How Do You Define Greatness?

By Pete Simon

Recently, someone asked me: How is it that some places in this world are filled with affluence, modernity and relative comfort, while in other places people still live in grass huts without electricity and short life spans?  Are we supposed to feel guilty about that?

My answer was no, but we must be aware of history, understand why certain things are arranged so disproportionately, and respond in the best way that we can.

While serving in the Navy on a trip to Africa, India, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf, I saw many ways to measure the greatness and many ways to compare this country’s “blessings” to other places less fortunate. It is in the eye of the beholder that makes the most difference in how life in one place is compared to another.

What the six months overseas did for me was ask a basic question: Why does extreme poverty still exist in developing places around this crazy world, when continually poor people stand on their own soil and rock containing unspeakable wealth?

It is natural wealth that someone from afar is cashing in on; not them. It is wealth mined or gathered to make OUR cell phones, OUR machine engines, OUR jet airplanes.  Do I need to go on?  And Hollywood gives us a feel-good moment with a blockbuster film about a fictitious African nation controlling a natural resource the world covets. It is the ultimate cruel joke, supposedly providing inspiration.

All of this goes on as our leader uses words like “shithole countries” to describe places where we LUST after the resources. Lust is lust. God makes no distinction between this form of lust and others.

This is the question we should be asking: Does the GREATNESS we want in our hearts represent our better angels and ideals, as taught to us early-on (in my case) in Sunday School? Or is it tarnished by anti-Christian traits like greed, corruption, racism, and sexism? There are many metrics one can use to measure greatness. It depends on who makes up the audience judging whether or not greatness has been reached. Often, it depends on who controls the public’s airwaves to forge public opinion or acceptability on whether we have gotten to “great.”

Please take a few moments to take the short poll at the end of this article.

But any leader who uses the term “greatness” subjectively in an effort to return to the “bad old days” is not a leader of all men and women. Instead, such a leader is beholden to something darker for entire groups of citizens. It is a world where many who are not “privileged” would never recognize it as great and one they’d rather forget.

Through human history, there are countless stories of the rise and fall of greatness. Centuries ago, Africa had great civilizations, as did other places in our world now considered struggling or developing. All empires we have studied expired at some point.

The actual game changer for today’s world wasn’t what happened on the ground, but on the high seas. The mastery of sea-going vessels by European and Islamic peoples had much to do with them establishing dominance over everyone they visited around the world. That and European development of modern warfare tools. Every place you look where people have been exploited, enslaved, killed, maimed, relocated, it all comes down to one group being conquered by another with superior (great) warfare technology.

Since Hollywood has broken the ice with the movie Black Panther, I would love to see another science fiction movie set in the 1500s in which Africans had the European technology at their disposal so Africans could defend themselves when white people started arriving (imagine the same idea for a movie with Sitting Bull or Geronimo on equal footing with our invading armies).

“…any leader who uses the term ‘greatness’ subjectively in an effort to return to the “bad old days” is not a leader of all men and women.”

In reality, once Europeans established dominance over Africans with superior war toys, they did anything they wanted. It was easy for them to justify it with their embedded racism. The proof is seen in rulers like King Leopold, who treated his Congolese “subjects” like cattle.  Ten million of them died during his reign of enslavement, rape, and torture for copper, gold, and other minerals. In today’s world, he would have been convicted of mass genocide, comparable to the Nuremberg trials.

Africans have their own problems with genocide, exacerbated by tribal/ethnic problems which are a by-product of how European nations drew lines on a map of Africa (at the Berlin Conference in 1885, to create colonial boundaries). At the conference African tribal boundaries, watersheds, and geographical features were usually ignored, thus creating staging areas for future conflicts across the continent (Nigeria and Sudan, to name just two).  Slowly (too slow for all of us witnessing tribal violence and killing in South Sudan) this problem will go away, as economies improve.

