Archive for the ‘Peace & Justice’ Category

The John Browns Of Our Day

July 24, 2013

The only way to break out of the paper bag philosophy is to avoid the narrow and shallow thinking that characterizes it. In other words, we must constantly seek a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience. And few historical figures cause us to stretch our minds more than the abolitionist John Brown.

John Brown

Not to be confused with the (in)famous RI slave trader and Brown University founder of the same name, John Brown led an unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859 to free enslaved African Americans. His failed attempt inspired generations of civil rights leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, the author of a 1909 biography on Brown that I recently finished reading. It seems the more I learn of Brown, the more my ideas about politics are reshaped. Here is a white man who resorted to violence against the state in order to try and put an end to the state-sanctioned violence of slavery. He defies the type of knee-jerk responses we’re accustomed to hearing in the age of 24-hour news cycle sound bites, which is why I’m starting to realize my initial assessment of him was wrong.

One man’s terrorist

My first impression of John Brown was that he was a terrorist. However the DuBois bio, as well as family vacations to Harpers Ferry and Washington DC, have given me a more nuanced view. Brown actually compares favorably to other national heroes. If using violence against the state to resolve conflict makes a citizen a terrorist, then the founding fathers deserve that title too. But at least Brown was consistent in his actions. Is there anything more hypocritical than signing a declaration of independence that claims “all men are created equal” while owning slaves?

Another man’s freedom fighter

Earlier this week, professor and civil rights leader, Dr. Cornel West, called Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning “the John Browns of our day” for blowing the whistle on some serious crimes by the US government. While I don’t agree completely with his analogy, since neither Snowden’s nor Manning’s actions caused any physical harm, it does show how out of whack the system remains to this day… Thanks, in part, to the paper bag philosophy.

Neither liberty nor safety

Political wisdom is never more mono-cultural than when it comes to issues of security. Unfortunately, but predictably, the decisions made inside these tiniest of paper bags to supposedly make us safer have had the opposite effect. Like when tech companies built in back doors to their software so the government (and presumably any hacker) could snoop on the activities of law-abiding citizens. What’s worse is when civic-minded individuals attempt to sound the alarm on these types of misdeeds, they, much like Brown, are treated as terrorists… Allowing the real villains to continue to benefit from their crimes.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable

Want to know what separates the good guys, be they violent or non-violent, from the bad guys? Morality. And the more we stay confined to our paper bags the more we create the false moral ambiguities (e.g. choosing between liberty and safety) that enable the villains to do as they please. As a peace activist who believes in Kingian non-violence, I don’t endorse what Brown did. But he’s no terrorist. Like Snowden and Manning, he is among the most tragic American heroes of his time.

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The Paper Bag Philosophy

July 24, 2013

Paper Bag Philosophy

Hard problems require thinking outside of the box, getting out of comfort zones, walking a mile in someone’s shoes, and lots of other clichés that I’m too inebriated at the moment to list. But don’t expect politicians to do any of these things (I mean other than maybe getting tipsy on occasion). They, like most of us, are in the bag.

The paper bag philosophy is a wrinkle on the notion of group think. Each group member’s paper bag is unique, varying in size according to his or her willingness and ability to understand old concepts and grasp new ones. Unfortunately, the combined contents of all group members’ paper bags tend not to span enough of the realm of political thought to result in positive, long-term solutions. It usually doesn’t even matter how educated or experienced group members are. If their paper bags are deep but narrow or wide but shallow, as is typical, a sort of ignorant magnanimity can take hold that is hard to challenge. And, since no two bags are the same, it can be awfully difficult to convince members that they’re falling victim to group think.

