Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat?

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There are situations in the world one wishes one could un-know and pictures one wishes one could un-see.

But once known and once seen, a person becomes, in a sense, morally responsible for the situation depicted and described.

While red states rush to pass “heartbeat” bills and draconian abortion bans, there are children all over the world whose heartbeats are becoming fainter and fainter.

The child in this featured image is most likely already dead. There comes a point in the starvation process when it cannot be reversed. The Telegraph, which printed this picture, reports that more than 5,000,000,000 children in Yemen are at risk for the same fate.

Yet Republican politicians don’t seem to have any interest in holding those responsible for causing these deaths, neither the president who sells weapons to Mohammad Bin Salman  to continue making war on that benighted country nor on MbS himself, who we already know is  murdered a US journalist, one who had a heartbeat. Shrapnel raining down on schoolchildren has been directly linked to bombs made in the US.

Neither do they seem to care about the heartbeats of black and brown babies once they’re born or white babies who are born into poverty.

Or the heartbeats of rape victims who are forced to carry their rapist’s child.

Or the heartbeats of children born in any of the so-called shithole countries.

Or the heartbeats of women who could die if they go through a full-term pregnancy.

Or the heartbeats of men, women, and children fleeing violence such as we can’t imagine and seeking asylum in the US.

Or the heartbeats of the likes of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and so, so many more.

I sometimes wish I believed in hell so I could imagine on which rung of the inferno these morally bankrupt, mostly white, men and women would receive their comeuppance.

I see and I know. Time to get to work. Pictures of this child will come to Washington, DC, with me in a couple of weeks and will be, if all goes according to plan, brought into a Congressional hearing, where they will be held up. Others will be, with luck, taped to the White House fence. Others will be distributed on the Capitol steps. I invite you to download and print out the picture and also make use of it to confront your state’s politicians with what they are ignoring, especially if you live in a state that has recently passed a so-called-heartbeat bill.

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Season of Restoration and Renewal

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I take things to heart. I always have. So when in early childhood I was told in catechism classes that Jesus died for my sins, and that every sin I committed actually enforced the strength of the hammers nailing him to the cross, I took it to heart.

I grew up feeling guilty and shameful and dirty. I learned to beg God for forgiveness rather than to pray. I learned to be afraid of sudden lightning bolts striking me down for some blasphemy. I learned to feel responsible for every bad thing that had ever happened in the world. I could not watch “Jesus” movies (Barabbas, The Greatest Story Ever Told, King of Kings) without feeling that I was one of the crowd calling for His death.

I became very neurotic.

Thank God for mentors and spiritual authors and therapists who helped me start to emerge from that sick state. Thank God for the mentors (Sue, Dick, Phyllis, Gus, Charlie, Rick) who gave me the gift of reading Paul’s epistles without feminist anger. Thank God for Allan and John who introduced me to Martin Luther. Thank God for Rabbi Elias, who showed me the face of righteousness.

Thank God for Julian of Norwich and Bishop NT Wright and Hildegard of Bingen and Henry Nouwen and Howard Thurman and Richard Rohr who taught me to dare to think of Jesus the Christ and God outside of the box.

Thank God for Monroe Crossing and Voces and John Rutter and Francois Poulenc and Morton Lauridsen and Vaughan Williams and Marty Hagen and John Donne and George Herbert who gave me a way to sing my prayers of praise.

Thank God for Wynken and Blynken and Greta and Pym and Reepicheep and Columbine and Onyx and Maggie May and all the other pets who taught me how to love and be loved unconditionally.

Thank God for Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Shuttleworth and Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and Fannie Lou Hamer and Septima Clark and John Cone and John Lewis and Bryan Stevenson and William Barber and all the other freedom fighters who taught me how to armor myself with faith to resist darkness in the world.

I’m still a bit neurotic. That kind of imprinting at such a young age doesn’t ever wholly leave. But now that I know that the world, and me with it, is restored every day, I can let go of teachings that kept me imprisoned rather than liberated, which is what I believe faith is meant to do.

