Who Is Our Neighbor?

DDThe story of the Jericho Road is well-known to many; a man traveling down the dangerous 17-mile old world passage that climbs between Jericho and Jerusalem; it is winding, steep, remote. Historically known as the Bloody Pass; in the one biblical story from the Gospels, a man is jumped by a gang of marauders and falls injured, unable to help himself. Several men of supposed good will—including a priest—pass him without offering aid. They see him and ignore him. Who knows why? One thing is clear: the victim is not their neighbor.

Not only in the sense of a person who is not of their community or one whose identity is unknown, but also in the sense of ethical action—a willingness to offer a hand to someone in need in times when danger threatens even good intent.

The ethical will which fails or is abandoned has a political and social side. Ethical choices have powerful consequences that quickly grow complicated and cover a broad range of actions. Immediate reflection shows the idea of the neighbor is at the center of our domestic politics. And the idea of the neighbor and ethical action is a paired “who and what” that underscores the immigration crisis that carried tens of thousands of children to our borders, our school lunch programs and the fight against obesity, the school-prison pipeline (middle school children in handcuffs taken out of school), our support for affordable healthcare (ethical actions of costs, coverage and value) and violence against women (perpetrator and societal victim blaming). The answer to “who” identifies the persons and communities, the victims we are ethically tasked to love and help, to take risks ourselves in order to render aid, to challenge the inherent dangers by our actions. As our national resolve weakens or gives in to hate and fear, the list of  ”who” grows short.

The Jericho Road.

The Jericho Road

Who we see as our neighbor positions us on the political spectrum. It often determines the laws we support and social action we engage in (California communities illegally stopping government buses of immigrants from entering government facilities weren’t met with militarized policing as has been seen in protests elsewhere). Who we see as our neighbor often shapes the attitudes that are the milieu of society and define the bottom line of survival. It determines who we look up to and down on, the level of anger and respect we have for individuals and institutions. It separates us into friends and enemies.

So on the verge of US military engagement, as the world is rife with hot spots, as US domestic officials’ and pundits’ sound bites call, without clear specifics, for Presidential impeachment for high crimes (an echo that also engulfs Hillary Clinton’s unannounced run for President!), who is our neighbor? Is the President right to patiently, stubbornly push Iraq to create an inclusive government (making neighbors of distrustful clans) before increasing military aid to resist ISIL? ISIL, the well armed and financed jihadist extremists who control oil production facilities, and at one point held Iraq’s major dam, and whose fighters are only a short drive from Baghdad? Do the beheadings of two Americans change the equation? What should the good neighbor do?

Surprisingly, President Obama foresaw these choices. He wrote about them in the The Audacity of Hope, pointing out the many advantages of coalition building as a pillar of foreign policy and as an answer to global threats (among the advantages: improved skill sets in intelligence gathering, analysis, tactics, strategy, execution, weaponry, sanctions, coordinated isolation, diplomatic dialogue).

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, N.H., Feb. 2, 2010.

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, NH, Feb. 2, 2010

His Nobel Prize acceptance speech later identified the looming threat of intra-national violence (violence within states by non-state insurgencies and movements operating across borders) and the heightened risks to civilians. He foresaw the dramatically increased demand for refugee services. He is well acquainted with how the mass movement of people escaping violence places destabilizing pressure on regional governments and local communities not engaged in conflict.

Right now, more than 50 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps, according to the UNHCR (the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; created in December 1950, the worldwide agency coordinating refugee assistance; it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1954). President Obama knew the effect disruptions have on generations of children who would be denied education and families denied income. He understood how violence set back peace and prosperity by indirect means felt and experienced by refugees and by their host countries,who are often ill-equipped and under-resourced to receive those fleeing violence. In the President’s world view, our neighbors were any global citizens of good will who sought a concord with the American Promise—prosperity and peace in mutual association.

In all of his writings and speeches about how we help our neighbors, the President has argued for minimum military force over maximum force. He was aware of the paradox of maximum force: in the long run, it often expands the threat it is intended to crush. Continue reading Who Is Our Neighbor?

