I got an idea. Let’s do away with kings and kingdoms once and for all.  It’s tough enough being a serf now-a-days without having to look across the moat to the castle dwellers and see them bickering amongst themselves like they have any real problem other than finding a few more peasants to fleece.

You know how nobility works. It doesn’t matter your nationality or hometown, when you hang with people, you make damned sure it’s others just like you.  Take pre-twentieth century royalty.  One minute you’ve got a single Queen of England –born to rule the peeps of England – but she marries a Dutch Prince and he becomes king.  Why?  Because he’s got the same elevated status she does. It doesn’t matter that he’s not English, doesn’t even speak English.  Okay, maybe he did speak English, but it wasn’t his first language.  Same goes for just about every royal house in Western Europe after Louis XIV. For centuries they spoke French – even in Russian Courts – because the Sun King’s excesses set the royalty bar. And Louis’ fat cat, blue blood peers wanted to be just like him.

Now I usually write about poverty, and in a way I still am. All you have to do to see a few modern day peasants is drive through an inner city and look at a basketball court.  They’re usually surrounded by chain link fencing, but the real peasant class is behind barbed wire or razor wire as well.  That’s how you know the enclosure isn’t there to keep the balls from going in the street – it’s there to keep the peasants inside – see razor wire’s hell on a basketball and on a peasant.

And if the message of these basketball cages isn’t loud and clear enough, a June 2013, Forbes Magazine article points out that 23 Philadelphia schools are closing due to a $300 million shortfall while the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections prepares to build a $400 million prison. Yeah, you don’t have to be a Count to do that math.  And why put razor wire around the school yards when you can just send the former students to prison?

Did you know that’s where counts came from? Kings needed help keeping their court straight so they extended noble ties out into the community. The often elevated the station of others they “saw fit” with knighthood or other noble title. In the case of the dude who kept the King’s math straight – for taxes, bounty, royal expenditures, and stuff – he became the Count.

Now the peasants all had to believe these upper crusts were the real deal. So the royalty of old said that God gave them their power.  Oh well, stop right there! God and a few swords – don’t forget the guys who got knighted.

So as we stand and stare at the razor wire around the basketball court, which modern day kings need to go? Well, they don’t call it court for nothing.  Let’s start with the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Listen to this sordid tale of royalty picking at each other’s belly button lint in their exalted station while a whole bunch of real basketball players – like the 8-year-old kids from Philly – lose their game.

And let’s face it, not one of these NBA royalty – like the Dutch king on the British throne – even comes from basketball.

Here’s the story: This unapologetic supremist named Donald Sterling owns the Clipper kingdom.  Problem with being a typical, arrogant, “the rules don’t apply to me” philandering, fat cat is that the peasants who watch your royal matches are – in part – the people you hate. And I would wager that they are in totality the people he hates, but he’s too much of a racist to know that they make peasants in his color.

So the other royals – as would happen from time to time when one king decided to annex another’s kingdom – have decided that Sterling needs to abdicate. Who will take over? How about the former king of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer! At least there’s a ball in his name if not in his past. Why should this rich dude own a basketball team? Well, because he’s royalty and rich is one of the rules of the sport.

What the NBA should do is give the Clipper kingdom to the public school children of Philly – or Chicago or some other endangered school district.  The basketball nobility has amassed enough wealth to save those schools.  And I don’t just mean the billion Sterling is suing for because they want to take his throne. By the way, that billion could save all 23 Philadelphia schools two and a half times over!  No, I mean the television stations with the beer and potato chip adds.  I mean the ridiculously expensive clothes made by the indescrbably poor sweatshop peasants around the world.

The basketball kingdoms combined have enough money to finance schools, take down the razor wire, and let the real game be played for the fun of it. Profits from the new NBA would only go to schools after the players get paid. So just like today, kids with tons of basketball talent would still have something to shoot for athletically.

Basketball is for athletes, would-be athletes, and backyard enthusiasts who want to work up a sweat shooting for three points from the foul line.  It’s not for an 80-year-old would-be Henry VIII hate-filled aristocrat, so desperate for one more sexual exploit that he mutters his obscene venom-filled comments into the ear of a woman who sees him for what he really is – a meal ticket who can easily lose his throne by exposing his royal foul lines – the ones he speaks.

Did you ever wish you could make a difference?  Of course you did. You even tried.  Didn’t you?  And you did make a difference, but you thought, “Gee, that’s only half what I’d hoped I could've accomplished.” 

Perhaps you’ve seen other people really grabbing the old bull-by-the-horns and thought, “How can I be that confident and work on an issue I care about?”

What if I told you there was a way to double your impact, and oh, more than that, have a one on one day spent at the elbow of an activist ready to show you her game plan, her strategy, her routine?  What if I told you that there’s a way to double your impact and then – just maybe – become an activist for a day?  You’d be delighted.  I know.  I’m delighted just telling you about it.