The first key development has already started in many countries with remote village electrification. For the first time, people there are not only able to run refrigerators to store medicine and perishable food, but they also operate water purification systems and provide power for local commerce. All of this is possible with solar, wind or geothermal technologies; geothermal resources being most applicable in the East African Rift Valley running through central Kenya.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Remember: Colonialism has never really ended.  English and French banks, and mining companies still hold a lot of sway in their former colonies. African nations, in regular need of cash to build infrastructure or a new industry, often borrow money from their former colonizers and the interest rates charged are back-breaking. That is part of the reason things never seem to get better, or they improve at a snail’s pace.

Black Panther: “Hollywood gives us a feel-good moment with a blockbuster film about a fictitious African nation controlling a natural resource the world covets. It is the ultimate cruel joke, supposedly providing inspiration.”

China is the one place in the world where a nation successfully stood up to the colonial power.  Once partly colonized, the Chinese people overcame and have become a premier driving force in the world. It is why I like the movie “The Sand Pebbles” so much. It gives a brief but powerful picture of our country’s misadventure in China 90 years ago. But China has started a second wave of colonialism, in Africa.

Compared to China, Africans are still taking baby steps, and that is a frightening comparison now as China’s involvement in Africa is huge.  If more African leaders had the temperament of the late Nelson Mandela, who knew when it was time for him to personally give up power gracefully, African countries would be closer to building something very powerful and secure.  In too many countries life-long rulers or tyrants run things into the ground (see Zimbabwe and The Congo). Same-old-same-old leaders breed the kind of corruption that people, representing overseas interests, crave when making deals for coveted resources.

So far, no African leader or the African Union has spoken of a specific plan to stop the one-sided trade deals favoring China in Africa, or the propensity of China to ship in Chinese laborers for Chinese-funded infrastructure construction or other projects, leaving African workers idle. This has infuriated African laborers in Angola and other countries and may provide the spark needed to get African leaders to grow a spine when dealing with China.

Even though overseas interests have tied-up unspoken amounts of Africa’s natural resources, there is still an enormous amount of them underground, unclaimed. The future of the African people is tied to those resources. Will African leaders unite and craft a plan to stop the second colonial wave which is decimating African people?

As it stands now, billions of dollars of precious metals and minerals are leaving for Chinese ports because African leaders crave the Chinese cash being offered in return; they say to develop infrastructure and other projects for the people.

One can only hope the people will find an effective way to account for that money and a better way to make deals (with all colonial powers) in the future. That will be the only way African people will attain a true state of greatness, and level a worldwide playing field that has been uneven and cratered for centuries.

Learn more:

A Poem for Our Times, Thanks to Ken Burns

Editor’s note: The dramatic documentary, The Vietnam War, captured the attention and minds of audiences as it told the story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history. The subject of this documentary makes pale the current news of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Game of Thrones, Powerball, NFL, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Russian hacking, and the countless other events, people, quirks, and shenanigans that comprise the cultural and political dictionary and thesaurus of today’s world. The documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is the mapquest that historians and educators will use to define and explain America’s journey.

Even now, a year after it was released by PBS, with reruns often aired on public TV stations since then,  the 10-part, 18-hour documentary still evokes deep emotions, intense discussions and, for some viewers, painful memories and the pondering of challenges faced by all of us.

With those thoughts in mind, we encourage you to read and think long and hard about the following insightful poem by Michael C. Dolan, a retired lawyer in Oakland, Calif. After reading the poem, please take the short survey at the end of this posting.