I went to a Shabbat service a couple of weeks ago at a reformed Judaism congregation. The following prayer was read; it touched me so deeply that I was moved to tears of thanksgiving. I know that there could not have been Easter Sunday without Good Friday, but I resist being stuck in Good Friday mode of mourning and keening forever. It is the resurrection and the restoration of Jesus to Christ that I want to keep in my heart always, for it means that I too can be resurrected and restored.

That We Be Reborn

Source of all that exists, You create your world anew every moment.
Would You but for a moment withhold your creative force,
The whole universe would come to an end.

You pour out your blessings on your creatures every instant,
And again the stars renew their song of love to You.

And again the angels chant over their song of holiness to You.
And again the souls of mortals repeat their yearning for You;
And again the birds keep chirping their hymns of joy to You.

And again the trees wrap themselves in their tallit of leaves
And offer their worship to You.
And again the fountains in whispers murmur their prayers to you.

O God, turn on me but one ray of Your light and I rise restored;
But one wave of your life eternal and I am drenched in the dew of youth.

Do You not continually renew your creation, O Source of all life?
Take me your child and renew me.
Breathe Your spirit into me that I may live, that I may start life
Afresh with childhood’s unbounded promise.

We thank You for both day and night, for continually renewing your creation.

Hillel Zeitlin

Whatever you are celebrating this weekend, may you also find restoration and renewal.

 

 

 

Novelists Explore Internalized Racism

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I recently read two books in a row by African-American authors that address the state of internalized racism in America through deep satire.

Paul Beatty’s book, The Sellout, was written in 2015; Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s book came out earlier this year.

We often think of satire as having a humorous element, but in both of these books, I found that every time I was tempted to laugh, something pulled me back as I reflected on the reality behind the author’s words.

The Sellout is about an unnamed California man who owns a farm in a small town called Dickens on the outskirts of Los Angeles. He was home-schooled by his radical sociologist father, but it’s not your average home schooling. Hearing gun shots while having tokens of white supremacy put in your bassinet is traumatic, but certainly teaches a lesson.

Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty

Yet, as an adult, the narrator agrees to take on Hominy, Buckwheat’s understudy in The Little Rascals, as a slave. Yup, Hominy – after a youth spent being filmed portraying all the worst stereotypes of white audiences – insists on being enslaved, and the narrator obliges. He goes further and, with a little help from his friends, decides to re-create segregation in order to attract white people with money back to his hometown, which has been taken off the maps.

He winds up being arrested for violating every civil rights amendment and law and his case goes to the Supreme Court.

In his 2015 New York Times review, Dwight Garner calls the first 100 pages of the book “caustic and . . . badass.”

“What I mean,” he writes, “is that the first third of The Sellout reads like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility.”

We Cast a Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s satire, is more on the order of Key and Peele at their best and also more poignant to me. Again, we meet an unnamed man in a not-too-distant New Orleans who has married a white woman. Their son is very light-skinned and could pass for white except for patches of dark skin on various parts of his body. The father is obsessed with his son having all the advantages of being white to the point of subjecting him to various “demelanization” treatments, which the boy does not want and finds painful.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

The narrator himself could be called a sellout. He has separated himself from his roots to the extent that he dresses “white” and does everything he can to align himself with the white higher-ups in his law firm in order to win a promotion and the bonus that will help him pay for his son’s whitening treatments.

How much of what he does is for love of his son or hatred of himself? He has father issues himself, as his father is serving a life sentence for assaulting a police officer who assaulted the narrator’s mother. He blames his father for resisting, even though they live in a project that is being more ghettoized every day and eventually is cordoned off from the rest of the city. In the next state over, presumably Mississippi, African-Americans have to wear tracking devices, so the narrator’s fears are very real.

All of it, however, comes down to white supremacy and the expectation by even liberal whites that black people just need to “get over” slavery. Just “get over” the fact that they’re only barely American citizens now because of what their ancestors endured in the Middle Passage and on the farms and plantations and building sites of the territory that eventually became the United States of America.

