Monthly Archives: September 2016

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,

By Daniel Hartwig – Derivative of file:Colin Kaepernick and Kyle Williams warm up.jpg, CC BY 2.0,

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; Photo taken in New Mexico, USA

Forest Guardians; 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, Public Domain,

By, Public Domain,

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.” CDT Update # 14.











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


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

[2] See

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

Call Off the Fracking Dogs: Dakota Access Pipeline

I’ve been studying fracking with an open mind. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more disturbed I’m becoming. The true story here seems one of corporate irresponsibility, poor governmental oversight, inadequate regulation, and short-sighted deals made by often desperate individual landowners, who deal with greedy corporate behemoths. The land and our nation’s water accordingly suffers from our mistakes, and this weighs on my heart.

I began to read about fracking a few days before the Dakota Access pipeline exploded into the public’s attention. I was in the library with my children, and after helping Ben pick out a few books, I drifted into the non-fiction section. And I saw two books on fracking. One was pro; the other, con. I like to get both sides of an issue. It probably comes from my days practicing law. One of the enduring lessons of law school is that there is always (or almost always) a majority decision and a dissenting view, and sometimes the dissenting view eventually becomes the new standard after time passes and the law shifts.

The book in favor of fracking, The Fracking Truth by Chris Faulkner, was written by a man who claims that “no oil company owns fracking_faulknerhim or pays him to flog a point of view.” Faulkner, however, does hold an incredibly large stake in the successful outcome of the legal challenges posed to fracking, for he owns Breitling Energy Corporation (formerly Brietling Oil & Gas Company). I didn’t dismiss Faulkner’s point of view merely because he holds a personal stake in fracking; I did find, however, that Faulkner’s writing and analysis to be subpar.

Faulkner rightly points out the advantages of fracking: it takes advantage of new drilling techniques that allow us to access natural gas from American land cheaply. And if we can secure and use American natural gas, we can “reduce our oil import dependency, notably from volatile regions or nations antagonistic to America’s interests.” See Preface vii. Additionally, relying on natural gas could reduce our reliance on coal, which is a major source of pollution and greenhouse gases.

The problem with Faulkner is that he writes like a cheerleader, and sells fracking with bright shiny graphs and photographs, but fails to analyze the risks of hydraulic, horizontal drilling. He also does not discuss the risks to the water supply posed by fracking. He merely shows the rosiest picture possible, replete with pretty pie charts showing the wealth and cheap energy that fracking could provide.

The other book I read, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale by Tom Wilber is a completely different affair. Wilber is a reporter who worked on the fracking story in Pennsylvania and New York for several years. And it is much more difficult to tell if Wilber is pro or con fracking. He tells the story of fracking by patiently relating the stories of landowners, community activists (usually reluctant ones who are also landowners affected by fracking), lawyers, regulators, landmen who negotiate for the gas companies, the academics who advise the gas companies, and politicians who in most cases side with the gas companies.

Wilber takes us into the lives of people who live in Dimock, Pennsylvania, a small town in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. We meet land-rich but often desperate families, who negotiate with landsmen representing Cabot Oil and Gas Company over coffee tables and inside meager home sites that sit atop one of the largest shale formations (the Marcellus Shale formation) inside the United States. We meet families facing foreclosures, mounting health care bills, and the promise of a better life—if only they sign on the dotted line. And many families do sign. They sign leases with Cabot and almost every family sees the lease agreement as the sign of better days to come.

Little do they know that each well requires 900 to 1300 truck deliveries, or that the fracking process itself requires the use of about six swimming pool’s worth of water mixed with chemicals for each well. These chemicals are often poisonous . . . and yet the companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they are using. Because the companies won’t list the chemicals, water treatment plants began to decline to take those six swimming pools’ worth of water. And over time, the chemical-laden water was often left to sit in rotting storage tanks on the land for months at a stretch. wilber_fracking

How is this even possible? And what happens when a storage tank leaks, or a poorly-lined well leaches into the water aquifer beneath or above the shale?

Too often, the first answer is—nothing.

Little did the landowners know that wells are exempted from the EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Act’s provisions that establish minimum regulations for state Underground Injection Control Programs (or “fracking”). In fact, well operators need not comply with any federal regulations regarding safe water drinking under what has been deemed the “Halliburton Exemption,” which exists to this day. In other words, regulation of fracking is largely left up to the states, and most state regulators, including Pennsylvania, are undermanned.

What does this mean for the people of Dimock? It means that once Cabot started drilling on the residents’ land and those wells or storage tanks leaked, all of a sudden, a family went from drinking perfectly pure and safe water to having to wash laundry in bottled water. Can you imagine taking a load of laundry out of your dryer and finding it ruined? Can you imagine flipping on your tap water, only to pour brown sludge into a glass?