 

Watching Ken Burns’ Film on Viet Nam

It made me weep

For all the living and the dead

All the wars of man

Endless and forever

I felt it shouldn’t

This mere truth

But I was trapped

In my own organic nature

 

I am of the earth

And from the earth

All earthly things

Inescapable

Are me and mine

I must weep

As I must breathe

 

I am not different from the others

I do not float over them

Eternal and free

Even though I foresee

My own death

Such foresight does not save me

From the pain of dying

Nor from the darkness after death

 

With all my knowledge

I feel hunger

I feel sorrow

I feel the rage of war within me

Along with all the children’s joy

I even feel empathy

For the other man’s pain

 

It is not just me

Living through these times

This now

Of foolishness and rage

 

It is not just me

Blundering through this miasma

This now

Of change and celebration

 

It is not just me

Holding on to nothing

In this now

That madly carries us along

 

It is not just me

Ever changing

Yet all the same

You see

It’s just us

–by Michael C. Dolan

The Deplorable Who Once Sat Next to Me

By David Adamson

Early most days I go to a nearby Starbucks. It’s a big store, with lots of seating. The choice seating if you’re alone is at one of the eight small tables arranged in a row along a faux-leather, padded bench.

Right after opening the crowd is sparse, but there’s always a cadre of regulars, mainly grey hairs who seek that padded bench. Through the years, I’ve formed what you might call a “coffee shop” friendship with some of them – we know enough about each other to ask a personal question like “How was your trip to the coast?” or “How’s that new knee working?”

David Adamson worked in high technology and health care. He’s the author of Walking the High Tech High Wire and The Wellness Club. He’s written hundreds of blogs on politics and fitness. Learn more about David…

One regular I got to know was named Joe. He routinely came in about 15 minutes after me. He would search for a table with nobody next to him, then carefully unfold the local newspaper he brought clamped under his arm, and read it front to back as he sipped his coffee. Sometimes he would read silently at the table next to me if that was the only one left.

One day he sat down next to me, but instead of unfolding his newspaper, commented, “Manning could have used some blocking last night,” nodding towards my Bronco hat. After that, many conversations followed because he would sit next to me even if other tables were vacant. I learned he was a Pittsburgh Steeler fan because that’s where he was raised. Served in the Army. Got a degree in electronics on the GI Bill. Spent his career with AT&T traveling all over the world setting up transcontinental communications for big projects like ABC’s Wide World of Sports. In retirement, he kept busy wiring houses for Habitat for Humanity. Every few months he had to get shots in his eyes to slow the onset of glaucoma.

Our chats, though brief, were far-ranging – poisonous snakes, growing bluegrass in a desert, acrobatics, space travel, how to prevent ice dams. We never broached politics. The only hint I had ever heard of his political views was when he commented “those people in D.C. don’t have a clue what life is like out here in the West” in reference to Oregon needing more federal funding to fight fires.

The Wednesday morning after Trump won the election, I was in an ornery mood. From the morning of his pompous descent on the Trump Hotel escalator to announce his candidacy, I dreaded the possibility he could win. I was rattled that so many Americans could be fooled by such an obvious flimflam man.

As soon as Joe sat down, I bypassed our usual weather/sports pleasantries, and felt compelled to ask, “Joe, who’d you vote for?”

He smiled. “Trump. How about you?”

When I responded “Hillary Clinton,” he pulled his head back like he got whiff of feces. I continued, “Tell me it ain’t so. Why did you vote for him? Wow!”

“Honestly, I didn’t think much of either of them,” he confided. “But I couldn’t vote for Clinton. She belongs in prison.”

“Prison? For what?” Here it comes, I thought: Benghazi, classified documents on her private server, or fat bribes from Wall Street when she was a senator.

He hesitated, then answered, “Murder.”

I was stunned. “Murder? You’ve got to be kidding!”

Speaking in a low voice, as if this Starbucks was bugged, Joe explained the Clintons had been running a crime syndicate for decades. Politics was just an easy smokescreen. During the past 20 years, 42 people connected to the Clintons had died under very suspicious circumstances, like plane crashes and shootings. “Does the name Vince Foster ring a bell?” he asked.

“Yes, he killed himself.” I remembered the gist of the story from back in the 90s. Foster was a Clinton lawyer and family friend.