I noted above that every time I was tempted to laugh while reading either of the books, something held me back. More to the point, I had to wonder whether I, as a bleeding-heart liberal white woman, had a right to laugh. In Ruffin’s book, in particular, there were more moments where I was tempted to cry.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah ends his NYT review of Ruffin’s book this way:

“How does racism shape our ability to love?

We Cast a Shadow churns fresh beauty from old ugliness. What injustices have we as a culture come to accept as normal? What are the pitfalls of our complacency? And how can anyone survive this? These questions are essential to America’s growth, but rarely do we see them posed so sharply. Read this book, and ask yourself: Is this the world you want?”

American Imprisonment

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American journalists Shane M. Bauer and Joshua F. Fattal left a notorious Iranian prison in 2011 after two years in captivity. A third journalist, Sarah Shourd, had already been released in 2010 after the three, who were reporting from Iraq, took a suggested hike and found themselves being accused of having crossed into Iran as spies.

Bauer, who is now married to Shourd, gives a brief account of the ordeal in his book, American Prison, an account of his real undercover exploit as a guard in a for-profit prison in Louisiana.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPossibly Bauer, who works for Mother Jones Magazine, is the only person who could truly sum up the brutality of a private prison because he already knew what prison brutality could be like.

And in fact, there were factors in the American prison that he called worse than what he experienced in the Iranian prison.

American Prison,  A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, released this fall, was named in The New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2018.

Just when it seemed that there was hope for prison reform under President Obama, the country fell into the abyss of the Trump regime and the Sessions Justice Department. While Bauer’s experience happened in 2014, there was hope that the tide against mass incarceration and imprisonment for profit might turn.

Instead we have more imprisonment for profit, called detaining young immigrants, and rollback of sentencing laws.

Bauer’s book about one of the prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America (since renamed CoreCivic) is a painful but, in my opinion, necessary read. One will not be surprised that many of the worst abuses are against African-American prisoners. There are no legitimate efforts made to rehabilitate prisoners, and medical attention is applied sparingly because it cuts the profits. Prisoners have died from neglect.

Perhaps the worst is the utter hopelessness that is reflected in Bauer’s voice at the situation prisoners find themselves in. He describes an inmate nicknamed Corner Store who spends a year beyond his sentence in Winn, Louisiana, because his mother lives out of state and the prison provides him with no help in finding a situation in Louisiana that he can be released to.

If possible, even more frightening is Bauer’s own reactions to being a guard. He starts out trying to be empathetic but finds himself becoming hardened as time goes on to a point where he is writing up prisoners for trivial abuses of the Draconian regulations and beginning to not care a damn about the human beings he is hurting.

Bauer underwent this transformation in only four months, before his photographer was discovered on the jail’s property and Bauer and Shroud skedaddled. The photographer was locked up in Winn; Mother Jones’s lawyer was able to get him released.

For-profit prisons operate on a state level, contracting with the state for prisoners. But we can guess that both state and federal prisons are badly in need of reform, as are mandatory sentencing and over-sentencing. Michelle Alexander began the discussion with The New Jim Crow; Bryan Stevenson continued it with Just Mercy. Paul Butler advocates for prison reform in Chokehold, and I’m sure there are other books out there that I not read that advocate the same.

The point is, these books will continue to need to be written until the United States looks at incarceration and sentencing from a true point of justice and not from a point of vengeance.

Time for a New Kind of Independence

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Independence Day is almost upon us, and it is time for another revolution.

Arise, Patriots, and take back your country and truly make it better.

I understand the position of the House Speaker in the matter of impeachment, but we know now that day after day after day until November 2020 there will be more outrages.

More human rights abuses.

More attacks by domestic terrorists and killings of African-Americans by police, more judicial homicides.

More cozying up to ruthless dictators, and more historical allies who do not trust us.

More legislation not being passed by the Senate because the Senate President won’t bring anything to a vote that might actually make better for people in this country.

