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

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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.

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.

jakelin

Jakelin Caal Maquin

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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.

The Interior Journey as Resistance

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In his heartbreaking remarks at a press conference the day after a domestic terrorist shot up his synagogue in Poway, CA, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein made one comment that I’ve been pondering since.

As a way of preventing such violence, he remarked that perhaps even a quiet time first thing in the morning in schools for children to reflect and meditate would be helpful.

While this does not need to be a religious matter, Rabbi Goldstein echoes great spiritual leaders such as the Rev. Thomas Merton and Rabindranath Tagore in his suggestion given in a moment of personal and communal grief. In all faiths and in humanist philosophy and other disciplines, interior reflection is considered a path to maturity and to peace.

I remember how gobsmacked I felt when I realized that one of Polonius’s (Hamlet) great lines is almost never quoted fully. Most people have heard “To thine own self be true.” They rarely absorb the rest of the quote, which is the most important part: “This above all: To thine own self be true and then it followest as the night to the day, that thou canst be false to no man.”

Shakespeare’s point was not just being true to oneself for one’s own sake, which might just be selfish; even criminals can be true to their own evil desires. But when one is true to oneself in order to reach some kind of enlightenment, it will naturally occur that one will be true to everyone else.

The interior journey is the best way of being true to oneself. You might also call it searching one’s soul or taking stock. How else to examine where one is in relation to where one wants to be?

How else to get down and dirty in looking at one’s own behavior and learning to be honest enough to admit when one has been wrong and then resolve to correct the behavior that has caused one to go astray?

It’s true that for many, this is a spiritual practice in attaining the closest possible relationship to the Divine. For all people it can be a way to ensure that one is not false to other people, which enhances a notion of being in community with other people rather than separate and exclusive. The fuller a feeling one has of being in community with all creation, the less one will want to do damage to that creation.

Some people suggest what is called a daily examen, in which one meditates on what one enjoyed most about the day and what one disliked most about the day. The answers can be clues to behavior that is good for one’s life (and others!) and behavior that is not. 

The interior journey is not always easy. Any member of a 12-Step group knows how difficult it is to complete the 4th step, an inventory of one’s behavior that may have been harmful to other people.

The interior journey can also be joyful, though, and energizing as one makes breakthroughs and has epiphanies about oneself and one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses.

It is too glaringly obvious that the violence and corruption in our country is caused by a wish to be set apart rather than brought together with one’s fellow human beings. I can’t even imagine the president or any other member of his cabinet being self-reflective and considering how his behavior affects others. Neither does it appear to me that white supremacists have ever searched their souls.

Nevertheless, the interior journey is one piece of a solution that could help restore morality to our country if only people are taught at a young enough age of its importance. So thank you, Rabbi Goldstein, for such generosity that, even in your grief, you offer us a way forward.

Thoughts on The Mueller Report

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We’ve all heard a lot about the Mueller Report by now. I don’t claim any expertise other than having watched hours and hours of legal experts talk about it and having read much, though not all, of it. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a citizen who has been highly distressed, even despairing, about the last 4 years of our country’s life. I offer here my thoughts and opinions about what the report, even redacted, says about the current president.

Volume I specifically deals with whether or not there was Russian interference in our 2016 election and whether there was conspiracy on the part of the Trump campaign to enable interference. The report states uncategorically that there was Russian interference, and in fact it started in 2014 before the current president had announced candidacy for 2016.

I was surprised by how many redactions there were in Volume I, as I’d thought that Roger Stone’s case was the only outstanding one as to whether or not there was coordination with Russian operatives. There must be cases we’re not yet aware of and may never know about.

Russian operatives were sent to the United States in 2014 in order to begin to take the temperature of the country and infiltrate organizations that were disaffected by the Democratic President Obama. This says clearly to me that Russia wanted a Republican President elected, no matter whom, in 2016.

It also suggests to me that the fact that the President at the time was an African-American was seen as a path to sowing discord in the country by playing to White Supremacists and also that the Russian government who approved these special ops are White Supremacists themselves.