I’ve got this hero.  Her name is Diane Nilan.  For going on 9 years now, she’s traveled the United States documenting the lives of homeless children and their families.  She sold everything she had, her condo, her stuff, and she bought an RV and she makes a difference. 

She’s one of the architects of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act.  And she’s hell on wheels when a school department doesn’t obey that law.  Yep, not only did Diane do all she could to make sure kids went to school, but she helps enforce the law too.  When someone plays fast and loose with the rules, she makes a phone call and reminds them of the law that she helped to write.  If they’re a little hard of learning, she drives to their doorstep.  It’s quite a sight to see.  But if you'd like, here's your chance to see it... I'll get to that in a moment.

She’s made a number of awe-inspiring videos about the pandemic of family homelessness and you can check out the trailers on her website.  Of course there are some things – like the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act that are so important, that the video about that law is on her site for free.

Anyway, I’m far from the first person who has noticed her good heart and dogged determined nature when it comes to helping homeless kids.  And that’s how Diane won the Sister Clare Award. 

The University of Saint Francis doles out this award to women who have made a difference in their own lifetime.  Personally I don’t know a thing about Sister Clare except that she must’ve been amazing if she’s the kind of person Diane is.

But it’s even better than getting an award because you’ve spent nearly a decade sleepless over the plight of homeless kids.  It comes with a cash incentive of ten grand.  Yeah, you read that right, ten thousand dollars. 

If Diane and her not for profit Hear Us can raise ten grand, some Sister Clare fan is going to match it dollar for dollar.  Well, actually, they’ll match every dollar up to 10,000.  So you want to double your impact?  Send Hear Us a few bucks.  Send 10 it becomes 20, send 25 it becomes 50, send 50 it becomes 100.  You get the drift.

And what about spending a day with the amazing activist, doing what she does, becoming a part of the solution instead of justifiably paralyzed by the size of the problem?  Well, all you have to do is raise a thousand dollars.

(Heavens no!  We don’t expect anyone to have a thousand dollars of their own to give). 

But if you can raise a thousand – thereby effectively raising two thousand – Diane will drive to your part of the country, set up media and homeless events in your town, and take you along for the ride.  Plan a bake sale, activate your high school kids' civics club.

Trust me, I’ve been with Diane Nilan on these trips of hers and I’ve had the time of my life.  Want more details?  Want fundraising ideas?  Reach out to me on Facebook.  I’ll help you.

 

Be an activist for a day and make a difference that could change a little child’s lifetime. 

 

homeless homework

I’m not homeless, but every now and then I take to the streets in some far-flung part of the United States and live in a fashion similar to the one lived by many people experiencing homelessness.  

Like many folks without a home, sometimes I travel alone, but I’m often with others.  Two weeks ago I shoved off on my latest trip with my dear friend, Diane Nilan.   Nilan’s an advocate for homeless kids and the executive director of Hear Us, a charity she started 9 years ago hoping to shed light on our nation’s greatest shame. 

I love Diane Nilan.  She’s selfless and that’s an amazing thing to watch.  She’s held body and soul together – living on the road in an RV all these years – for the same reasons the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask over your own face before you attempt to help somebody else. 

Nilan and I were in Birmingham, Alabama one time.  We were speaking with some folks who hoped to help 19 to 25 year olds find a safe place to stay, get some mentoring, education, food, healthcare and eventually self-sufficiency.  A young man spoke of being in a dank and nasty homeless shelter with a bunch of wizened tough guys.  His story was frightening and heartbreaking.  Nilan got up after this kid spoke and choked out these words, “We must be a very wealthy nation to throw away our children.” 

Those words stick with me all the time.  I do think it’s a testimony to our nation’s excessiveness that we spend a fortune on defense and then throw away the one commodity that we all agree would be worth the fight.

So when I get to travel with Nilan, I’m stoked.  Last week – as we began our journey northward – she brought me to meet the amazing folks at the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH).  Now these guys and gals have been my heroes for a very long time.  Pretty much since I first heard about them, I’ve used their data to explain the size and scope of our nation’s greatest domestic challenges. 

On my way out their door, I promised ICPH a blog post.  The blog post was going to be very similar to this one, but without the apology.  I never dreamed I’d need to apologize.  But as Nilan and I got further on our journey – as my mom would say – I got turned around.  I’m doubled up in Nilan’s motor home and while she kindly tries to make room for me, I don’t really have any place to keep my things.  My dirty laundry piles up, my toothbrush falls out of my bag and onto the floor just about every time I try to stow my things away, and I often forget to take my medicine. 