I can hardly comprehend it myself.

And here’s where the story becomes plain frustrating. Several water wells, all within a short distance of a gas well, go bad. Cabot says it’s not their fault, but if a resident hollers enough, they decide to make some water deliveries. Maybe they ship over some bottled water, or in some cases, they deliver water buffaloes to the beleaguered landowners.

Water buffaloes freeze in the winter (requiring exterior heating, which costs a lot of money) and they garner lots of bacteria in the summer—becoming undrinkable and worse. Still, the drilling continues. And the landowners drink cruddy water, or they have to use bottled water for all their household needs, including laundry.

As time passes, residents spot leaks from the water storage tanks, and Cabot promises to study it but does not rectify it. More residents find that their formerly pristine water is going bad, or the fish in their ponds are sick or dying. Cabot disclaims responsibility, and the regulators do nothing.

Finally, Norma’s well explodes (by this point in the book, Norma feels like family), and great damage is done to the property. In fact, four nearby homes are completely out of water after the New Years’ Day explosion. The residents thought at this point that the drilling would stop or that immediate and significant improvements would be made to ensure safer drilling operations. Explosive levels of methane are found in at least a dozen wells.

But instead of ordering a stop to the drilling or requiring strict enforcement actions, the state regulators cautioned that any enforcement action had to be weighed against the industry’s response, and that much of the enforcement was determined through negotiation. After all, if you come down too hard on the gas companies, said the regulator, the industry may stop voluntarily reporting safety violations. And apparently safety inspections rely almost entirely on industry reports.

I saw this, by the way, when I worked as a lawyer in the energy and financial markets. Anytime regulators wanted to fix something that had gone wrong in the field, they contacted the company and asked for information. The company would then be given a chance to voluntarily provide information and enter into an agreement to fix whatever they had done wrong—and it’s safe to say that such negotiations can drag on for years. The same is true of course for the townspeople of Dimock. While they waited for the industry to report its manifold safety violations, the damage to the land and to the water supply from hydraulic drilling continued.

The Switzers’, for example, were out of water, and now they were relying on Cabot to make deliveries of substandard water via plastic water tanks.

“These are used for cattle, and we are not cattle.” –Victoria Switzer

In order for the residents of Dimock to receive help, they had to become, as they called it, accidental activists. Unfortunately, the existing federal and state laws provided scant protections to individual landowners who had the misfortune to sign lease agreements with Cabot. After all, Halliburton has ensured that producers of wells and those who inject water and other chemicals into the ground to extract oil and gas are EXEMPT from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

So where do we stand now, in North Dakota? Why is the largest Native American protest in recent history taking place on a reservation?

It’s because of the The Bakken pipeline.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

What is the Bakken pipeline? It is a 1,134-mile long underground oil pipeline project that is using hydraulic fracking to extract crude oil and then ship it from the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota, through South Dakota, Iowa, to its endpoint in Patoka, Illinois. The Bakken pipeline is 48 % complete, and is expected to come online in January 2017.

Only two entities are stopping the completion of the pipeline at this point: a small group in Iowa, who won a reprieve from state regulators, and a mammouth band of Native American tribes, who are peacefully protesting on a North Dakota reservation and who are also pursuing legal action in D.C. Led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the opposition won a temporary work stoppage this week. According to the Associated Press,

“U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said Tuesday that work will temporarily stop between State Highway 1806 and 20 miles east of Lake Oahe, but that work will continue west of the highway because he believes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacks jurisdiction on private land.”

The tribe sought the work stoppage after a weekend confrontation between protestors and construction workers over the alleged bulldozing of sacred sites near Lake Oahe. Meanwhile, work continues on the reservation, and protestors have continued to amass peacefully on the reservation. There have been a few reports of individuals tying themselves to heavy machinery, but no arrests have been made, and there have been no reports of violence by protestors.

The problem is that the company, Dakota Access Pipeline, has not exhibited the same restraint. In the following video clip, security guards hired by the oil company release attack dogs on protestors.

According to bystanders, more than six Native Americans (including one child) were bitten by the dogs, and more than thirty protestors were sprayed (presumably by company personnel) with pepper spray.

Think about this for a minute. Who do you trust to take care of our land and our water supply—Native Americans, who are raised


Standing Rock Indian Reservation By User:Nikater [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

to love the land and believe it has a spirit, or energy companies who would send attack dogs to quell peaceful protestors? These same energy companies, mind you, are out to protect a 3.8 billion dollar investment, and they have a fiduciary duty to to obtain the greatest return on their investments. They do not have a duty to protect our water or our land, and while these energy companies are treated as persons under the laws,  act like anything but human.