More millions and millions of dollars spent on golfing weekends, bringing family grafters on expensive overseas trips, more cheating on taxes.

More incarceration in for-profit prisons.

More election interference. More voter suppression.

More ecological devastation and contracts given to pollution-causing corporations. More public and indigenous land taken.

Need I say, more lies, lies, lies?

The longer this cancer is allowed to metastasize, the longer it will take for the country to recover, and we may not have the time.

Do not think that we can go back to where we were pre-Trump. Ask any African-American or indigenous person how that was working out for them. We were still basically a white supremacist society, and until we repent, reconcile, and make reparations, we will always be one. We not only have to clean up the mess of the last four years, we have to clean up the mess of the last 400+ years.

Do we have the will to do so?

Do we have the resilience to face the future if we do NOT do so?

Luke 8:26-39 & The Poor People’s Campaign

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Last Sunday’s Gospel appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, and it always follows the miracle of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The area where the boat fetched up was part of the Decapolis, a federation of 10 cities inhabited by Gentiles.

One could blame the storm for putting the boat off-course and bringing Jesus and the disciples to a dreary, dark place that is home to a demoniac. Or, one could believe that Jesus knew exactly where they were going because there was something He needed to do there.

Whichever, the group is met by a man given no actual name other than a demoniac, a person inhabited by demons. Since as recently as the 19th century, many illnesses were blamed on some form of possession, we might assume that the man was schizophrenic, had bi-polar disease, or suffered from any of a number of neurobiological diseases that made him a pariah in his country.

In each version, though, the man recognizes Jesus as someone who has authority over him. He begs Jesus to send the demons into the herd of swine in a nearby field. Jesus does, and the swine rush down like lemmings into the sea and drown.

The man, now restored to sanity, asks Jesus to let him follow him. But Jesus tells the man to go back to the towns and tell everyone what God has done for him.

Now, I want you to imagine what the disciples might have been thinking and feeling through all this. They’ve just come off a boat that was rolled about by a storm-tossed sea while their leader slept. They were sure they were all going to die. After interrupting Jesus’s rest, he calmed the sea before their eyes.

Then he brings them to a dark, barren cemetery where a madman runs around breaking stones on his head among the tombs. Why would Jesus bring them to such a dark place? They had somewhat of a triumph at the Sermon on the Mount; then they almost perish in the sea, and then they find themselves at risk of being attacked by demons.

The man isn’t Jewish, so why care about him? Moreover, there’s a herd of swine waiting in the wings, and swine are anathema to the Jews. Would they have felt any more comfortable wandering around Gentile cities evangelizing to people who they sometimes felt were enemies?

I’ve heard one or the other of these versions of this Gospel probably hundreds of times, and only came away happy for the man and sad for the pigs. I don’t know what blocked my understanding, but it is only after studying this Scripture, and reflecting on the patterns in my own life, that I see in a new way the patterns Jesus used to teach us that He always goes to the dark places to find us and to heal us and to send us out to others in dark places to witness and to help.

Following Jesus does involve going to dark places; there’s just no avoiding that. But the miracle for us is finding that there is light even in dark places, and sometimes, we are the light.

Last September, I spent two weeks in a fairly prosperous small city in Georgia. I had booked a suite at an extended-stay hotel. The pictures were beautiful and the price was reasonable. I couldn’t wait to get there. When I did, I found myself in a rather dirty, small, dark room containing chipped furniture, a stove that didn’t work, and a plague of neon green grasshoppers that allowed me to share their space.

I quickly learned that the “extended-stay” description really meant a housing project for homeless people. This little community was made up of mostly women with young children, many of whom had been forced out of public housing by the city, which had sold the buildings they’d lived in to developers who were creating fancy new condos to attract the affluent.

I didn’t know this when I arrived, hot and tired, at 7 o’clock at night. My first introduction was when two young boys playing in the parking lot offered to help me unload my car. My second introduction was when their mothers and other women came to check out the newbie, assuming I was homeless too.