Beware of the Paper Bag Philosopher

As someone who has volunteered in several local organizations, I’ve seen the paper bag philosophy play out way too many times. It’s sad, but no doubt the worst case occurs at the national/global level. With the help (wittingly or unwittingly) of paper bag philosophers, the system has been thoroughly gamed by the 1% and a false moral ambiguity muddies just about every issue, essentially allowing government, on behalf of big business, to do whatever it wants, however it wants, whenever it wants… Need an example? Okay. But it’ll have to wait for another day. Drinking and blogging is a bad mix! 😉

Pages for Peace

May 1, 2012

ImageWhat is world peace? Will there ever be world peace? Where do you see the world in twenty years? What can KIDS do to help create a more peaceful world? What have you done to help create peace in your lifetime? In the spring of 2010, East Bay Citizens for Peace (EBCP) posed these questions to students and staff at Kickemuit Middle School (KMS) who participated in the Big Book: Pages for Peace project. They responded by contributing artwork to what has become the largest book in the world… and it’s all about peace.

The 10 foot by 12 foot book weighs just under 1000 pounds and contains nearly 1000 pages filled with letters, poems and art submitted by people all over the world, including Nobel Laureates Nelson Mandela, the 14th Dalai Lama, Helen Caldecott and former President Jimmy Carter. More than 2000 submissions were received from refugees, students, teachers, veterans including General Peter Pace, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, politicians including Senator John Kerry and the late Senator Edward Kennedy, and celebrities such as singer Pete Seeger, poet/writer Maya Angelou and skateboarder Tony Hawk.

The Big Book project began in 2004 by the Bookmakers and Dreamers Club, an after school enrichment program for middle schoolers at the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, and is now complete. A special “First Look at the Big Book” event is planned for June 2nd at 11:00 a.m. at the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School, 344 Main Street, Groton, MA. Members of EBCP and participants from KMS will be in attendance for the unveiling. After the ceremony, the goal is to display the Big Book in museums for other children to see. President Jimmy Carter has already offered to display it in his presidential library in Georgia.

Achieving world peace is never an easy task, but neither is creating the biggest book in the world. It seems kids have a lot to teach us too! For more information on EBCP and how to get involved, please go to www.eastbaycitizens4peace.org.

The Separation Of Church And Reality

February 12, 2012

There are lots of reasons why people, myself included, don’t particularly like President Obama. He fails to keep promises… um, except that one about expanding the war in Afghanistan. He’s backed (and led) by the 1%. Plus, he’s a socialist! Don’t I wish.

See, mixed in with all of the legit criticisms of our commander-in-chief are the ones that seem to come from the heavens — like the written statement by Bishop Tobin, which was given to Mt. Carmel churchgoers this weekend. The document was in response to Obama’s recent mandate requiring all private health care plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptives. Sparing the gory details about “pro-abortion” politicians who worship a “culture of death”, let’s just say the Catholic church feels the decision violates its freedom of religion. The bishop’s knowledge of the constitution, let alone his flock, must be based entirely on faith because there’s absolutely no truth to it.

The 1st ammendment guarantees us the freedom from religion as much as it does the freedom of religion. In other words, the separation of church and state cuts both ways and people (Catholics, non-Catholics and their doctors) should be just as free to choose contraception as they are not to choose them. This simple point, along with the fact that 98% of sexually active Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraceptives, is lost on Tobin. I guess he would rather resort to unholy name-calling and political heavy-handedness than actually do his job. I mean, honestly, pro-abortion? Yeah, because, as all non-believers know, the only thing better than one abortion is two, right?

In what world, other than Tobin’s imaginary one, does simply forbidding people from doing evil suddenly make them good? The bishop would clearly be better served to practice what he preaches. If he’s truly opposed to a culture of death, then where are the statements condemning capital punishment or the longest war in US history? I’m afraid no amount of faith will make them miraculously appear. Fortunately, you can be a part of a more consistent pro-life crowd.

As for Obama, you know he’ll back pedal. That’s how he rolls, that’s why I didn’t vote for him and hopefully I won’t feel the need to stick up for him again. Remember to vote 3rd party in November!