Joe shook his head. “Dave, that was no suicide. The media tried to sell that, and almost pulled it off, but no. There were two entry wounds. One in the mouth, one in the back of the head. Tell me how do you kill yourself with two shots to the head when you only need one?”

I couldn’t tell him how, so I asked why the Clintons wanted him dead. “Lots of reasons. He knew all the dirt, starting back in Arkansas with Whitewater. They say he had been messin’ around with Hillary. They found blonde hair on the body…”

“Joe, I find that hard to believe,” I interrupted. “Besides, it’s ancient history.”

“Believe it or not, it’s the truth. Listen to this. Right now, this very minute, they are involved in child sex trafficking. In New Jersey, they own a pizza business selling young girls to…”

I raised my hand, signaling him to stop. “I’ve heard enough. That’s ridiculous. Where do you get this crap?” I was so annoyed that I was looking at him as if he were an alien from outer space.

Judging by the look on his face, the feeling was mutual. His upper lip trembling slightly, he muttered, “It’s right there on the internet. Go look for yourself.” He turned away, unfolded his newspaper, and started reading.

Without another word, I got up and left. As soon as I got home, I Googled “Vince Foster.” Sure enough, multiple forensic investigations concluded Foster died from a single, self-inflicted wound. I intended to tell Joe that the next time I saw him.

But after that day, Joe never sat next to me again. It seems what happened between us almost two years ago is a national phenomenon.

I went on a reading binge in an attempt to understand this extreme polarization. My list included books such as Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Anderson, and Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg. However, none of these books, full of brilliant analysis, offered ideas on how to enlighten, convert or rescue Joe.

A month before the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton caused a firestorm with this comment: “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”

She stopped before describing the other half. My guess it is all those Joe’s out there — those affable, well-intentioned, law-abiding folks who have lost their rational political minds and continue to support Trump. Having abandoned logic and empirical evidence, they cannot distinguish between the truth and manipulative, preposterous, exaggerated, fictitious, deceptive or fear-mongering lies.

Consequently, they are easily influenced by Russian trolls and extreme right wingers propagandizing from the Dark Web and major social media platforms. Upon reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s first indictment, I got the chills realizing these destructive internet subversives, thousands of miles away, understood Joe better than I did.

No wonder our nation is in such a deplorable situation, and the table next to me in Starbucks is empty.

Why don’cha speak English?

By John Gascoyne

Politely stated, English is a polyglot language – a tongue derived from many sources, many parent tongues.

Less politely said, ours is a mongrel language, a convoluted bastard tongue resulting from someone doing a cannonball in the gene pool.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

Thus, when someone archly asks, “Why don’cha speak English?” they are, however unknowingly, demanding you speak a tongue with deep roots in Spanish, Greek, Italian, German, French, Latin and, yes, the sometimes indecipherable English that is spoken in England. Other languages have contributed to the verbal and written stew.

Before the commie-crazed and hyper-religious days of Dwight D. Eisenhower, our nation’s motto was “E Pluribus Unum” – “From many comes one.” This original and still-beautiful motto speaks of a country populated by immigrants from many other nations coming together as one homogenized and functioning social entity. (For this discussion, we’ll stick with the Doris Day happy, happy view – and not talk about thousands of people who were kidnapped and brought here, the many thousands who originally owned the place and were largely subjugated after we got here.)

E Pluribus Unum could also be said fairly of the English language – one tongue born of a great many other tongues.

Try explaining this to a Bunny Bread-white person who is yelling at someone else: “Speak English, this is America and that’s the only language we allow.” The common Facebook rendering of such an encounter most often deals with someone having the audacity to speak Spanish in public. Speakers of other tongues, while less numerous, still have to deal with the same nonsense.

Perhaps an armchair trek around the country will reveal some reality problems in speaking the redneck conception of our common language. Let’s start with names in English – as spoken in the U.S. – that sound disturbingly Spanish.