Exploring Our Paradoxes

DDThere is a convergence of paradoxes no one seems to understand. There is an outward motion that is taking unusual turns and twists, and politicians are using these unique circumstances and unfamiliar challenges to offer and project blame.

But blame obscures our paradoxes. It’s a pretense to an easy answer that misses the real point. One main point is itself a paradox: the point that paradoxes are often missed. They are confusing and confounding. Paradoxes challenge not only our identity and legacy, the missions we have “accomplished,” the “hope” at the center of our faith and courage—and our voting—they challenge the zeitgeist we cherish—paradoxes challenge the spirit of the age. All around us, paradoxes are redefining our times. Our response is we fuss, surrender, complain or turn mean.

One major American institution, driven by greed and ego, has been taken over by its own self-created paradox: the media that is to inform us often conceals and shades from us the most important facts it purports are its reason to exist. Too often, its reporting offers no analysis. Its experts spend too much time on politics and prophecy—answering the unanswerable, “what happens next?” Seldom does it answer what happened before.

The news, intended to inform us, is a tabula rasa (an erased tablet) and instead is shaped by its thrill factor, be it warmth or fear. Warmth: YouTube pets parade through the networks; cute, cuddly, silly; American. Fear, horror: any GOP sound bite, any battlefield; any natural disaster or crime scene or courtroom.

How many networks invited or interviewed any of the 51 African heads of state who attended the historic first US-African Leaders summit, held in Washington, DC less than 3 weeks ago? How many Americans know what agreements were signed? What commitments were made for future plans? Or what these continental leaders see as their most important needs?

How many media companies have focused on the obvious in the story of ISIS (or ISIL, as the administration terms the terrorist group): who is providing its well organized and funded supply chain? Capturing battlefield weapons from fleeing regulars doesn’t supply spare parts. Nor does the mass killing of civilians provide the bullets and other armaments that continue to be readily available in abundant supply to ISIS as it fights on multiple fronts. Who keeps its trucks filled with gas, feeds its mob of killers—who trained them in military discipline and tactics—when none of these skills, experiences and capacities are a part of its leadership’s resume?

Don’t jump to the easy answer; don’t be quick to blame.

The smooth operation and steady funding points to more than Arab benefactors; to my mind, only the Russians have the ability to organize a clandestine supply chain of the size and variety ISIS requires, especially in the middle of multiple conflicts surrounded by hostile states. But how? The media appears to have no interest in knowing the “how” of this important hidden story.

And American media absolutely refuses to work its way through the paradox of race and violence, especially violence as state actions driven by group and individual attitudes, supported by law and court decisions, backed by paranoid, local communities.

Not once has the media pointed out that police brutality was an assumed routine in black communities nationwide well into the 1970s. Suspects were beaten into confessions. Police killings went unquestioned. And white youth also suffered death. In May 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds, killing 4 unarmed college students at Kent State. At one point in the 1970s, in Detroit, the city with the highest incidence of police killings in the 1970s, 40 fatal police shootings resulted in only 4 misdemeanor charges.

Police killings are not only committed against black male teenagers. The elderly and mentally ill often are killed by officers sworn to protect the lives of those they serve. Yet police investigators often focus on justifying shootings by officers, rather than determining what really took place. Investigators routinely aid officers in changing stories to protect themselves. Investigators also regularly fail to interview eyewitnesses and gather evidence against the police.

America has increased the numbers of police, from 602,000 in 1992 to 794,000 in 2012; decreased the likelihood of police dying in service by 33%, as crime rates have fallen; yet, civilians killed by police were estimated at 587 for 2012. More than 5,000 civilians killed in the decade between 2002 and 2012, according to the Justice Policy Institute. That 5,000 greatly exceeds the numbers of Americans killed by terrorists in the same period.

The police have created the paradox of brute force: its very use is justified by its use. And its use is quickly becoming overuse, changing the law by attitudes to accommodate actions at the margins of law and beyond the line of justice. Unlike sports, over the line isn’t a win; it’s a loss of American freedom. It targets communities and individuals, robs segments of the population of the right to live without fear.