Over the course of two weeks I became embraced by this community, consulted and accepted. Each woman eventually confided her story to me. Though I feared scornful responses, I offered to pray with them, and you might have thought I had offered to pay their rent.

Fast forward to the past week of my life, when I attended the Poor People’s Campaign’s Moral Congress in Washington, DC, led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.

I became aware of Dr. Barber of North Carolina about five years ago when, as the head of the NAACP in that state, he started the Moral Monday rallies in Raleigh. In the time since, I read his memoir, learned about the bone disease that attacked him as a young pastor and father, and began to subscribe to his newsletter. I heard him preach for the first time last year, when he was one of the many speakers at the day-long event in Memphis commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Dr. Theoharis is the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. In 2017, she and Dr. Barber rebooted the Poor People’s Campaign, which King had created shortly before his murder.

Dr. Barber had been told that he’d never walk again. He walks, though it appears with great pain. He cannot move his head left or right, but has to move his whole body. This condition gives an added authority and power to what he has to say, because you know he has been in dark places and that Jesus came to find him.

For the past two years, he and Dr. Theoharis have traveled to some of the darkest places in the country and listened to the poor and documented their stories and allowed themselves to be arrested in direct action campaigns. Out of their travels came “The Souls of Poor Folks,” an evidence-based document that refutes the myth that poor people are to blame for their situations.

When I received an e-mail in April announcing the Poor People’s Moral Congress that would take place in June in Washington, DC, I knew I had to be there.

Dr. Barber stresses that the Poor People’s Campaign is not an organization, but a moral fusion of coalitions that deal with several intersecting problems in this country that lead to poverty: systemic racism; poor housing, health care, and education; ecological devastation, and the war economy.

For three days, I listened and discussed the fact that it is governments, through immoral policies and budgets, that is responsible for poverty and what we the people can do to demand that our country heed the cries of its people.

According to our own Founding Fathers’ documents, the role of government is to help its citizens secure “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet almost from the beginning, politicians of all parties have catered to the wealthy and preached the myth of scarcity, hoping we would believe that there is not enough money to help our citizens in this, a land of abundance and riches.

Here are statistics from the “Souls of Poor Folks”:

  1. 140 million people live in poverty or low wealth, meaning they are one emergency away from poverty.
  2. 74 million of these people are women; 65 million are men; 39 million are children; 21 million are over the age of 65.
  3. 1 million are indigenous people; 8 million are Asian; 26 million are African-Americans; 38 million are Latinx; 66 million are white.

They constitute 43.5% of the entire US population, so nearly half of the population of these united states live in poverty or low wealth. Can we really believe that almost half of the citizens of this country have made themselves poor?

“Any nation that ignores almost half of its population is morally indefensible,” said Dr. Barber. A budget is a moral document, reflecting the values of the budget maker. In the US budget, every year, 53 cents of every discretionary dollar goes to the Department of Defense. Most of that DoD money goes to trans-national corporations that keep the war machine going. So little of it goes to the troops whose are on the ground that there are many veterans’ families who need to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. Is this for real? Is this the country we want to live in?

I spent four days this week talking to, listening to, and interviewing those among the 1,000 people who came from 40 states, including Hawaii, to attend the Poor People’s Campaign. We were black, we were brown, we were white, we were indigenous, we were Latinx, both documented and undocumented; we were Christian, we were Muslim, we were Jewish, we were agnostics; we were gay, we were transgender, we were straight; we were infants, we were toddlers, we were teens, we were middle-aged, we were seniors; we used skateboards and bicycles, canes and zimmer frames and wheelchairs. We were homeless or formerly homeless, we were union organizers, we were activists, we were faith leaders.

In other words, we were a perfect microcosm of this country. We sang together, we ate together, we played together, we laughed together, and we wept together. We watched four of our number testify to the House Budget Subcommittee on their experiences, a meeting to which the House Speaker made a special and rare appearance. I heard good questions and responses from some of the representatives; I also heard appalling statements from white men that they knew all about poverty but they had pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. One man practically bragged that his district includes one of the poorest cities in the nation, Johnstown, PA. And we all were asking ourselves, But what are you doing about it? What if our government’s priorities deny people the bootstraps by which to pull themselves up?