We spent our first few nights sleeping in a Wal*Mart parking lot.  It was cold and dark and we didn’t have access to a WiFi signal so at night we’d just go to sleep rather than stay awake and shiver.  From there we moved onto the parking lot in a convent, a friend’s driveway, and a university campus, and managed to get to all our speaking engagements, but we never did write very much. 

Finally, I remembered the blog post.  I asked Diane when it was due and she said that she couldn’t remember and we should write to Linda Bazerjain and ask.  That’s when I learned that my post was 4 days late. 

I felt awful.  It’s so unlikely to miss a deadline.  I’ve written for publication for decades – since 1985 – and really can’t remember missing a deadline before this.  And I have no excuse!  See, I’m not really homeless.   In a few days Nilan’s and my “Frost Bites” tour of the northeast will be over and I’ll go back to my writing table and chair. I’ll have my filing cabinet full of the writing triggers I collect along my journeys and the calendar open so I can see what my commitments are.  My dirty clothes will be in the hamper and my toothbrush in its holder.  My medicine will go back up over the kitchen sink and I’ll see it every morning when I get up to make coffee.  I’ll have my routine, my familiar surroundings back and hopefully Bazerjain and the other wonderful folks at ICPH will have forgiven me.  Perhaps they’ll even give me more chances to write for them. 

I often feel a twinge of guilt about these tours I take to “sample” homelessness because without losing my safety net, I’ll never really get what it’s like to be homeless.  But embarrassing moments like this one, when I realize I just couldn’t pull off what normally would have been a no-brainer, that’s when I get a real peek at what it’s like to share the disoriented, disheveled, demoralizing world of homelessness.  What if this writing commitment had been a job application, a housing assistance form, or – worse still – my homework? 

Nilan’s got a new film coming out soon.   We’ve shown clips of it when we speak to groups like the ones we met at Columbia University and Salem State University this week.  It shows 8 children and their mom living with grandparents in a small trailer that’s leaking water and heaven knows what other liquids onto the ground.  All the kids have rattling coughs and the cupboards are bare.  In one of the scenes, in the corner of the shot, one of the children is doing her homework. 

I’ve always been impressed by homeless kids who get their schoolwork done.   But this week – better than ever – I understand how herculean her efforts are. 

And she’s just one of the millions of children our wealthy nation is throwing away.

 

 

Politics has gotten pretty ugly over the years.  Lately the stench from our nation’s rhetorical and fiscal rancor has filled the noses of every person with the intestinal fortitude to watch events unfold in Washington D.C. and at all our state capitols. 

When Senator Ted Cruz revealed that the recent $24 billion government shutdown filled his campaign contact lists and financial coffers, most who advocate for a more sane and compassionate allocation of tax payer resources gagged convulsively. 

But there’s always been political discord.  How quickly we forget the 1856 caning of Senator Charles Sumner.  South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks walked into the senate chambers and beat the Massachusetts senator bloody and unconscious.  See, the day before Sumner had accused Brooks colleague, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler of having a mistress.  Sumner said Butler’s mistress “though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight.”  Sumner didn’t just describe the mistress; he identified her by name, “the harlot, slavery.”

In 1860 the U.S. Census cites that 4.5 million blacks lived in the United States and 4 million of them were enslaved. When the bloody battle in the senate turned into the bloody civil war – even without considering the economic impact of the war itself – on any given day $3.2 billion dollars in human chattel was at stake. 

3.2 billion 1860’s dollars!  That dwarfs the economic impact of the 2013 government shut down.  And that doesn’t count what the slave produced over time.  Each slave’s value over time – after expenses – would be about $82,000 in today’s money.  That means those 4 million black captives had a lifetime value of $328 trillion.

No wonder Brooks caved in Sumner’s head. 

Certainly the kidnapping and enslaving of millions of people involved other issues, like racism.  Today’s greedy individuals still use racism to gain and keep power.  Racism, sexism and homophobia allow those lusty for power and wealth to pander to fear in others.

This weekend Congressman Mike Michaud came out in an editorial piece distributed to two major Maine papers and the Associated Press.  He wrote "whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls" had intimated that he is gay.   Michaud used the editorial to respond to these tactics with a simple declaration, “Yes, I am.” 

He went onto ask – rhetorically of course – “why should it matter?” 

Sadly, it matters because too much of the world still operates out of ignorance.  Too much of the world – and in a three way race with challengers Eliot Cutler and incumbent Governor Paul LePage – too much of Maine is prejudiced against gays.  And somebody powerful thinks they can mobilize the fearful and the hateful and eliminate Michaud’s chances of upsetting LePage in 2014.

What kind of political operatives launch whisper campaigns against a grown man making adult choices, a proven statesman, a faithful representative of his constituents?  Only the kind of political operative that truly understands fear, and the people who best understand fear are – of course – cowards. 