If you live in Colorado, as too many of us do, you’re living in a state that, in pure American English, should be called Dark Red. Moving on, we learn that, properly, California needs to be called Lime Oven; Nevada – Snow-covered and Florida – Land of Flowers. The name of the state known as New Mexico comes from Nuevo Mexico, and Texas was originally a Native American name, later Hispanicized.

“We need to be able to stand next to someone being criticized for using their own beautiful native tongue, to put a hand on their shoulder and just stand there with them.”

Around the nation, there are many, many dozens of Spanish-named towns, cities, counties, islands, rivers, and lakes. If we decide to cater to the “pure” English aficionados, we’ll need to organize a great many re-naming committees. One of the most eye-catching changes will occur when the Sangre de Cristos Mountains become the Blood of Christ Mountains.

Recently, there have been instances of Native Americans using their own language and being chastised for not “speaking American.”

It would be nice to think that pointing out some of these realities to the haters would help them to shut the hell up. We’re beyond that. Thanks mostly to the loser of the popular vote, a scary percentage of our fellow Americans are caught in a downward spiral of mind-crippling fear. Unable to admit to or contend with that fear, their default position is to spew hate-filled vitriol.

We’ll either get over, through, and past this nonsense or we won’t. In the meantime, we need to be able to stand next to someone being criticized for using their own beautiful native tongue, to put a hand on their shoulder and just stand there with them.

 

The True Privileged Class

By Bear Gebhardt

I recently recognized that I am privileged—that most of us are privileged—in ways that our President is not. Such recognition of my own privilege helped me find more compassion for that underprivileged man.

Here’s how it happened: I recently found myself hooked on a very well-done, in-depth, four-part  Netflix documentary called, Trump: An American Dream.“   It’s a picture-window into his personal history (raised in a mansion in Queens),  his view of the world (“some people are predators, some are prey”), and his adult “deal-making” philosophy (“I win when you lose”).

Bear Gebhardt is a Colorado writer. Learn more about him…

Watching the last episode, it suddenly struck me how truly rich I am, and how impoverished, in very simple ways, this poor rich guy is. I saw how I often experience life’s authentic abundance in ways that in the long run truly matter, nourish and sustain not only me but those around me. I don’t own a private jet or a yacht or tropical island with servants requiring privacy fences. I have never talked with bankers about billion-dollar projects or loans.

Still, I’m rich, privileged.

Watching this documentary,  I recognized what riches my ordinary life offered that I would have missed if my destiny had been different.

And with such insight, I was also struck with what the “born rich,” and the famous and powerful, usually miss out on, if they are not careful.  To wit:

  • Our President has never in his life had the small but genuine privilege of remembering to take out the trash on trash night
  • I suspect this man has never been privileged to play, and laughed for hours, at a  nickel, dime and quarter poker game with old buddies—a carpenter, a metal worker, a plumber, and a college professor.

    Has Donald Trump ever had the privilege of weekly coffee chats with old geezers?

  • Our tea-totaling President never savors a nightcap, with an intriguing book and the approaching midnight hour
  • I suspect The Donald has never had the privilege of a shared laugh with his wife while the two of them made up the guest bed in their guest room on the morning before their guests arrive.
  • Has Mr. Trump ever had the privilege of writing a late-night haiku about the beauty of life, with the train whistle sound in the background?
  • This President has never had the victorious feeling of getting his backyard fountain to work again, with his own hands, his own shovel and electrical tape, after the fountain’s sudden and mysterious shutdown.

    Scrabble and potluck for Donald Trump–probably never.

  • Has Mr. Trump ever felt the privilege of getting an email from his favorite cousins, announcing they’ll be stopping to visit, just passing through?
  • Has our President ever known the privilege of discovering his favorite chocolates on a “two for one“ sale at his neighborhood store?
  • I suspect DT does not know the deeply enjoyable privilege of a monthly scrabble game and potluck with old friends
  • I suspect he has never had the privilege of a regular, once a week coffee chat with fellow geezers held at the local grocery deli.
  • Has he ever had the small joy of checking off the final item on the grocery list at the grocery store, heading for cashier?
  • Has he ever felt relief at discovering an empty check-out lane at the grocery store with the cashier waiting for the next customer?

