Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Critical Need for a New Paradigm

 


The human species is in a state of perpetual crises. This has been made evident by the turmoil present within so many human societies throughout the globe. It has been this way since the very beginnings of human civilization. The protracted history of humanity in the last 10,000 years has been filled with many wars of aggression, widespread bigotry, hatred, and enmity between peoples who view themselves as being different. This propensity for tribalism and xenophobia is more than likely a result of human evolution on planet earth – it was a time when these kinds of responses provided a significant advantage for small local groups competing for survival in an essentially hostile environment.

During this early stage in human evolution, the species (Homo sapiens) was sparsely populated on the planet and the tribal disputes between local peoples of different origins did not have much of an impact on the longevity of the species or on the health and state of the natural environment primarily due to the primitive nature of weaponry.

Currently, however, with close to 8 billion individuals populating this fragile ecosystem called earth and where advances in technological warfare has brought us horrendous weapons of mass destruction, this is no longer the case. We have reached a time in human development on planet earth where it has become imperative that humans learn to cooperate with each other regardless of their place of origin, the color of their skin, their particular belief systems, and their sexual orientation.

The level of competition between peoples for natural resources such as land and water and sources of energy, for example, has become so acute that the usual practice of acting with violence and aggression towards real or perceived adversaries has become counterproductive and detrimental to the very future of the species. Empire building and the penchant for colonization has thankfully diminished over the recent past, but the urge to dominate others and accrue wealth and power at the expense of the weak remains as a dominant and corrosive force within the body politic.

The modern quest for energy to propel the hunger and thirst for material progress has now created a situation where the very stability of the earthly climate is in jeopardy. In order to ensure a secure future for the coming generations, the only remedy is to reach all-encompassing solutions to the daunting issues of climate change, wars of aggression, hatred, and bigotry and to build cooperative and compassionate relationships between all peoples around the globe.

To accomplish these elusive goals on a worldwide scale requires a new paradigm – one in which all humans inhabiting this planet are accepted as an intrinsic part of the human family and worthy of an equal chance and opportunity to pursue their goals, aspirations and the promise of a full and rewarding life. One in which all humans are viewed as being of equivalent worth and held within the context of a universal and caring global human community.

It is within this light, that true peace and security is achievable. It is within this light, that humanity will finally be able to release itself from the seemingly endless cycle of violence and retribution. Whether humankind will ever be able to transcend the oppressive boundaries of its own limited conclusions is, of course, an open question. We must, however, dare to hope and dare to dream and dare to finally act in our own best interests.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Plea for Sanity and Intelligence

Within the seemingly endless maelstrom of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, we are witnessing the full consequences of failed leadership on the part of the Federal government within a corrupt and dysfunctional system. To refer to the virus as our enemy is rather ludicrous at best. Viruses are a fundamental aspect of biological life on planet earth. As a type of life form, they have played an essential role in the evolution of living things over billions of years and are not about to disappear. 

The enemy in this debacle is ourselves. As a democratic society, we have apparently chosen an individual to head the Federal government who is patently incapable of real and authentic leadership; someone who is inherently unable to intellectually grasp such a complex issue with all its layered nuances and is, thereby thoroughly and completely out of his depth. He and his cohorts have failed in regard to nearly every level of dealing with a national crisis of such major proportions. 

Even though we are currently mired in a very difficult and perilous situation, we do have the unprecedented opportunity to emerge from this crisis with a renewed focus and determination to finally acknowledge and correct the critical inequities that have permeated our national life for far too long. The threat to our health and livelihoods that this pandemic has posed has essentially unveiled the deep-seated problems that have confounded American life. 

It has been over one-hundred and fifty years since the end of the devastating and debilitating Civil War and yet as a people we are still haunted and plagued by the prejudice, hatred and bigotry that propelled us into that devastating conflict in the first place. Fear and suspicion continue to dominate national life and have led to an armed and anxious people. We have not yet come to terms with our collective past. The process of rebuilding our social and economic life at the end of this pandemic may provide us with an opportunity to recognize our failings and construct an entirely different and more inclusive image of ourselves not simply for the present moment, but for future generations as well. 

Many of the societal ills that have characterized ordinary life in the United States prior to this pandemic include a failed national health system, a fractured and dysfunctional national immigration policy, a seemingly perpetual crisis around the issues of homelessness, poverty and hunger, a justice system that has produced the highest per capita prison population in the world and an educational system that effectively excludes many from legitimate access. As a result of this abject failure to educate our own people, there is currently a profound fear and apparent disregard of the essential role that science does play in modern life. 