Congressman Michaud’s enemies are the kind of people who would have told a blind racist that there’s a black man in the room.  They’re the type of people that would have launched a whisper campaign that Franklin Roosevelt couldn’t walk – hoping to instill doubt in his ability to lead.  They are the kind of people who – knowing Michaud’s many strengths – are hoping to allege a weakness only homophobes understand. 

Michaud doesn’t believe his sexuality should matter.  In his editorial he wrote, “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”  He’s right about the former but wrong about the latter.  The sexual orientation of any person doesn’t matter – this is true.  But his political struggle, his enemies’ attempts to destroy him, those things will make him a better governor. 

Congressman Michaud knows that an awful lot of Maine people are up against it right now.  Their state leads the country into recessions and is at the rear of the pack during recovery.  Young Maine men and women struggle to find jobs and higher education is often out of reach.  Maine’s higher proportion of seniors struggling in cold climates need a leader who knows how to fight.  And being the target of prejudice, standing up to bullies, that takes a fighter. 

Congratulations Congressman Michaud, those who admire your strength have yet one more reason to honor you.  And I can’t help but thing that there’s some young man or woman in Maine or elsewhere in this nation that will draw courage from your actions.  Young people will know that they can candidly be who they are.  Hopefully this campaign against you will backfire and prove to enlightened folks and homophobes, gays and lesbians, transgender folks and bi-sexual individuals, that the sexual orientation of great leaders is irrelevant.  Here’s to a whole new generation of happy healthy well-adjusted leaders who are learning from your example.    

 

In 2011 the U.S. Congress spent their important time reaffirming that “In God We Trust,” is our nation’s motto.  Meanwhile Republican House members today confirmed that “I Got Mine” is still theirs. 

 

But really, in the absence of any new enemies to fight – what with the Russians and Iranians playing nice and helping the U.N. control our little issue with Syria – the U.S. Congress has resorted to attacking the only enemy they have left: the American People!

 

The ordinary American finding out that their elected officials hate them wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing.  After all, maybe it would lead to a little voter unrest and a tossing out of the ALEC stooges and those addicted to snorting Koch.  

 

But it’s the unmitigated gall of paying themselves while they shut down key services and departments of the government that would leave most Americans slack jawed if they weren’t too busy to notice... Considering how many millions of people will be directly impacted by this congressional hubris. 

 

Perhaps you’ve wondered why your representatives have such a superior attitude toward their inferiors.  And by inferior, I mean you.  It’s because you’re a pawn.  This congressional shutdown is a display, a dance, and you’re expected to become mesmerized.  Speaker Boehner and his colleagues holding that “hard line” against even the smallest incremental increase of your access to healthcare will cause you to bicker with your neighbor about whether the old system – pre ObamaCare – or the new system – actual ObamaCare – is better.  All the while the insurance companies who pay the Congressperson’s campaign bills stave off universal healthcare in its entirety. 

 

See, while we’re fighting over whether or not Congress will let a few hostages go – the euphemistic women and children off the hijacked plane – they’ve actually misdirected the whole country from asking itself whether or not these dunderheads actually deserve the more than $200,000 they receive in income and – wait for it – healthcare benefits. 

 

Holding voters captive is an old trick, but somehow we – as the victims – never grow tired of it.  “Oh please, show us that one again, Speaker Boehner.  Dress up like Newt Gingrich and do that trick where you confuse the American people into believing your fighting for something other than dividing us so you can get us to back each other down from standing up united against you.” 

 

Can’t remember when it’s happened more recently than the Clinton/Gingrich welfare reform dance of the 1990’s? 

 

Here’s a more recent example of lying the American people into a hostage negotiation where we hope to get at least some of our loved ones off the plane. 

 

In 2006 the Senate by unanimous consent demanding a 75 year prefunding of postal benefits by the United States Postal Service (USPS).  This made the USPS appear financially strapped when, in fact, it’s the most financially solvent division of the federal government. 

 

But Americans fell for it and started negotiating with the terrorists; giving up ground so they wouldn’t take the whole thing.  The feds began shuttering small post offices, closing postal sorting stations, and all as a mechanism to streamline the USPS.  But that wasn’t done to ‘save’ the USPS that had been running in the black and needed no saving.  NO, it was done so that it can – one day soon – be privatized and sold.  And the benefit to the American people?  Now we’re supposed to believe we had avoided a calamity.  Wow, when a victim mentality is working, it’s damned hard to beat. 

 

One last word about the USPS and the falsehood that it’s in trouble: If and when the government shuts down tonight, the postal service will not be impacted. 

 

Why not? 

 

Because the USPS doesn’t require one thin dime of tax money to support it!  The USPS operates solely on user fees.  Now that’s a truth the terrorists in Congress didn’t mean for you to learn.  Perhaps they should practice a little Congressional restraint and stick to taking one set of hostages at a time.  Or we might catch on and stop allowing ourselves to be held captive in the future. 