    Writing a late-night haiku? Not a pleasure the president has likely ever done.

  • Does he know the modest comfort, gentle pleasure of seeing the “auto-deposit” of this month’s social security payment?
  • Does he know how satisfying it can be to empty the dishwasher?
  • I know this President has never been able to say, simply, “good night, love,” to his spouse of forty-five years as she goes one more night upstairs to their shared bedroom.

Watching the documentary, it was clear the man in the White House is not a man like most of us. His life experiences have deprived him of privileges that  98%, even 99% of the men on the planet share every day. Thus, his basic expectations are different. His reality, his priorities are different. He has never, I would wager, mowed his lawn.

Somehow, these insights helped ease my alienation. The America he wants to “make great again” is not the already-privileged life in America that I know and my buddies know, my family knows, that most of us know. He’s never, I would guess, had the privilege of taking out the trash.

Our simple daily pleasure, obligations, privileges are what make life in America, and on this planet, worth living. The privilege of laughing with our kids, our spouses, our neighbors, our long-term buddies. The privilege of making little things work again—the backyard fountain, an oven light, a garden gate.

What do you think? Take the short poll at the end of this article.

Rather than getting “the bigger picture,” it struck me we can find wisdom in getting the “smaller picture.” What’s really important? The relationships we have with the people under the same roof. The relationships we have with people we have worked with, been in business with. The trust we have in each other. Trust that we are, at root, looking out for each other.

Which we are. A long, happy life has convinced me of this: we do indeed look out for each other, when we can, where we can, as a basic life value. This is true “privilege.”

We don’t need, as our President has insisted, a “killer instinct” to get along, to get ahead. “Ahead” meaning more love in our lives, more peace, more good-will and happy camaraderie. Even if we should be President of the United States, if we have not love, have not peace, have not humor, and the simple privileges of life, what have we?

Sometimes, it’s useful for ordinary, everyday people to talk to each other, remind each other, about ordinary things, and what makes life worth living. What makes this life truly privileged. This seems to be one of those times.

Born in the USA

By Mary Roberts

I lay on my yoga mat in savasana, the sweat dripping in my right ear. The teacher walks around with lavender-infused cold face cloths she places in our open palms. I put it on my forehead, covering my eyes. I feel the tears well up. No one knows that I’m crying. Hot yoga makes us all look like we’re weeping.

Mary Roberts is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Click here to learn more about her…

My mind can’t settle. Trump had just declared the worse dictator in the world to be his bestie and, despite his abhorrence at ripping children from their parents’ arms, said he had to do it because the Democrats made him. Earlier, he had disrespected our oldest and most loyal allies, flipping them off as he ran away from any serious trade discussion or relationship-building, something an ignorant dictator would do.

I feel sick, like I can’t breathe, and think it must be the heat in the room or the high humidity, old memories of Boston summers when even the breezes from the ocean couldn’t dissipate the oppression we all felt, lying still and spent on the front lawn.

I don’t know why I’m crying—is it a sense of hopelessness? A sense of overwhelming disappointment in the GOP? I read that it’s now called The Cult of Trump, formerly known as the GOP. Is it helplessness in the face of 24 hours a day of lies, stupidity and Nazi-like adherence to a hate-filled agenda? Or is it that I can no longer talk to people I know who are Trump supporters? They smile at me and say that I’m just mad we lost.  I want to punch them.

Lying there, I feel like a loved one has died. Someone larger than life, someone I didn’t even know that I loved.

How some people feel about the state of America today: Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network. Click here to learn more about the scene and to watch a video of it.