A Hard Sell

October 14, 2011

Heading into tonight’s 2nd Annual Bristol Economic Development Forum, I promised myself I wouldn’t make comments or ask questions of the panelists — a veritable who’s who on the Bullraker education deformer shit list. I wanted merely to bear witness to the encroaching corporatization of Bristol-Warren public schools… and, in a way, I got my wish.

Despite preparing two statements during the forum and having my arm raised for close to a half hour waiting to be called on during the Q&A session, I was continually passed over by the moderator (a.k.a. Bullraker gadfly, Mike Byrnes). I can’t speculate whether Mike did this intentionally, though he has made it quite clear on this blog that he disagrees with my take on the education deform movement. However, I am certain that without an open and honest debate on the topic, we risk being sold a bad bill of goods. But, let’s face it, telling the truth about the deforms would be a much harder sell. And that’s bad for business!

In case anyone out there is curious, here were the comments I intended to make:

I have responses to two statements made earlier by Angus Davis.

The first is in regard to the U.S. spending over half a trillion dollars on K-12 education per year, even more than what we pay for defense. I’m for one am glad that’s the case. In fact, we should be spending way more on education than defense. And I don’t say this lightly. I have two advanced degrees, one in Mathematics and the other in Teaching & Curriculum, and I’d much prefer to be a teacher than a defense contractor. Unfortunately, one job pays 3 times more than the other! If we believed in education, then we would fund it like we believed in it. Not cut millions from schools districts!

The second thing I want to address is the notion that “innovative” ideas, like trying to bring Achievement First (AF) charter schools to Cranston, are regarded as controversial simply because people fear change. That’s untrue. I don’t fear positive change, but I do have serious doubts about whether charter management companies like AF can bring about positive change.

Here are a few sources that back up my position and will hopefully enlighten Mr. Davis and others on the genuine criticisms of the types of reforms he espouses:

Get Motivated!: Join The Peaceful Revolution

October 5, 2011

On Monday, Providence public schools were delayed two hours in anticipation of the traffic caused by a Get Motivated! motivational seminar. When the horde failed to materialize, the cynic in me saw the overreaction to a bunch of pro-corporate speakers as simply an unsuccessful commercial made by politicians who have already shown their willingness to allow private interests to take control of public education. But, just two days later, the optimist in me now sees crowds all over the country with enough motivation to put an end to the plutocracy and restart our democracy.

For example, the majority of Americans:

Isn’t democracy a great idea? So, while the mainstream media too often covers the fake news, join a global movement called Occupy Together that is growing exponentially. Find the nearest occupation site (in my case, it’s Burnside Park in Providence’s Kennedy Plaza) and help change the world!

Campbell’s Law

July 15, 2011

Campbell’s Law states:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to measure.

Community activist Diana Campbell, who as far I know isn’t related to the author of the above quote, essentially applied the law in a blog  on Bristol-Warren Patch that discussed the recently passed Voter ID legislation in Rhode Island. She claimed the bill, which was supposedly designed to protect against voter  fraud (an almost non-existent crime as evidenced by the extremely small  number of cases throughout the US), will disenfranchise significant portions of our poor, elderly and minority communities. Unfortunately, the people who replied to the post don’t seem quite as enlightened as the Campbells.

Among her many job titles, Diana is a member of the Bristol-Warren School Committee. So it’s fitting that I should stumble onto Campbell’s Law while reading an article by the former executive director of the American Mathematical Society on how politicians across the country are using mathematical intimidation to push their school reform agendas. Having written on the subject of how poor mathematics contributed to Rhode Island’s unfair funding formula, I was encouraged to learn that I wasn’t  the only mathematician speaking out about the injustices of the school deform movement.

I hope Diana, perhaps the person most responsible for getting me started on a path of political activism, will read this post and also be comforted to know she isn’t alone. The voices for the voiceless could always use some accompaniment.

The Secret of Oz

May 11, 2011

The following press release was issued by the East Bay Patriots,  a local Tea Party group. Although I have been (and will remain) openly critical of the Tea Party on many issues, it shouldn’t stop me from reaching out to them when we find common ground.