 

The Free Dictionary by Farlex (and yeah, I use free things because I’m poor.  And because I’m poor, I just can’t get me enough free things!) defines pander: To cater to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses. 

 

So is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pandering to his rich buddies when he suggests that poor people who can’t prove that they work 20 hours a week should lose their food stamps?  Considering that for the 2013-14 campaign cycle Cantor has already raised in excess of $2.3 million, Cantor must have an awful lot of rich people to listen to.  I looked up his contributors but I don’t want to do all the research on the way some of the lesser known fat cats might feel about the poor (yeah we poor folks are lazy that way, and besides I’m running late for my part time job with no benefits and I need to get this written so I don’t get fired.  Unemployment’s still pretty high and well, as a part time employee I don’t qualify for those benefits anyway). 

 

So we’ll just talk about rich people in general.

 

You know, rich people like mining tycoon, Gina Rinehart, who said that poor people should, “spend less time drinking or smoking and socializing, and more time working."  Or former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who explained to a jewelry store clerk that she was a clerk because she made minimum wage and Rice was a customer because Rice makes, “considerably more.”  Too bad the former secretary couldn’t have been so clear about our intentions with some of the world leaders back when she was National Security Chief, things might not have turned out so badly 12 years ago Wednesday.

 

But Cantor seems to be taking some of his legislative cues from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And it was Gingrich who said that poor kids didn’t have any role models with, “habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash' unless it's illegal.”

 

I could go on and on quoting the rich “I got mine’s,” but I won’t.  I think I’ve made my point that many of Cantor’s rich supporters would prefer representation by a character so conservative that he or she would not even leave a crumb, “Much too small for the other Whos’ mouses.”

 

But this time even majority leader “Grinch” Cantor has outdone himself.  According to Al Jazeera, Cantor – whose own net worth is estimated at $2.97 million – has proposed denying food stamps to folks who aren’t working enough and can’t prove that they are unable to work.  Al Jazeera writes, “Cantor's bill is the first step in a push by House Republicans and conservative think tanks to complete the unfinished business of Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract With America, the 10-point plan for conservative reform that envisioned "promoting individual responsibility" by attaching expanded work requirements, time limits and other restrictions not only to welfare — which Gingrich and others succeeded in passing in 1996 — but to food stamps, SSI and other government benefit programs.”

 

Individual responsibility from a man who buys – let me rephrase that: authorizes tax payer funded purchases of –  $2,971 worth of bottled water and snacks each week for his congressional staff.  Considering the average food stamp benefit per person per day in Cantor’s home state of Virginia is $4.23 and Cantor’s staff spends $594 per day on fancy water and tasty treats, perhaps the staff would be willing to forego their snacks – or buy them themselves – so that a few more Virginia 5 years olds could augment their daily food plan.  I mean buying your own snacks when you already have a taxpayer-funded paycheck sounds a lot more personally responsible. 

 

Think about it, Cantor’s congressional staff snacks enough to keep 140 more hungry persons on food assistance each day.  If you hate math, let me help.  Each person who receives food stamps gets almost $1.50 per meal to supply all their nutritional needs!  Well see that’s the problem.  Bottled water costs at least $1.50 per bottle.  

 

My mom always said that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor.  And it might upset me just now that she’d be annoyed with me writing about the Congressman this way.  But it doesn’t because I don’t think any of this is funny. 

 

But wait, it gets worse.  Cantor isn’t just the guy who wants to make hungry people hungrier, he’s also the guy who wanted to eliminate overtime pay.  Maybe he feels that way because he’s a member of congress and he doesn’t get overtime pay. No, those guys and gals are salaried.  That means that if you get a job like theirs, you get paid the same no matter how little you work. 

 

Dear President Obama,

I and many other people just like me grieve for what our country has become.  And quite frankly sir, we grieve for what you have become as well.  I’m an historian so I know that when I say our country ‘has become’ I have to forget things like the slaughter of the Native Americans, the enslaving of millions of Africans and their descendants and our nation’s imperialist war crimes like our slaughter of Filipinos during and after the Spanish American War. 

Perhaps I’m wrong about you too Mr. President.  Perhaps you haven’t lost your way.  Perhaps you are the same as you’ve always been, just as the United States is as bloodthirsty as it’s always been.  Perhaps I was just imagining that we’d changed, we’d grown, and that we had transformed into a nation as great as the sum of our better parts. 

Mr. President, I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again that we expected change from you.  We didn’t want a continuation of the Bush/Cheney years, we wanted an enlightened president, we wanted a man of courage and higher ideals to run the United States of America. 

I know you aren’t king.  I know that you can’t do whatever you want.  But you can issue pardons.  For example, you could have saved Troy Davis from execution in Georgia, but you didn’t.  And those of us on the “left” who wanted you to interfere were told that you couldn’t because it was your first term.  Davis was just one of the many innocents who had to die to make sure you got re-elected.  We were told that we just needed to understand.