We met with nine Presidential candidates to ask whether they would pledge to ask that just one of the primary debates be dedicated to talking about poverty.

One of the most humbling and inspiring things about my week was that the many women I spoke to, all of whom had been homeless, now devote their lives to helping other homeless people. They talk about what they do now with great joy and vigor.

I would have loved to follow Dr. Barber and Dr. Theoharis. But God told me She had other plans for me and bid me come home and share my experience, just as Jesus told the “demoniac” in the cemetery to do.

When Jesus asked the unfortunate man what his name was, he said, Legion. A legion was a Roman military unit, numbering between 4,000 and 6,000 men, and representing Caesar. I would like to suggest that casting the Legion into the herd of swine was prophetic and metaphorical, Jesus’s way of saying that Caesar’s power was crumbling now that He was bringing the world a new vision of God’s commonwealth, God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

So the question is, do we follow Jesus or do we follow Caesar? Was Jesus speaking to the crowd or to Caesar when He said, “When you saw me hungry, did you feed me? When you saw me naked, did you clothe me? When you saw me in prison, did you visit me?”

Since I just experienced sharing with a thousand of my fellow human beings, sharing information, sharing concern, being hugged for no other reason than that I was there, holding hands, breaking bread, praying over and being prayed for, I have to believe that Jesus was talking about Caesar.

Pentecost For All

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Louis Armstrong’s iconic song, “Wonderful World,” is the default ringtone on my cell phone.

When it rings in public and others hear the song, all of our faces light up. Everyone loves that song. For a moment, strangers and I hear the same thing and are brought together in beautiful communion. What can be better?

Aside from the deep theological meaning of Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit bursting with wind and fire on the Apostles, Pentecost is a vision of the Kingdom and of what it would be like if the Kingdom did come on earth as it is in Heaven.

One doesn’t have to have religion to have a vision of “a commonwealth of peace and freedom”* and to yearn for it and work for it here on earth.

It starts with listening, deep listening, not only to other people, but to creation. To the wind in the trees, to the trees themselves, to the “ancient songs” of the birds, to the stars and the moon, to worms turning the earth, to bees garnering nectar in flowers, the waves on the beach.

All of it, ALL of it, humankind and everything above and below and in the earth, has a tale to tell if only we would listen and hear. Once hearing, we cannot go back to ignoring. We cannot go back to thinking we are better than anyone or anything else. We are all connected.

On Sunday I leave for Washington, DC, for the Poor People’s Congress, the Rev. Dr. William Barber’s continuation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign that was cut short by his murder.

People from at least 40 states will gather to learn and to listen. We will address issues of poverty and all the “isms” that intersect with it with Presidential candidates. Special delegates will testify before Congress. Workshops will teach us how to be better advocates.

I personally know I will need to work extra hard at listening. As the AA slogan goes, I’ll need to “take the cotton out of my ears and stuff it in my mouth.” I’m 66. There’s a whole new vocabulary out there and I have no doubt that I’ll be hearing a lot of it. My “old fartism” could easily be aroused and get frustrated.

But this conference is not only about now, but about the future. The near future is in the hands of people younger than I am.

So I will listen deeply and hope to celebrate Pentecost again.

 

*from The Lord’s Prayer according to the New Zealand Prayer Book

What Might Have Been . . .

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“Dateline 5/23/2039 The New York Times

For the first time ever, six Nobel Prize winners are all Latin-Americans and all under the age of 40.

Five of the six, Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez (Medicine), Jakelin Caal Maquin (Peace), Felipe Gomez Alonzo (Physics), Juan de Leon Gutierrez (Mathematics), and an unnamed man who won for Environmental Science, emigrated to the United States as asylum seekers in 2018 and 2019 from Guatemala. The sixth winner, in Literature, is an unnamed woman who emigrated from El Salvador in 2018.