I stumbled onto the Secret of Oz movie just as the East Bay Citizens for Peace  (EBCP) were kicking off their 25% Solution campaign to cut military spending by 25% and use the savings to fund community needs, which includes reducing the national debt. As EBCP moved forward with the 25% campaign, I was shocked to learn that, even by the most conservative estimates, close to half of our 13+ trillion dollar debt stems from prior military spending. Well, if the people behind the Secret of Oz had their way, we’d no longer have to pay interest on past military spending, which accounts for 18% of our current military budget — or roughly 3/4 of the 25% Solution. In fact, the U.S. wouldn’t have to pay interest on anything ever again!

The sovereign money movement may not solve all of the country’s economic woes, but it sure could help. Coming down from ivory (or emerald) towers to engage in healthy debate with those who have vastly different world views doesn’t hurt either.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

East Bay Patriots to show Secret of Oz film

Bristol, RI – May 16, 2011 – The Bristol East Bay Patriots will hold a meeting on May 16th, at the Rogers Free Library in Bristol. Meeting will start at 6:30pm.

Kevin Faria of East Bay Citizens for Peace will be the guest moderator and will be presenting the movie The Secret of Oz.

It is well known in economics academia that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 is loaded with powerful symbols of monetary reform which were the core of the Populist movement and the 1896 and 1900 president bid of Democrat William Jennings Bryan.

The yellow brick road (gold standard), the emerald city of Oz (greenback money), even Dorothy’s silver slippers (changed to ruby slippers for the movie version) were the symbol of Baum’s and Bryan’s belief that adding silver coinage to gold would provide much needed money to a depression-strapped, 1890s America.

America is going broke! Now the question is how can we get out of this mess. Foreclosures are everywhere, unemployment is skyrocketing – and this is only the beginning. America’s economy is on a long, slippery slope from here on. The bubble ride of debt has come to an end.

What can government do? The sad answer is – under the current monetary system – nothing. It’s not going to get better until the root of the problem is understood and addressed. There isn’t enough stimulus money in the entire world to get us out of this hole.

Why? Debt. The national debt is just like our consumer debt – it’s the interest that’s killing us.

Though most people don’t realize it the government can’t just issue its own money anymore. It used to be that way. The King could just issue stuff called money. Abraham Lincoln did it to win the Civil War.

Today the government has to borrow our money into existence and then pay interest on it. That’s why they call it the National Debt. All our money is created out of debt. Politicians who focus on reducing the National Debt as an answer probably don’t know what the National Debt really is. To reduce the National Debt would be to reduce our money – and there’s already too little of that.

You have to go deeper. You have to get at the root of this problem or we’re never going to fix this. The solution isn’t new or radical.

Why can’t we just issue our own money, debt free? That, my friends, is the answer. Talk about reform! That’s the only reform that will make a huge difference to everyone’s life – even worldwide.

The solution is the secret that’s been hidden from us for just over 100 years – ever since the time when author L. Frank Baum wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Come and join us for this provocative film! It is an eye-opener!

Think Global. Act Local.

March 31, 2011

At last month’s Bristol Town Council meeting, East Bay Citizens For Peace (EBCP) asked the town to sponsor an event to discuss the impact of military spending on our communities and pass a resolution to call on the federal government to reduce such spending and instead fund local needs. Shockingly, all five members, including Kenny Marshall, who stated publicly that he would pass the resolution when asked (by me) at a debate prior to the November elections, denied EBCP’s request! It was a moment I won’t forget anytime soon, because it was then when I realized that many local leaders know and/or care very little about the larger issues. They confine themselves solely to the world of local politics, no matter how much regional and national politics shape the crises we face.

For example, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is allowing Bristol-Warren schools to be boxed in by the state, which is cutting aid to the district by more than $8 million over the next ten years. Rather than fully funding the school department’s request of $2.9 million to simply maintain the same services it currently provides — and giving all the stakeholders (i.e. students, parents, teachers, adminstrators, and concerned citizens) a full year to organize and direct their angst at the people most responsible for this mess (i.e. state and federal officials) — the JFC is forking over only a little more than half of the amount.

