesel, heating oil, and jet fuel from Houston to the New York harbor. “Colonial Pipeline’s Line 1 transports gasoline from refiners on the Gulf Coast to delivery locations along the Eastern seaboard.”[1]

Approximately 50 million consumers are served by the pipeline. The company is preparing contingency plans for ensuring that all its customers are served. According to the company’s website:

To minimize potential supply disruptions caused by the interruption to Line 1, Colonial Pipeline has executed a contingency plan to move gasoline on Line 2, which normally carries distillate such as diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil to points north. The origination of gasoline into Line 2 has begun, and Line 1 has been restarted upstream of the impacted segment and is operating from Houston to western Alabama.

Fuel shippers have also begun to implement contingency plans to further mitigate potential disruption to their operations. For example, other segments of the fuel delivery system are executing contingency plans, such as dispatching waterborne cargoes from the Gulf Coast to markets along the eastern seaboard. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an official waiver for federal low volatility requirements under the Clean Air Act for certain markets in the southeast in an effort to further mitigate potential supply disruptions. Each of these measures has been taken to help the market adjust to alternate sources of supply.[2]

Forest Guardians; www.fguardians.org. Photo taken in New Mexico, USA

Forest Guardians; www.fguardians.org. Photo taken in New Mexico, USA

It’s a little difficult to wrap my mind around the extent of the spill described above. The company has dispatched more than 680 workers to contain the spill, which supposedly is limited to a mining retention pit that is isolated from the nearby Cahaba River. Workers are using skimmers to remove the gasoline from the retention pit and are building underwater dams to prevent the gasoline from further spilling into the Cahaba.[3]

Colonial Pipeline is a totally different company than Dakota Access, the company behind the construction of the Bakken Pipeline. But a pipeline is a pipeline, and a company is a company. More specifically, all energy companies promise they will extract and ship oil and gas safely, but the safety records of some of the largest and most respected of energy companies leaves much to be desired. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill dumped between 162,000 and 472,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.[4]

The company responsible for this spill was Transocean, which leased its exploration rights to BP. The Exxon Valdez spill occurred in 1989 when a ship ran aground in Alaska. An estimated 10,800,000 to 31,700,000 US gallons, or 257,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil were spilled, and the cleanup took years. The Exxon Valdez spill was listed in 1989 as only the 54th largest spill in history.[5] There’s been at least fifty-three larger spills in history . . . which tells you that drilling and transporting oil and gas involves risk.

By http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/photos/exxon/02.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1858

By http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/photos/exxon/02.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1858

The incidence of these spills also begs a question.

If these spills can occur in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and now in Alabama, what does this tell us about trusting energy companies to transmit oil safely across this great land of ours? 250,000 gallons of oil have just spilled in Alabama. If this large of a spill can occur in Alabama, then how can we be certain that an equally large spill will not occur in the proposed pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota, through South Dakota, Iowa, to its endpoint in Patoka, Illinois?

The Bakken pipeline is a 1,134-mile long underground oil pipeline and is expected to come online in January 2017. Frighteningly enough, the pipeline will extend through two of the largest rivers in the continental United States: the Mississippi and the Missouri. The Bakken pipeline, which is 30 inches in diameter, will carry an estimated 450,000 gallons of oil each day. What happens if somewhere along the 1,134 miles of pipeline, a hole forms? How much crude oil will leak into the land before the pipeline is shut down? Or if the leak occurs near an aquifer or a watershed, or God forbid one of our great rivers, how much will spill before the leak is discovered?

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

To recap.

A pipeline that runs from Houston to the New York harbor just spilled at least 250,000 gallons of gasoline into a remote piece of land in Shelby County, Alabama. The spill is so large that Colonial pipeline is anticipating possible interruptions to eastern seaboard fuel supply. The proposed Bakken pipeline will run between two major rivers: the Missouri and the Mississippi. A busted pipeline could absolutely destroy one of our great rivers. We must pause and ensure that Dakota Access pipeline is taking appropriate safety measures, and if we cannot guarantee this, then the pipeline has no business being built. Yes we need oil and gasoline, but it must be transmitted safely.

 

Update: As of 1:25 PM, 9/16/16, the company has updated the volume spilled. Now it is estimating that as many as 8,000 barrels spilled, which would increase the gallon count to an estimated 350,000 to 400,000. “Based on conservative evaporation models and assumptions, the spill volume estimate has been revised to fall in the range of 6,000 to 8,000 barrels.” https://helena.colonialresponse.com/ CDT Update # 14.

 

[1] https://helena.colonialresponse.com/

 

[2] https://helena.colonialresponse.com/

 

[3] http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2016/09/15/pipeline-spills-around-250-000-gallons-of-gasoline.html

 

 

[4] http://chartsbin.com/view/mgz

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez




What Happens if Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton dies after the election?