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Jakelin Caal Maquin

car;ps

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

Mr. Hernandez is credited with being the lead doctor to develop a cure for pancreatic cancer, which has rarely been treated successfully before now. Ms. Caal received her Nobel for bringing violent gangs and law enforcement together in her native country to hammer out a solution to lawlessness there. Mr. Alonzo’s Nobel was given for his research into slowing down the universe’s expansion, which has been an existential threat for decades. The Environmental Science prize was awarded for research that has successfully slowed climate change and ensured a sustainable future. The Nobel for Literature came on the heels of a ground-breaking book that exposed corruption at all levels of the Border Security apparatus from 2016 to 2020.”

No, this is not real. It is tragically unreal. All of these children died in the US and under control of ICE since September.

Since ICE is not required to provide this information to the public, there could be other children and adults who have died in US custody.

Who knows what talents, what dreams, what hopes, they may have brought with them and been allowed to fulfill had not a soulless, murderous regime helped put an end to their lives by basically throwing them away.

Since I’ve been alive, my country has been complicit in taking the lives of countless numbers of young people within the US and in every cranny of the world to which we have pursued war. Black lives, Asian lives, Middle Eastern lives, Latin American lives. All of them gone, a world of potentiality, just gone and the majority of them nameless and faceless. All of them within just a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki saw the unleashing of what was thought to be the greatest death weapon of all.

In sheer numbers, the US has killed many more people than died in the Holocaust, though we spread it out among more ethnic groups.

For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.

John Greenleaf Whittier

“Alabama, Why You Want To Be So Mean?”

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Michael Brandon Samra was executed by lethal injection in Alabama the day after Governor Kay Ivey signed one of the most draconian abortion bills in the 50 states.

Ivey urged “respect for life” after signing the bill.

The irony was fatal for the 41-year-old Samra, who confessed to helping a friend murder his father, his father’s girlfriend, and the girlfriend’s two daughters in a dispute over the friend being allowed to use the father’s vehicle 22 years ago.

The instigator of the crime, Mark Duke, is serving life in prison because he was under 18 at the time.

Montgomery’s Equal Justice Initiative headed by Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy) has reported that Samra, 19 at the time, was developmentally disabled, which would have put him intellectually under the age of 18 as well.

Michael Brandon Samra

According to an EJI article published May 16, Samra had been placed in special education classes for most of his schooling. He eventually dropped out of high school. Neither Samra’s court-appointed counsel nor the prosecution investigated previous reports of his low IQ or follow up on neurological testing that gave evidence of brain damage.

In addition, no move was made for a change of venue from Shelby County, where the murders had occurred and where Samra had already been found guilty by public opinion. He was sentenced to death the same day he was convicted, which is highly unusual.

Shortly after becoming governor two years ago, Ivey signed legislation that shortened the appeals process for death-row inmates in her state, which has the highest per-capita number of prisoners on death row.

In addition, Alabama has one of the highest infant mortality rates and problematic education systems in the country.

Some of the worst human rights abuses during the Jim Crow era took place in Alabama. Considered the Deep South, Alabama was one of the states where recalcitrant enslaved people were sold from mid-Atlantic states. When this happened, families were generally separated, and those sent to Alabama were rarely heard from again.

So it is difficult to see to what respect for life Alabama, or its representatives, has.

Some may argue that a person who murders has no respect for life and therefore that person’s life does not need to be respected.

I will not argue my opinion that capital punishment is immoral, period.  Neither will I argue my opinion that if you say you have respect for life, you must show respect for all life outside of the womb.

You cannot have respect for life if you are not doing all you can to protect the lives of children already existing, of women who have been raped, of victims of incest, of developmentally disabled people, even of outright murderers who have been on death row for 20+ years and are different people from the ones they were at the time of their crimes.

As J.B. Lenoir sang in Alabama Blues, “Alabama, Alabama, why you want to be so mean?”

Hmong and the Secret War

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W. Kamau Bell, you never cease to amaze me. Last night you managed to remind of something I first learned about in the late 1970s.