It dawns on me that it’s my country I’m grieving.

I’ve been fighting with it for so long (I’m a flower child from the 60s) that even when Obama arrived with hope and change, I was hesitant to expose my heart to a country that had for so long denied its culpability for the continued violence against minorities, had never apologized for its vicious treatment of native Americans, its misogyny, its hate of LBGTQ, its warmongering for oil, etc., etc. It took a couple of years and some changes, but I grew proud of where my country was headed, who we were aspiring to be. I was a little giddy with the beginnings of a nascent love.

What do you think? Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

And then it left me. My country turned and without even a “see ya’ around” changed into a stranger with no morals, no compassion, no idea of what the Constitution and the Rule of Law means. Now it’s just another business meant to keep the richest happy and the poorest miserable because, after all, it’s their fault.

I want to love my country and perhaps that means you and I do something together.

We must fight back and shout “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore” from the rooftops, like Howard Beale in the film classic Network. We must call our Congresspeople. I call Colorado Senator Cory Gardner four times a week and tell him to find his cojones and speak up. Don’t swear on the messages, though. They’ll delete them.

We need to call everyone we know for the next few months and tell them to vote in the mid-term elections. Leave that message all over social media. Make sure all newly-minted voters vote.

It means we must financially support groups that are trying to help the immigrants, like The Florence Project and Catholic Charities. We must give money to the ACLU so we can sue the entire Trump administration for being idiots who circumvented the Rule of Law. We must attend protests whenever and wherever they’re held.

We need to talk to people about what’s happening and if they say, “I can’t hear anymore,” we’re polite but we insist on it. This is too important. I’ve heard that we should talk to Trump voters, but I can’t. They’ll say something about a few more meager dollars in their paycheck or new manufacturing jobs or how the other countries have treated us like a cash cow. I don’t have time for them. There are more of us than them. Frankly, I think they secretly hope we can stop this madness, but they don’t know how to get out of the cult.

The yoga room has cooled off and I get up to leave.  I almost didn’t come to class, seeking to wallow at home in my own impotence and righteous anger. Maybe the first thing we ought to do is take care of ourselves with yoga, a massage, or a walk in the woods with a goofy terrier. I’m feeling better, but my heart is still too tender to test it by checking my news feed and finding new horrors that the Trump administration has concocted in the last hour.

I turn on Pandora and listen to the old protest songs of the 60s. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come:

“There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will”

I sing along. I remember. I’m ready. Again.

 

Learn more:

June 28, 2018: Immigrant children are appearing in court alone.

June 30: ACLU says government wrong to detain families.

June 30: As masses of Americans gather to protest, Trump golfs and blames the Democrats for immigration policy.

Trump’s ICE Agents Break At Least Four Ten Commandments By Stealing Kids

Trump’s immigration agents should disobey orders to tear families apart

 By Bear Gebhardt

Conservatives and liberals quickly agree (though for different reasons) that our current immigration system is badly broken.

bear_gebhardt_125pixels

Bear Gebhardt is a writer living in Colorado. Learn more about him…

There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrant workers and their families living in the United States. Sixty percent of them have been here for 10 years or more, and 3.6 million of them arrived here before their eighteenth birthday. (The average “Dreamer” was six years old when she or he was first brought to the United States.)

The current United States immigration system offers no reasonable, safe, easy, or fair path for these workers to obtain the documents they desperately need to continue working. For instance, a significant number of these undocumented workers—somewhere between 35 percent and 50 percent—at one time had viable work permits, but were forced to overstay their visas because our current regime does not recognize their brick and mortar value to the economy. Again, the system is broken, on both ends. Most everybody agrees. It needs to be fixed.

In the meantime, just how broken it is can be seen by the recent push to enforce the “letter of the law” of this broken system.  Recent actions by the agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency puts a majority of these agents in the extremely immoral position of being ordered to break at least four of the Ten Commandments. Even more importantly (if that’s possible), it makes these U.S. agents vulnerable to being personally charged under international laws first established at Nuremberg.