Many of these failings have as their primary root cause a massive and inequitable distribution of wealth where there are but a few winners at the very top of the economic scale. Along with this tilted economic alignment comes an equivalent and devastating distribution of economic and political power and influence. As a result, important and far-reaching public policies and decisions have been and are being made not based upon the common good and sound scientifically and intellectually- derived principles but rather upon the immediate capacity to generate wealth and profit. 

As this public health crisis has clearly demonstrated, this system has failed us especially with leadership that is clearly and categorically aligned with the interests of wealth and power. A society not based upon the premise of providing for the common good, regardless of its avowed political system, is essentially unsustainable. 

As a people, we are thereby faced with the choice of either coming through this unprecedented situation and reverting back to failed principles or learning important lessons and fashioning a social order focused upon on creating a sane, intelligent, and sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Time of Reassessment

At this moment, with the nation hunkered down under the ominous cloud of a persistent virus pursuing the rapacious programming of its inherent biology, it could be a time for personal and societal reflection. Viruses have, in fact, been an integral part of life on this planet for perhaps billions of years and have apparently played a significant role in the evolution of the remarkable diversity of living beings on this earth. They are a part of the universe of living things that populate the natural environment and are not likely to disappear. That is the reality that we are dealing with.

We can face this challenge by using the tools that science can and does provide and make judicious and wise decisions, or we get let fear dominate our thinking and abandon reason and rational behavior. The ladder choice would necessarily lead to disaster.

At a time when many of us are faced with an enforced isolation, it may provide an opportunity to reflect not only upon our own lives and those who we love and live with but on the very nature of the society that we live in.

In my opinion, it is the time to honor those who have the courage and a determined sense of loyalty and caring to place their own personal safety at risk every day to serve us – to minister to our health, to provide the food and nutrition we require, to deliver the mail, to staff the hospitals, to provide security, to drive ambulances, to rush to fires, to save lives, etc. For these individuals, we must provide all the tools they need to not only do their work but to stay safe; for they are our real saviors.

There are many individuals and families who have been living on the margins – making barely enough income to survive. In a dire situation where that income stream has been halted, they also require our immediate and sustained assistance. There are hundreds of thousands of homeless individuals and families who have no safe house to retreat to minimize their exposure to the virus. Collectively, we cannot in good conscience abandon them. We are a nation with the remarkable distinction of having the greatest number of prisoners per capita than any other sovereignty. Steps must be taken to change this sobering picture; otherwise, it places our view of justice in a remarkably hypocritical light.

My hope it that these stark realities that now haunt us will provide the incentive to reconsider, reevaluate and reassess the nature of our social contract. It may provide an impetus to resuscitate the Commons – to develop the much needed infrastructure to provide accessible healthcare for all, to have a public health system capable of responding quickly and decisively to health emergencies, to provide adequate housing for everyone, and to properly educate and care for all our children.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Aristides De Sousa Mendes


In 1940, Europe was at the very center of political turmoil created by the rising tide of Fascism from its epicenter in Germany. At this time, it became abundantly clear to many European Jews that their future survival was at stake. In order to protect themselves and their families from what they envisioned as a horrific future, many sought to flee from their homes and livelihoods. At that time, their options and possible escape routes were dwindling.

On November 9 -10, 1938 the State-sanctioned violent attacks of Jewish businesses and institutions perpetrated by the German SA – Sturmabteilung or Storm Detachment - paramilitary forces and civilians occurred throughout the country. It became known as the Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. This served as a sign to many European Jews of the existential nature of the threat to their lives and safety. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. This act of aggression was the effective beginning of World War II and in June of 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan declared war upon Great Britain and France. On May 10 of 1940 German forces entered France and by June 25 of that year fully occupied the country,

One of the possible escape routes for those Jews attempting to flee from France was to obtain a Portuguese visa that would allow them to obtain safe passage through Spain to Lisbon. From Lisbon, they could then find refuge in other parts of the globe. Although Portugal officially proclaimed itself to be neutral in regard to the ensuing global conflict, the country was under the rule of a dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salaza, who was, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer. Under his auspices a directive, Circular 14, was issued to all Portuguese diplomats stating that Jews, Russians and stateless persons would not be allowed to return to their countries of origin.

In spite of the prohibition against granting Portuguese visas to those wishing to flee from their Nazi oppressors, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux, France, chose to defy this order and freely granted visas to many thousands hoping to find safety in other parts of the world. In his own words, Mendes stated that, ““I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God.”