It was in that year that 60 Minutes broadcast a segment about Nixon’s secret dirty war in Laos, where the US was not supposed to be. And though the Pathet Lao won eventually, the country was left devastated.

Particularly devastated were the Hmong (pronounced “Maung”) people who had been recruited to fight, first, for the French and then the US against the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao. These young men were often only 12 years old when they were recruited to take up arms for the US. Thousands of them died during the fighting. Many more thousands died at the war’s at the hands of the Pathet Lao for taking up arms against them. Some, after the most arduous journeys, made it to refugee camps in Thailand where they learned, after years of living, marrying, and procreating in the camps, that they could come to the US.

Nixon had promised the Hmong that they’d be taken care of, but it is unlikely he ever meant to keep that promise. He was long in disgrace by the time the promise was finally fulfilled.

When the 60 Minutes segment aired, Nixon was gone, and Gerald Ford was President. He had already pardoned Nixon when the Secret War became public knowledge. I don’t recall the Hmong being mentioned by their actual name; I don’t recall even hearing the word “Hmong” until Clint Eastwood’s movie “Gran Torino” came out in the 2000s. I do remember that I was in tears while watching the episode and afterward wrote a “lullaby” to all the children who had died in the Secret War.

William Shawcross’s book Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia is about another secret war but mentioned Laos as well. Published in 1979, it’s a must-read for any serious student of US history.

I learned the most about Laos, oddly, when I started reading Englishman Colin Cotterill’s mystery series 10 years or so ago that features Dr. Siri Paboun, the only qualified doctor to be coroner in the 1970s Pathet Lao regime. Cotterill has lived in Thailand for many, many years and has great sympathy for all sides in the public and secret wars the US brought to Southeast Asia following, of course, in the footsteps of the French. So the author has given Siri, who is a mystic, sympathy for the Hmong while still keeping the Communist Lao government’s attitude toward them.

What does W. Kamau Bell have to do all this? His episode of “United Shades of America” last night (Sunday, May 12) was about the amazing Hmong community in St. Paul, Minnesota, the largest in the US.

Bell has a way of getting along well with almost everyone he meets and interviews (not so well with the KKK). I didn’t know much about Bell until I read his memoir a few years ago, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian

This is the fourth season of “United Shades.” The show’s season is usually about eight spisodes long; every episode packs a punch.

The Hmong he interviewed, some of them having fought for the US and many born in the Thai refugee camps, came to this country with nothing and managed to go to college, make money, and become leaders of their community. Their achievements are nothing short of miraculous, and their desire to as one woman put it, “figure out what traditions should remain, what should go, and how our culture can help America,” is inspirational. Their openness to Bell and their friendliness was heart-expanding. Particularly poignant was a Hmong politician’s story about wanting to learn about the Underground Railroad, thinking it was an actual railroad (enter Colson Whitehead). Instead he learned Harriet Tubman and then Frederick Douglass and other great names and so was able to share with Bell his thoughts about the similarities between African-Americans and Hmong and their treatment in the countries they came from.

Except the Hmong have no country of their own and never did. Their ancestors emigrated from what is now China to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, with the biggest concentration in Laos. But they were never treated as normal citizens in that country.

Two of the interviewees were a young Hmong woman and a young Laotian woman who have come together as comedic performers and playwrights to try to reconcile their two communities. There is still animosity between Lao and Hmong, even in the United States. These young women are breaking ground using the same vehicle as Bell, comedy, to explore their similarities rather than their differences.

This is must-see TV for me. In this time of high drama and tragic, foolish decision-making (whim-making?) in the White House, I find it difficult to watch fictional series or so-called “reality” shows. I binge watch news analysis most of the week, so to have “United Shades of America” to watch on Sundays is a salve to my despairing heart.

You can watch all episodes if you have “On Demand” or follow this link to CNN’s page about this show: United Shades of America I feel pretty confident in saying that you will learn something new and valuable in every episode.