The paradox of those who are to protect us using their power to create a tyranny that micromanages behavior by confrontational deadly force points to the most bewildering paradox we confront. Continue reading Exploring Our Paradoxes

The Painful Lives of Our Youngest Pawns

DD

(Warning: Disturbing image near the end of the article.)

What does a grown man feel as he kicks and punches a child viciously in the head? What fear or anger propels the blows? Doesn’t the thud against the bone make his stomach sick? Is politics so sick with our own vitriol that we beat and kill our children and feel dead? That instead of stopping, we spread beatings and killings and harm to children who are not our own?

What makes a person strike a child until a child’s face is unrecognizable to his mother? Is swollen so badly that he cannot speak or see? What security or vengeance or justice is gained from such insanity?

In the time of the world’s greatest prosperity, attacks of all kinds on children multiply. Wealth is used to buy infants for sex to cure HIV infections in South Africa, prepubscent children are purchased for work in brothels or as brides across Asia and Africa; boys are taken from schools and given guns and drugs and taught to kill and rape as child soldiers; in Mexico, adolescents who carry out hits ordered by drug lords are given Mercedes to drive, for which they are to young to have a legal license.

A child holds a banner as she participates in an anti-Syria regime protest held by Bahrainis at United Nation Headquarters in Manama

In a global cry for help, the children who throw away despair and evil, violence and crime; the ones making a heroic witness of hope by walking across the central America isthmus, facing down the ravages of hunger and starvation, the exhausting fatigue that weighs each step (to protest against their conditions and search for a better life build on moral truth) arrive in the US to face shouting adults with signs that say, “We didn’t ask for you,” “Go back.”

The government hears their cry, turns the buses around, and sends a funding request to Capitol Hill. We seek funds for judges for hearings to deport children, to send our youngest, most innocent neighbors back. We are sending the children of the world, who have shown the greatest courage of our era, back to iniquities and atrocities. Because they have challenged our ideas and laws, we treat them like criminals—which some decry as free meals. As we do, we are making hope a crime and hate a matter of law. Communities that a generation ago didn’t lock their doors now close their borders.

Am I a bleeding heart jumping on the most recent liberal bandwagon? Am I guilty of ignoring the national balance sheet? Deaf to limits of policy? Am I advocating taking jobs and resources away from Americans? Encouraging reckless behavior? No.

Children are dreamers, not schemers. Their turning to America by a path of footprints is an act of brave hope, not cynicism. Meeting needs, material and social, helps create prosperity. The economy is not a static or fixed sum, shared by pluses and minuses. It is a dynamic, interactive system, in which issues create opportunities, and opportunities lead to jobs. Protecting, rescuing and saving children no more takes away jobs and paychecks than buying a Chinese-built iPad or iPhone—the money spent on idevices and Galaxy 5s creates no American jobs except retail and transportation, drains the trade balance, increases the deficit, and the bulk of the purchase price for idevices will rest in Apple’s cash reserves—now larger than the entire GDP of all but the world’s 55 largest countries. Continue reading The Painful Lives of Our Youngest Pawns

The Price of Injustice

What’s the price of injustice? What’s its costs to the human soul?

There is a lot of buzz in the world, from the Zimmerman trial’s 100-city rallies this weekend to Brazil’s millions-month-long protests of transportation costs and inadequate health care; from Edward Snowden’s search for asylum to the military’s intervention in Egypt to the ongoing insurgent fighting in the Sudan and the New York city council debate over Stop-and-Frisk that has made 4 million warrantless personal searches in a decade. In these times of massive scale events, little real change seems to be breaking through.

Why are we stuck? Not just politically, on budgets, rights, jobs, debt, the recovery, the environment, safety nets, and districts across the country drawn like fiefs, controlled by political overlords. Why are we stuck, inside our heads and hearts, in views and reasons that seem to accept or impose the intolerable? How did our spirits come to be divided?

Why are so many campaigns being conducted against basic freedoms, when we take a wide-angle view?