Well, Mr. President, you first term’s over, innocents are still dying, and now I really don’t understand.  Are you being manipulated by corporate masters?  Can’t you wear a wire and expose them?  Do you really believe that you should have a kill list?  Do you really believe that the sacrifice of children killed by errant drones dignifies the office of President of the United States?  I can’t believe that you do.    

But you must.

So if all you do is ok, then can’t we just strike a bargain over Bradley Manning?  If you take into account all the illegal/unconstitutional spying the NSA has been doing while you’ve been in office, then can’t we just call you and Manning square?  Let’s say you just pardon him now and let him go.  No third term to worry about, just justice. 

Mr. President I don’t believe you have the moral fortitude to pardon Manning.  Your fragile house of cards depends on persecuting men like Manning who have the courage to show the American people what is going on in our name.  You have devoted your presidency to persecuting whistle blowers even though you campaigned saying that they were essential. 

Someone has to pay for standing up to the criminal actions of the United States. And now that the court has gotten him to grovel – proving that torture will get a person to say anything – he will be put away for another 35 years.

After all, someone has to pay. 

Well, can we strike a deal?  Can 35 of us volunteer to serve some of Bradley Manning’s time?  We the people of these United States needed to see unarmed men and children gunned down by giddy soldiers flying over their heads.  We needed to know that’s what our country was doing… is still doing. 

And a grateful nation should do his time.  Your administration let Pres. Bush and Vice Pres. Cheney off the hook for these war crimes, but you’re punishing the man who brought them to light.  Why? Some say it was so you could execute similar policies without being found out. 

If I can get 34 friends to do it with me, can we each take a year of Manning’s sentence?

Mr. President you can take a year too.  Have you watched the collateral murder video?  Maybe you haven’t and that’s why you don’t know that Manning should be free.  After all, you’re a busy man.  Watch the video, and volunteer with me to take a year of his sentence.  That way, Mr. President, you’ll show respect for military protocol as well as contempt for a military killing frenzy. 

Pat LaMarche

2004 Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate

 

 

The five pillars of Islam are pilgrimage, alms giving, profession of faith, prayer and fasting.  And the last Christian Beatitude promises, "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Perhaps that's why it's so fitting that I've partnered with a minister to join the Clergy Gitmo Justice Fast.  Because I'm not a member of the clergy - not by a long shot - I can't sign up on my own.

 

The Gitmo Clergy Fast calls on ordained clergy - of any religion - to do a water only fast one day for one prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.  There are 166 prisoners, so there needs to be 166 clergy.  Even though I'm a dyed in the wool confirmed agnostic, I'm still horrified by the U.S. indefinite detention of 'terrorist suspects' and I wanted to participate.  When I interviewed Rev. Chuck Freeman on the Pennsylvania based Rick Smith Show he said that only had a dozen or so clergy were fasting and he encouraged me to recruit a clergy person to do the praying, and I could join him or her for the fasting. 

 

Rev. Freeman, Director of the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry, from Free Souls Church in Round Rock, Texas, started the idea because he feels that most Americans and tragically many American Clergy have forgotten human suffering, especially when it's caused by the U.S., "I think about how calloused & disconnected we Americans are from our brutal actions.  Then we have the gall to beat our chests about being the beacon of democracy for the world.  Sad, sickening, tragic denial."

 

Rev. Freeman wants Pastors, Rabbis, Imams, Nuns, Monks, any and all clergy, to lead their congregants to a more noble behavior and he wants them to lead by example.

 

When Rev. Freeman talks about U.S. clergy - himself included - he feels "After all is said and done more is said than is done." He wants to remind his brothers and sisters of the cloth, "the great Prophet Jesus taught, 'by their fruit you will know them.'" And Rev. Freeman would like the fruit by which American clergy persons are known to be their combined outrage over what is going on at Guantanamo Bay.

 

As I mentioned, I don't believe in god, but I do believe in Rev. Freeman and so yesterday my clergy buddy and I, retired preacher, Rev. Gerald Oleson of Bangor, Maine, went hungry.  Raised by strict Catholics, the fasting wasn't anything new.  In fact, I used to fast every Friday during lent and for the three days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday.  But this time the ritual was really different.  In light of the detainee hunger strikes, this time I was fasting with the picture in mind of imprisoned men - men my government imprisoned - who are literally starving for justice.   

 

Now this all seemed pretty weighty considering I remember the Beatitudes also promised something like, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill."  And the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are trying to do just that.