The decision is a disastrous mistake for a committee that scolded members of the public for being too “adversarial”. Just wait until the administration is forced to start cutting things like foreign languages, art, music, and sports. Then we’ll see some adversity! But the inevitable in-fighting will take the real antagonists off the hook. While communities bicker over what to slash from already tight budgets, the ones who put them in such unworkable positions are hailed as rock stars. If only there were local leaders who refused to let others place them in a box and dared to think outside of it. Well, we may not find them in “America’s Most Patriotic Town”, but they’re out there:

Hartford, CT City Council Votes to Bring Our War Dollars Home Now!

City Council Urges Hartford residents to Attend April 9 Antiwar March in NYC
Unbridled war spending by the federal government and President Obama has drained resources from our communities to keep the wheels of the war machine grinding on. This has also translated into attacks on education and unions, especially in the public sector, as states scramble to make up for budget shortfalls.

Recognizing that the majority of Americans are against the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 17 groups and individuals with a focus on peace and justice joined together to bring forward a resolution to the city council of Hartford, CT. It said, Bring Our War Dollars Home Now! Money for Education, Jobs, Housing and Healthcare!

On Monday, March 28th the city council of Hartford voted in favor of the resolution. The resolution goes on to urge residents to join thousands on April 9, 2011 for a national march in New York City that says Bring our troops home now, No to War, Cutbacks, Racism, Attacks on Muslims and Immigrants. For info go to UNACPeace.org

With this historic vote Hartford is the first state capitol to pass such a resolution and joins city councils in Portland, Maine and Northampton, MA in saying not another penny for wars and occupations.

Below you can read the resolution:

A resolution of the city council of Hartford, CT calling upon the US government and President Obama to Bring Our War Dollars Home Now

Whereas, the economic collapse has exhausted the financial resources at the local, county, state and federal levels of the US; and

Whereas, the US government since 2001 has spent well over 1 trillion dollars nationally on the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Connecticut nearly 28 billion dollars has gone to war spending and more than $453 million has been taken from the city of Hartford to fund the wars and occupations, and

Whereas, more than 5,700 US troops have been killed, more than 40,000 wounded; and

Whereas, hundred’s of thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded and the ongoing warfare poses great and unnecessary harm to the nation of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and elsewhere in the world; and

Whereas, billions of tax payer’s money is spent to prop up repressive regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world; and

Whereas,
educational services, medical care, housing, other essential public services, infrastructure repair, and family financing throughout Connecticut, especially in cities such as Hartford, have been diverted from a constructive economy to these wars and occupations, and

Whereas,
budget deficits, largely due to war spending, have been used as a pretext to force concessions from public sector unions from California to Wisconsin to Connecticut; and

Whereas, 2010 census data shows that Hartford has the highest poverty rating in Connecticut at 31.9% (nationally, the poverty rating is 14.3%) and

Whereas,
communities of color in Hartford have been hardest hit. Our city has a population that is 41% Latino and 38% African American/West Indian population. Unemployment for people of color is over 40%, and unemployment for people of color is nearly 20% and when employed, people of color make only 60 cents for every dollar made by white workers; and

Whereas, the above mentioned communities are heavily targeted for military recruitment,

Be it resolved that the city council of Hartford call upon the US government and President Obama to end the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring our war dollars home now.

Now be it further resolved, that the city council of Hartford support informational events regarding the cost of the wars and occupations to our community; and

Be it further resolved that the city council of Hartford support the right of public sector unions and all other unions to collectively bargain and defend the interests of their members; and

Be it further resolved, that the city council of Hartford urge residents to participate in the April 9, 2011 national march in New York City to end the wars and occupations and bring our war dollars home.

Whose Army?

January 7, 2011