Recent reports have detailed concerns regarding Hillary Clinton’s health. A video taken yesterday concerns me very much, and I will share it below. Other videos seem to contain possible inaccuracies; therefore, I am not comfortable sharing them. Suffice to say that according to some reports, including allegedly leaked medical records, Clinton may be suffering from advanced Parkinson’s Disease and or vascular dementia. One of the leaked records suggested that Clinton has less than a year to live. Again, I don’t feel like it is proper to share these videos.

But this recent video purportedly shows Clinton fainting and being shucked away by the Secret Service:

If Clinton is in fact ill, this does not bode well for her ability to assume office. Other videos that I have watched show Clinton experiencing a seizure or other serious neurological tic:

or Clinton at the Democratic National Convention:

Are these head jerks, collapses and gaped-mouth stares cause for concern? Perhaps.

And that brings to mind certain scenarios that we never even discussed in law school or in my undergraduate constitutional history classes. We never, discussed, for example, the case of Horace Greeley.

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

In 1872, when Horace Greeley passed away between Election Day and the meeting of electors, the electors who were slated to vote for Greeley voted for various candidates, including Greeley. The votes cast for Greeley were not counted due to a House resolution passed regarding the matter.[1]

Presumably, if Clinton died between the general election and the meeting of electors, it is likely that the House would pass a resolution that votes cast for Clinton would not matter. Unfortunately, the laws at first glance appear to be unclear:

Under federal law, the electors pledged to the deceased candidate may vote for the candidate of their choice at the meeting of electors. Individual states may pass laws on the subject, but no federal law proscribes how electors must vote when a candidate dies or becomes incapacitated.[2]

So apparently, the Electoral College could be thrown into a certain amount of chaos if Clinton were to pass away between the time of the general election and the meeting of electors. Then again, the electoral system often seems chaotic; take, for example, the Bush/Gore election in 2000. Eventually, though, the election was decided, albeit by the United States Supreme Court.

A few more complications could arise if Clinton passed away after the election. Let’s say the electors among the various states could not agree on a candidate after the matter was sent to them. If no candidate received 270 electoral votes, then the election would be sent to the House of Representatives. Then, the House of Representatives would have to choose a President from the top three vote getters at the Electoral College. Amendment XII governs this scenario:

The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

So in the case of the Clinton/Trump election, if Clinton died, and the electoral college met, they could come up with the following result:hillary_clinton_testimony_to_house_select_committee_on_benghazi

Donald Trump:          230

Hillary Clinton:          170

Tim Kaine:                 130

Jill Stein:                     008
___________________

538

Keep in mind, these numbers aren’t meant to serve as predictors of the election. You could switch them around anyway you want, but so long as no one gets 270 electoral votes, that candidate couldn’t win the electoral college election.

So at this point, the matter would devolve to the House of Representatives to choose the President, and the Senate to choose the Vice-President. The House would choose among the top three vote-getters, and thus (assuming representatives did not cast votes for the deceased Clinton) the runoff would be between Trump and Kaine. Each state would receive one vote. And once the House reached a final decision, Kaine or Trump would be declared the President-Elect.

Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine

The scenario is a bit different if Clinton were to pass away after the meeting of the Electoral College and the Inauguration. According to Section 3 of the Twentieth Amendment:

“If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President.”

If Clinton dies after the general election AND after the electoral college meets, but before the inauguration, the Vice-President elect (Tim Kaine) would become President.

And finally, if Clinton dies after her inauguration, the Constitution provides that the Vice President will become President. After being sworn in, Kaine would then choose a Vice President who would then have to be confirmed by both Houses of Congress.[3]

One last scenario is this one: Clinton dies very close to the election. What would happen? Unfortunately, there’s no precedent for this. Very likely, the ballots would have already been printed, and the Democratic Party would instruct voters to cast their vote for her, with the intent of allowing the problem to be resolved by the Electoral College and its electors. The situation would be chaotic at best.

The good news, though, is this: our democratic system is strong. We have procedures in place to deal with just about every eventuality. Should the unthinkable happen, and should Clinton pass away after the election, an orderly process should ensue that will ensure the continuation of our democratic system. We have, after all, lost Presidents. Should we lose a Presidential candidate or even a President-Elect, we will carry on. It’s what we do as Americans.

[1] See https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/print_friendly.html?page=faq_content.html&title=U.%20S.%20Electoral%20College%3A%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions

[2] See https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/print_friendly.html?page=faq_content.html&title=U.%20S.%20Electoral%20College%3A%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions

[3] Section 2 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.




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