 

If you're a clergy member - or a layperson who can come up with a clergy buddy - go to the fast site and sign up for a prisoner.  You can pick a detainee by name and there's a different one every day.  This way you can pick the day you want to fast as well as for whom you would like your sacrifice to be made.  Rev. Oleson picked August 9 for us because it was the anniversary of the day we bombed Nagasaki.  Anyone who needs the significance of that action explained in this context probably isn't still reading this post.  

 

We fasted for and Rev. Oleson prayed for Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman.  He is from Yemen and has been cleared for release.  But the U.S. government won't let him go.  The official word on why he can't leave is that he is from Yemen, and even though he's no threat, the U.S. drone strikes there have picked up in intensity and seem to be encouraging new terrorists every day.  Perhaps some innocent held in jail for more than a decade may be ripe for turning.  Especially once he sees what the U.S. drones strikes have done to civilians in his home country.  

 

And if you're a clergy person who wants a buddy, contact me.  I'll do it with you. 

 

Lastly, there are 12 detainees that you can't sign up for - but maybe should be added to the list if we get lots of clergy signed on - they're the 12 that have already died in Gitmo.  If I remember my Catholicism properly, someone should pray for their souls - oh, and for their forgiveness.

Kent State Obit
Gwen Ifell and Oliver Stone are at Kent State this weekend to commemorate the May 4, 1970 shootings at the university which claimed 4 lives and wounded 9 others.  The celebrities will share their thoughts on what happened 43 years ago as the university dedicates it's new May 4 visitor center.  Among the visitors dropping by to hear them speak and scrutinize the new center is Laurel Krause, sister of Allison Krause, the 19 year old freshman honor student, who was killed that day by members of the Ohio National Guard.   The soldiers shot her where she stood - 343 feet from away from them - on the campus lawn.  

What was the climate like the day Allison and the others were shot?

Well aside from the fact that it was the first beautiful day after weeks of rain, the political climate was anything but clearing.  Just 4 days earlier President Richard Nixon announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.  He struggled to justify his decision to further escalate the conflict in south east Asia even as he worked to conceal the fact that he had authorized the illegal bombing of Cambodia for more than a year.  

Domestically the clouds were gathering as well.  Two years and one month earlier Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated after turning his attention on the evils he perceived were associated with the Vietnam War.  His voice had added to the growing number of young voices speaking out across the nation calling for an end to the war and an elimination of military conscription, better known as the draft.  

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had compiled surveillance tapes and documents on everyone from the Kennedy family to MLK, Jr. and while his top secret files were destroyed upon his death, there is no reason to believe he did not run a series of intelligence programs based at monitoring and curtailing the efforts of young people on campuses all across the nation who he felt "seek to destroy our society."

For these and other reasons Laurel Krause and her organization,The Kent State Truth Tribunal (KSTT), filed a  petition on Feb 9, 2013 with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), asking them to review their claim that Vietnam War protesters were intentionally targeted by Hoover's FBI and the Department of Defense.  On April 5th, the UNHRC agreed to hear the case.

Laurel and the other members of the KSTT have a lot to say on what they believe has been a 43 year cover up and spin job.  From the time headlines broke that called the shooting victims "bums" and portrayed them as an unwashed violent rabble of questionable morality until this year when the UN became the first governing body willing to dig a little deeper into the official story, Laurel has keenly remembered the details of the day her sister died.  

Time will tell what will come of Laurel's struggle to get justice for her sister and the other victims.  And justice for Laurel means that the government will one day acknowledge the truth.  Until that day comes and on this anniversary of Allison's death, it's illuminating to know exactly how the day unfolded for the rest of the Krause family.  

At 12:24 p.m. 28 Ohio National Guard soldiers - after hearing what they later called sniper fire - opened fire on unarmed protesters at Kent State University.  Most of the protesters were more than the length of a football field from the soldiers.  The soldiers had live rounds in their guns and must have been cautioned that they may need to shoot to kill the college kids.  

At about 3:00 p.m. 15 year old Laurel Krause got off the school bus and started walking to her home.  A neighbor ran up to Laurel and told her that the radio had announced that Allison had been hurt in a shooting at Kent State.

Laurel called her mom and dad who were at work.

Laurel's mom came home and called the Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, Ohio and was told over the phone that, "she was DOA."  Doris Krause collapsed on the floor. 

Laurel's dad, Arthur Krause, worked as a middle manager for Westinghouse and his co-worker brought him home.  Arthur had received a call from his brother saying that the local radio station had announced that Allison was dead.  When he arrived home, Doris confirmed it, and the family friend drove them from their home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the hospital in Ohio.  

Laurel recounts that no one from the University or the U.S. government was there to assist them.  When the door swung open to the room where Allison lay dead, Laurel could see her sister's body.  When her parents went into the room to identify Alliston, Laurel waited in the hall where two armed men wearing no uniforms were standing.  One of the men muttered behind her, "They should have shot more." 