These are the people who are bringing us our crude oil. If corporations wish to be treated as persons, they need to start acting like them. They need to behave like good citizens. They need to treat the land better. They need to take more steps to safeguard our water supply.

But most of all, before they take any better safety measures to improve how they take gas and oil out of the land, they need to call off the dogs.


Dear Dakota Access pipeline executives: CALL OFF THE DOGS.

Yours truly.

An actual U.S. citizen.

Is Jesus the Only Way Home? Is it False to Teach Otherwise?

I read a blog last night that discussed a theory that some Christians have. It runs like this:

Jesus is the way, the light, and the truth, and through him is the only way one can approach God. Jesus also warned about the influence of false prophets, so if someone preaches something that goes against the centrality of Jesus to the salvation of his or her listeners, she or he is a false prophet[1] and is leading you astray.

As an interfaith minister who hails from the Christian tradition, I accept Jesus as our savior. I believe that he died and was resurrected, and that he was the son of God and was doing God’s will his entire lifetime. But I don’t believe that this means that Jesus wanted us to abandon other holy and pure paths Home. I don’t think that following Jesus’ actual teachings means that we must reject other well-intentioned routes or teachings that can also guide us to God.

And here is why.

Jesus taught that God’s main commandment was to love God and to love one another as God loves us:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40.

What this means to me is that Jesus taught an overarching law. We should love God, the Father, and we should love one another. If we live like this and do not know Jesus (say we live in a place where the history of Jesus is unknown, or say we grow up being taught solid Buddhist, Hindu-Yogi, Sufi Muslim, or Native American beliefs), we are following a proper and good path Home. We are living as Jesus lived, with love, tolerance, forgiveness and obedience to God’s will as our central precepts.


Sea of Gallilee By he:User:י.ש. (The Hebrew Wikipedia[1])

Jesus repeatedly said that he was doing His Father’s will. He did not claim to be the Father, but the son of God.

Jesus also taught that when he left this world, he was leaving behind a great gift to all of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what allows each one of us to connect to Home. It is, the best I can tell from what Jesus said, akin to a Holy Counselor, or a direct line to our Creator, and we are supposed to honor this gift by using it to listen to what the Spirit tells us. Says Jesus:

I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. Luke 12:8-12.

This is a rather an amazing thought. Jesus says that you shouldn’t speak against him (and that’s something I for one will not do, for I believe in him as our Savior and as the son of God). But he says you will be forgiven if you do. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, which for sure represents a different entity and thus path to Salvation than going through the son alone, you are blaspheming and will not be forgiven. Thus when we listen to the Spirit and follow what we hear, when we incorporate teachings that come from within us and try to be the best souls we can be, we are following a good path. And when teachers tell us to look inward and to listen, they are not leading us astray. They’re simply telling us to do what Jesus told us to do.

The Holy Spirit spoke to many of the apostles after Jesus died, and helped them in their ministry. There were prophets mentioned in both Acts and in 1 Corinthians, and these prophets are accepted as being proper and good teachers (so long as they are listening to the Spirit and using what they hear to help guide listeners to the straight and proper path). Here are some examples of prophets doing God’s work after Jesus died:

And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. Acts 19:6-7.

We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Acts 21:7-9.

Note that Phillip, one of Jesus’ apostles, had four daughters, and each one of them were prophets.

In the next paragraph, it states that another prophet delivered a message to Paul, warning him of danger.

After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” Acts 21:10-11.

This same man, Agapus, is also mentioned as being in a group of prophets and sharing warnings earlier in Acts:

In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted through the Spirit that a great famine would sweep across the entire Roman world. (This happened under Claudius.) So the disciples, each according to his ability, decided to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gifts to the elders with Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:28-30.

Photo from

Sea of Galilee, seen from Jordan Photo from

In addition, 1 Corinthians 11 speaks of how prophets (male or female) should behave in a properly run church. In other words, Paul thinks it is acceptable for a woman to prophesies (so long as her head is covered, which is another issue altogether). The place of prophecy in religion and in future church life, in other words, is accepted by Paul, for we all have special gifts and abilities we should use to serve one another and to serve God. Prophecy, which can come to anyone who is chosen by God, requires that one listen to the Spirit, or to God directly. It is also likely that God could send his only begotten son, Jesus, or an angel as a messenger to speak to any human. It is not logical to argue that Agapus, Phillip’s daughters, or any of the future prophets discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, are doing wrong when they obey the guidance of the Spirit and share the message they receive to others. The mere fact that prophets (who are divinely guided, either by God or by the Spirit) are accepted in the New Testament shows that the Christian Church assigns the Holy Spirit an important role in the calling of individuals to God. If the Spirit can call us, then it is right and good to follow that call rather than the mere call of Jesus alone.