For this rebellious act, Mendes’ diplomatic status was revoked, and he was forbidden from practicing law. This punishment severely impacted the economic well-being of him and his family. As a result, the family was in such dire economic straits that an organization financed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee fed the Mendes family in its soup kitchen.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes died on April 3rd, 1954 in dire poverty at the Franciscan Hospital in Lisbon. In spite of all the suffering he endured for acts of extreme bravery and courage in direct defiance of unspeakable evil, he proclaimed that, “I could not have acted otherwise, and I therefore accept all that has befallen me with love.”

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fred Korematsu



Fred Korematsu

Fred Korematsu

Given the current political and national climate in regard to immigration and the status of the foreign born, especially people of color, the story of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American, is of special significance.

It has been over 75 years since Fred Korematsu was arrested on the suspicion that he was Japanese and therefore had not surrendered his personal freedom pursuant to Executive Order 9066 promulgated by the Franklin D Roosevelt (February 19, 1942) -   that directed the immediate and enforced internment of Americans of Japanese descent.  In reality, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were forcefully moved to concentration camps.

Fred Korematsu was walking down a street in San Leandro, California when police arrested him on Memorial Day 1942.  Korematsu subsequently admitted that he refused to comply with this order.  He was a welder by profession born in Oakland, California to Japanese American parents.
Following his arrest, when questioned at police headquarters, Korematsu at first lied about his own personal identity claiming he was Clyde Sarah and of Spanish and Hawaiian ancestry.  In fact, he carried with him an obviously altered draft card with false information.  Eventually, he told the authorities the truth and that his family was in what was euphemistically referred to as a, “relocation camp.”

After this admission, he was forcibly taken to the Tanforan Assembly Center – a former racetrack where 7800 individuals were being held along with his parents and three brothers.  He was placed in what used to be a horse stall with few amenities.  “These camps [are] definitely an imprisonment under armed guard with orders [to] shoot to kill,” Korematsu wrote in a note to his lawyer. “These people should have been given a fair trial in order that they may defend their loyalty at court in a democratic way.” 

Over time, Korematsu became determined to challenge his fate in court having some confidence in the capacity of the court system to render a just verdict.  During his trial in Federal Court in San Francisco, Korematsu speaking in his own defense said, “As a citizen of the United States I am ready, willing, and able to bear arms for this country.”  He went on to say that he had registered for the draft and attempted to volunteer his service in the U.S. Navy.  He also stated that he had never been to Japan and could not read Japanese.  The judge in the case, nevertheless, found him guilty of disobeying the removal order and sentenced him to five years probation and was ordered to be taken back to the internment camp.

Although his parents and family were not happy with his decision to defy the Executive Order and despite the general impression that the occupants of these internment camps remained docile, historic evidence gathered since paints a very different picture.  In fact, there were acts of civil disobedience and reported unrest on the part of involuntary occupants in these camps.

Beginning in November of 1942, Korematsu was given leave to live and work outside the camp – this was a partial freedom granted to younger “detainees” of working age.  Finally, in January 1944, near the end of the war, Korematsu was given indefinite leave from the camp.

During this time, Korematsu’s lawyers brought his cast to the Federal Court of Appeals. that ultimately upheld his original conviction finding that Executive Order 9066 was constitutional.  Subsequently, his case came before the US Supreme Court - Korematsu v. U.S. - in October of 1944 and on December 18, 1944 the court upheld the constitutionality of the Executive Order in a 6-3 decision claiming that at the time of the internment there was a “military urgency.”

Three justices wrote minority dissents. Justice Robert H, Jackson wrote, “The Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens.” Furthermore he stated that, “The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

After the war, when the Korematsu family returned to Oakland, they found their flower nursery in a pitiful state having been neglected by the tenants.  Thousands of detainees felt that on release they would have nowhere to go; therefore, they decided to remain in the camps until they were ultimately closed in May 1946.

Korematsu subsequently married, had kids, and finally moved back to California.  In 1981, evidence was uncovered that the U.S. government had presented fallacious evidence to the Supreme Court in Korematsu’s case and had effectively suppressed information as to the loyalty of Japanese American citizens to the U.S.  Finally, his case was brought back to the federal court in 1983 and his conviction was thrown out.

Following this favorable decision that vindicated him, Korematsu became active in the arena of civil rights and civil liberties.  He lobbied Congress to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that offered compensation and an apology to former wartime detainees. In 1998, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Before his 2005 death, he filed a court brief in support of the civil rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2010, in a tribute to his unflinching and courageous actions in support of basic civil liberties, California made his birthday, January 30, Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.