Here’s my takeaway from the beginning of Volume I:

  1. Page 9 While saying there was no evidence of a conspiracy on the part of the Trump campaign, Mueller does say that candidate Trump did see benefits in having Russia on his side.
  2. Page 12 Dates of when hacking of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and the DNC coordinates with when it became clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee.
  3. Page 13 If there truly was no conspiracy, then Trump is the luckiest bastard in the world. It beggars belief that someone who already had a reputation for corrupt business practices was relying on ‘luck” rather than certain knowledge of what the Russians were doing.
  4. Page 14 Why would Manafort share polling data with Constantin Kilimnik, which is undisputed, if not to knowingly influence the election?
  5. Page 15 The timing of the Wikileaks dumps of John Podesta’s e-mails and the Billy Bush videotape of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults of women seem fishy at this remove. It has always been assumed that the e-mail dump was to distract from the pussy-grabbing video. However, it’s been more than clear that Trump’s sexual proclivities do not bother his supporters, even the Christian right. At the same time, it was becoming clearer that US intelligence agencies were known to be investigating Trump, and the video may have been released as a distraction to that. What would be more damaging to him before the election?
  6. Page 40 Further to my speculation about motives of racism on the part of the Russians, when the social media campaign started, the operatives invented a “Black Matters” Facebook page in order to confuse people about the actual group Black Lives Matter. They also threatened family members of Black Lives Matters activists (names redacted).

Volume II begins on Page 341 with an analysis of the possibility of obstruction of justice committed by the president. The report over and over again views actions by Trump both public and private as having the “potential” to fall within the rubrics of obstruction of justice.

There follows a long discussion of the definition of obstruction of justice and challenges to it, in which the report appears to conclude that limitations that Trump’s lawyers claimed for the statute are not valid.

Specific to this discussion is whether Congress can legitimately prosecute obstruction of justice charges against the president. The ruling theme is that neither Congress nor the president can do anything that would assume one or the other’s separate duties. The report concludes that Congress would not be infringing on the president’s Article II duties if it prosecuted him for obstruction of justice.

Be it noted that the first duty of a President is “To take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” We know that that has not happened with this administration.

In discussing ways in which Trump publicly and privately tried to coerce Michael Cohen into cooperating with the investigation, and then turned on him and gave an interview to Jeanine Pirro about Cohen’s father-in-law, the report repeatedly uses the term “points to evidence” that the president had criminal intent in silencing Cohen.

The report also finds Trump’s responses to the Special Counsel’s questions inadequate or incomplete. Most are answered by “I have no recollection” or objections that the incidents occurred two years before and important incidents cannot be remembered. There is also a lot of blame put on other people as reason why Trump doesn’t remember something, eg he testifies that the Moscow Tower plan was Michael Cohen’s idea and that he was not very interested in building in Moscow and therefore he doesn’t remember anything about those plans and communications from the Russian state administration about the plans.

Here is part of the Mueller Report’s ending summary:

  1. CONCLUSION

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

In sum, contrary to the position taken by the President s counsel, we concluded that, in light of the Supreme Court precedent governing separation-of-powers issues, we had a valid basis for investigating the conduct at issue in this report. In our view, the application of the obstruction statutes would not impermissibly burden the President’s performance of his Article II function to supervise prosecutorial conduct or to remove inferior law-enforcement officers. And the protection of the criminal justice system from corrupt acts by any person – including the President – accords with the fundamental principle of our government that “[n]o [person] in this country is so high that he is above the law.”

 Mueller Report footnote footnote: 1091 A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgment Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an officials conduct, distinct from the political remedy of impeachment. See U.S. CONST. ART.

l, § 3, cl. 7. Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment, rather than making criminal law applicable to a former President, as OLC has recognized. A Sitting President’s Amenability to Indictm ent and Criminal Prosecution, 24 Op. O.L.C.

at 255 (“Recognizing an immunity from prosecution for a sitting President would not preclude such prosecution once the President ‘s term is over or he is otherwise removed from office by resignation or impeachment.“).

My interpretation: “Have at him, Congress. Investigate him fully and bring charges of impeachment, which I cannot do, and then arrest the son-of-a-bitch the second he leaves the White House.”

There are only two legislators so far whose opinions on impeachment I respect. The first is Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose statement was unambiguous. The second is the Honorable Elijah Cummings, who gave more nuanced views to Joy Ann Reid on All In with Chris Hayes Tuesday evening. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCor-a3YPz4insert) I reject those Democratic legislators who say we’ll take care of this at the ballot box. The Russians are still interfering and states are still suppressing votes and we still have an Electoral College. I for one don’t trust the ballot box.

In addition, the president is still obstructing justice in plain sight through tweets and actions. He and advisers and cabinet officials are openly defying the House of Representatives and tromping all over its separate powers. Further, he has contributed not only to the acts of White Supremacists but is responsible for the death of children at the southern border. How much more harm can he do in a year and a half?

A lot. A hell of a lot.