These are the memories Laurel Krause has carried 43 years. These are the memories that motivate her to make regular calls to the Department of Justice and ask when her sister's murder will be investigated and solved.  And every time Laurel calls, she is referred to the civil rights department.  Laurel says, "She was nothing more than garbage to them.  They don't want to investigate her murder.  The DOJ has no department for the killing of students by the government."  

 The day after his daughter's death, Arthur filed a lawsuit he refused to drop regardless of how much money he was offered.  Arthur died never receiving the justice he was after.  Laurel has continued his fight.  She says the battle can get unpleasant but that won't stop her.  She's not surprised that she hasn't gotten answers, and she's not daunted by the obstacles in her way.  Laurel says, "Anytime the FBI kills a member of your family, they are gonna to be up your ass for the rest of your lives."

 

Geo. Bush opened his presidential library this week.  If it weren’t for the fact that his presidential legacy is featured in a four minute video game, I might have thought he had no memory at all for what his tenure was really like.  But no, gimmicks like “shock and awe” that literally terrorized tens of thousands and killed uncounted however-many civilians were never really real to the man.  And how could they be, he – after all – thought it sufficient to ride in a helicopter over the greatest natural/man-made disaster in U.S. history.  Like every video game ever played, nobody got their feet wet.

I posted on my Facebook page today that Pres. Bush opening a library was an oxymoron of the highest order.  I likened it to Hugh Heffner opening a convent.  And while a good many who weighed in were willing to join Heff’s new church, very few had much to add other than a myriad of ‘preaching to the choir’ comments of mutual agreement.  Of those few that had a beef with my implying that Pres. Bush a bibliophobe who admits to eschewing libraries most of his life, the biggest question was, “where’s your criticism of Pres. Obama?”

First of all, are they kidding?  Geo. Bush opens a library – a library not a horse farm with “Brownie,” his former FEMA bungler, in charge – and the Bush apologists want to ask why I’m busy making fun of it?

Well if the topic of Iraq had even come up in Geo. Bush’s  library dedication speech I might be able to explain why I think it’s laughable that a man who was busy reading a children’s book while his nation was under attack – after he’d cut important funding to reading programs across the nation – should get a library. I could explain to the architect of “no child left behind” – which encourage dropping out rather than struggling with low standardized test scores – belongs not in a library but rather in a prison cell. 

But Iraq never came up.  Need to hear that again?  I know I did.  Geo. Bush was dedicating a library to himself and his presidential legacy, and the war that was based on untruths spewed across the desks of all in attendance at the United Nations and everyone else around the world, which resulted in tens of thousands of U.S. casualties and countless Iraqi casualties, and broke our economy in the process, was not mentioned. 

Okay, so I’m no Geo. Bush fan, and I haven’t been since he used dental records to prove he spent the Vietnam War hiding in the Alabama National Guard.  You know, the same type of dental records they used to identify bodies that came home from the war without dog tags.  And he had the audacity to challenge War Veteran John Kerry’s military mettle?  But then Kerry responded like the coward he was being called, instead of telling ole Georgie to shut his yap.  Kerry could have quoted Kris Kristofferson when that Vietnam War veteran shut Toby Keith’s yap during one of his patriotic rants, “Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not.”  And with that Kristofferson silenced the argument.

But now that I hearken back to John Kerry’s epic fold on the topics of courage and intestinal fortitude, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Pres. Obama followed in kind by showing up at the dedication of G.W.’s library. 

I know.  Where’s my couth?  Well listen up Bush apologists, you wanted criticism of Pres. Obama, here you go.  Pres. Obama should have vowed to himself and sworn on the bodies of every person dead by Geo. Bush’s illegal policies – but not his own hand – that the only time he’d visit the former president would be to make sure he was getting his daily walks in the prison yard at the Hague. 

How could a seated president not attend the former president’s library dedication and still be polite?  To hell with polite!  He’s the president of the United States, not of a tea cotillion.  Pres. Obama should have volunteered at a soup kitchen, visited the soldiers at Walter Reed, or maybe even attended a seminar on war crimes.  President Obama should have spent the day talking to the guys in line at a VA clinic or gone grocery shopping with a senior on Social Security.   No, instead he went and paid homage to a man who fiddled while New Orleans drowned, escalated hostilities with our ‘enemies’ and insulted our friends.  And now as Geo. Bush cancels his upcoming trip to ‘Old Europe’ where they lost the stomach for war criminals years ago, he at least has a comfy chair back in a Dallas, Texas where he can read “The Pet Goat” and watch his true legacy unfold. 

See, Geo. Bush left Pres. Obama with a presidency so powerful that Pres. Obama can wage war, bomb nations with drones and without Congressional consent, lock prisoners up at Gitmo indefinitely and spy on U.S. citizens.  Come to think of it, no wonder Pres. Obama was so nice.