Obviously, the Ten Commandments give us at least a  basic hint of what moral and immoral action has meant to human beings over the past many millennia.  Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, writes, “there are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run contrary to the proper nature of human beings. . . these are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. To dehumanize a fellow human being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain, that is wrong.”

So, what are the ICE agents doing wrong?

 “Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother” is a cross-cultural moral injunction going back at least 3,000 years, with evidence of 5,000, even 10,000 years and more. Honoring the family structure recognizes these fundamental relationships as true, necessary and irreplaceable for human health and survival.

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Under its zero-tolerance policy, the Trump Administration has taken more than 2,000 children away from their immigrant families in the last two months. Photograph from The New Yorker and by John Moore / Getty.

When ICE agents follow orders to remove children from their parents and place these children into warehouses, warehouses with cages, these agents are breaking a fundamental moral human law that goes back millennia. They could be, and should be, held accountable.

 “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Stealing children from their parents and stealing parents from their children must surely be recognized as one of the most horrific thefts possible. This is true even if some local warlord or bureaucratic regulation makes such child theft temporarily “legal” in that particular part of the jungle, that part of the world. Again, thou shalt not steal is a moral law that goes back millennia. When ancient kings wanted to torture their enemies, they stole their children.

Thou Shalt Not Lie (Bear False Witness.).” When ICE agents tell the parents and the children, as they do, that this is only a temporary condition and that it will be over soon, they know—and the parents know—that this is a lie. Being “ordered” to lie does not change a lie into a truth. The agents are lying, and they know they are lying. Because of the backlog caused by recent crackdowns, undocumented workers arrested in the U.S. are now held for weeks, months, even years. “It will be over soon” is a lie.

“Thou Shalt Not Kill.” We don’t know how many physical deaths are caused directly by ICE Agents “following orders,” since such statistics are not kept, or at least made public. We do know that high-speed chases, dangerous terrain and inhumane smuggling tactics have led to thousands of immigrant deaths. Can ICE agents be held directly responsible for this? Hardly, and yet they are part of a system—following orders in a system—which does lead directly to such human suffering.

And certainly their actions have led to the “deaths” of the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people. Jesus said, “If you just think of committing this sin, you are doing it.” His understanding was that inflicting mental “death” should be seen as real as physical actions leading to death.   

“Do not Put Any Other Gods in Place of Me.” ICE agents are required to put the ICE system, procedures, rules and behavior ahead of—in place of—their own inner moral compass. There may be a few—a very rare few—ICE agents who experience a perverted personal pleasure at the wailing of children and pleading of parents as they “follow orders” to enforce the regulations of the broken immigration system. But we have to assume, just because we know the ICE agents are human, that most of these agents feel deep angst and sorrow as the results of being forced to follow such orders.

And this brings us to the Nuremburg Trials—those trials which were held at the end of World War II to judge those who had been participants in the horrors of both mass incarceration and mass extermination. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Laureate who helped bring down the Soviet Regime by documenting the horrors of the Gulag, considered the Nuremburg Trials as one of the highest expressions of human moral evolution.

“Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.”

It was at the Nuremburg Trials that the international standard was established: “Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.” Even more importantly, it established that there are in fact immoral actions that we, as human beings, in every part of the globe, recognize as being, indeed, truly immoral.

What ICE agents are currently doing with our broken immigration system is wrong. They know it, when they go home to their families at night. We know it, when we read about it online and in our daily newspapers.

What can we do about it? Speak out, like we are doing here in this essay (please share). And let all of our ICE agents know we support them when they refuse to follow immoral orders.

Conservatives and liberals can agree: We don’t want another cause for Nuremberg Trials, here after the current administration has ceased to rule. The immigration system we now have is broken, does not work. Let’s not make a false god of this broken system.

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