Indeed, Jesus states as much when he tells us it is worse to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit than to speak against him. Jesus also says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” And Jesus, again and again, states that he is obeying the Father and doing the Father’s will by sharing God’s teachings with God’s people. Jesus tells us all to listen to God and to do as the Holy Spirit guides us. It is impossible to say that we should disobey the dictates of the Holy Spirit and still follow Jesus, because Jesus himself tells us to obey the Spirit. In other words, Jesus explains that we can follow his teachings to love God (the Father), to love one another, to look inward and listen to what the Spirit tells us, OR to accept Jesus’ teachings and apply them to our lives. It’s not enough to simply accept Jesus as our Savior. We must live according to his commandments, and these are to love the Father and to love one another.

Is it enough to live like Jesus lived, to love one another, but to accept the teachings of other (earlier or later) prophets? Are all Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, secular humanists, perhaps even Unitarians, as well as those who follow the teachings of indigenous traditions . . . are all these people condemned to hell? In other words, what do these words mean to those of us who live two thousand years after the death of Jesus:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6.

One possible interpretation is of course taking these words completely literally. If you want to get to God, you gotta go through the son. You can’t go directly. You can’t listen to the Spirit. You listen to Jesus and to Jesus only.

This is a sensible interpretation in some ways. But if you will, consider the time and the place, or the texture of when and why this statement was made, and also consider the other teachings Jesus brought. After three to five years of oppression and opposition, of denial and worse, Jesus was about to die. When Jesus was talking to his disciples, he was preparing them for his death. He was about to go away, but he would send the Holy Spirit down as a guide. The rest of the conversation went like this:

If you had known Me, you would know My Father as well. From now you do know Him and have seen Him.”

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on my own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in me, carrying out His work. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father

Gospel Trail - Mount Tabor, Galilee Photo by Tal Glick

Gospel Trail – Mount Tabor, Galilee
Photo by Tal Glick

is in me—or at least believe because of the works themselves.

Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

If you love me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and He will be in you.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. In a little while, the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.” John 14:7-21.

Jesus explains that he is doing God’s will. That the Father lives in him and he lives in the Father just as the disciples live in Jesus and they live in him. We are supposed to love Jesus and to love the Father, and we are supposed to live according to what Jesus taught when he lived on earth. We are supposed to continue doing Jesus’ works even after he is gone, and the Holy Spirit will help us serve others just as Jesus did his Father’s will and served God’s people.

When Jesus says that he is the only way to God, I think he was speaking to the times he lived in. In 33 AD, Jesus was living as the Messiah here on earth. John the Baptist, the other leading prophet of the time, had already handed the baton to the Lamb of God, as John called Jesus, and had gone Home to rest. All of John’s disciples would then have been expected to follow Jesus, and we are told in John 1:35-42 that Andrew and most likely John followed Jesus based on John’s instruction. The rest of John’s disciples probably took after Jesus once John the Baptist passed away. Everyone who lived at the time of the Savior would have been expected to help Jesus in his miracle-giving ministry. Anyone who lived and saw the miracles Jesus did with their own two eyes should have accepted and followed the son.

How far does this expectation extend? Many generations have passed. Many countries, including Israel, have fallen and risen. And many people follow the teachings of other prophets and servants of the Lord, including Muhammad, Rumi, Buddha, Ramakrishna (from the Hindu monk tradition), Ahmad . . . the list goes on. I am not comfortable asserting that all of these teachers are false, or that those who follow these teachers and do their best to live good lives, to love one another, to love God . . . are damned.

I just don’t think that is what Jesus meant when he said to the people in his own time period that he was the way and the truth and the life. I don’t think he meant that good souls who lived thousands of years later were condemned to hell if they looked inward and listened to the Spirit and found a route Home that took them through the gates in a slightly different way. I don’t think that Jesus, after living on earth as a man, meant that for all souls who lived on earth thereafter, that the only way to God forever and ever more was to proceed through the gate manned by Jesus. If that were the case, then why send down the Holy Counselor, or the Holy Spirit? Why commission Paul to preach? Why does the New Testament speak of so many other prophets who listened and taught after Jesus went Home?  Why did the Spirit talk to saints and monks, preachers and teachers, like Saint Theresa, John of the Cross, Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, Meister Eckhart . . . and why has the church accepted the visions and accounts, the epiphanies and insights . . . of so many who were inspired by the Spirit?

Am I certain I’m right? No, I’m human, I’m in a human shell. I do my best to interpret and teach the scriptures. I listen to the Spirit and to what I’m told and study and while I’m in this shell, I will do my best to love God, to honor the son of God, and to love others. I will look inward, and suggest that others look inward as well. After all, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God exists within us.[2] Therein lies the map Home. We all have it. We all have the key to our own salvation.





[1] Mark 13:21-22. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

[2] Luke 17:20-2


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