The main reason is wealth, its illusion, displacement and disenchantment—the way it historically fuses a reactionary penchant for violence into a society rather than the lazy idleness that the political bokors claim. A bokor is a leader of the zombies, one who can summon them at will—the mindless whom Marx once called the lumpen. Fanon called them “the Damned of the World,” (translated into English, “The Wretched of the Earth”).

As it does to the earth and the environment, wealth causes in society a violent dislocation and instability—we have seen the results of conquistadors and the Latin drug cartels; we have forgotten the lessons of the African slave trade, whose generation of wealth disrupted Africa and fueled the industrial revolution. America’s plantation slavery saved Sweden from bankruptcy by increasing the demand for its iron ore for hoe culture.

Real divisions created by the enormous tide of wealth—which the Koch brothers celebrated recently in ads reminding us, in America, we are still the 1% globally—the ad offered as a penitential source of pride—while utterly missing how much more grotesque that makes the contrast between “our” 1 %, their 1 %, and the rest of the world!

Real divisions of violence and conflict reside in culture; a maze of meanings, conversations and choices; the collective will and individual expressions that dial in who we are outside legislation, policy and Wall Street greed.

In politics, this culture divide is spoken of in images framed as stereotypes; straw figures offered as shrills and shells in debates over the balance sheet and safety nets. Politics cites issues and ignores real elements of the divide or exploits them. It clouds culture’s massive fissures and commonalities, and culture’s usefulness as a tactical guide. Continue reading The Price of Injustice

When A List Of Facts Don't Tell The Truth

With all the crazy things he says, if Mitt Romney were a student on any of America’s college campuses, he would be profiled on a watch list. His radical speech continually advocating the abolition of the federal government while attending classes with classmates with tuition paid for by federal student loans would register as a blind contradiction and personality disconnect (dissociative identity) that could easily cross the line from blame and denigration to violence. Instead, he is running for President of the United States as a candidate for the Republican Party and ducking questions about his claims, saying conversations about inequity should be held in quiet rooms where, promising to “do more” if he could to cut jobs, he rails against 47% of Americans whose incomes are so low they are exempt from income taxes.

He is not alone in the group home; group homes are normally places where people with special challenges are given love and support and encouraged to break through their veils. But Mitt does a Mitty; his advocacy network of irrational politics has the power to make his cruelest fantasies real and impose them on the rest of us, no matter our own dreams. He and his ilk are well funded by operators who see dollars in the vast disability that shadow hims and others: parts narcissism, delusion, paranoid, manic, a bundle of anti-social behaviors including the lack of empathy, guilt, or remorse for pathological lying, a grandeur that writes its own morality and rules of the game.

For instance, Michael Brown, the infamous “Brownie” who let New Orleans turn into Atlantis, publicly chided President Obama for reacting to hurricane Sandy too soon, claiming the President’s actions were “premature.” Brownie is also on record claiming Obama “wanted” the Gulf oil spill so he could suspend offshore drilling. Brown never saw a disaster he couldn’t make worse or find faults and conspiracies in the tragedy. And he once ran the nation’s emergency response.

Or take Romney’s television and radio commercial claiming GM and Chrysler both intend to send American production jobs to China. Both companies have taken the unusual step of calling the “car guy” a liar. A GM spokesperson cited galactic-length differences between the Romney ads and reality. The spokesperson went on: “no amount of campaign politics at its cynical worse will diminish our record of creating jobs.” Chrysler’s CEO, calling the ads, “inaccurate,” pointed out Chrysler has added 2,900 jobs at downtown Detroit’s Jefferson Avenue plant, which builds Jeep Cherokees. Ironically, Romney’s father built Jeeps in China in the 1980s, as CEO of American Motors. Chrysler will build there, too, for China’s market, the world’s largest.

Romney knows a list of facts don’t add up to truth. But America has frequently confused villains and heroes; the bad man is often the good guy. And the good guy often has fatal flaws. Barack Obama has shouldered the abuse and crises and carnage left by the former and potential residents of office, and his flaw seems to be a stoic good cheer for which he is mercilessly heckled. Many (some from both sides!) seem angry that they haven’t been able to seduce the President into a meltdown. Continue reading When A List Of Facts Don’t Tell The Truth