Friday, August 30, 2013

War On Whom?

They say it's a war against terrorism. And sometimes the mouth where the word "terrorism" is formed is in a trusted face, perhaps even a smiling face. And one guesses that many of those faces belong to people who truly believe what they are communicating, since we all know there are terrorists, who deliberately target the innocent to heighten the visibility of their cause. But there's a larger picture of the war on terrorism emerging as this policy of preventive and pervasive war in the U.S. rolls on.

Increasingly we need to ask, "War on WHOM?"

During the Vietnam war there was a wonderful poster hanging in my office. It read, "Foreign Policy Eventually Comes Home." It was a picture of police beating war protestors with the dead at Kent State in the background. 

Today our war policies in the U.S. are bringing this truth home with a vengeance. And like in Vietnam, the first to feel the brutality are the young.

Our kids aren't safe! The war has come home! A heightened climate of fear and the profits from weapons fuels a larger and larger fire. The arms industries are so powerful, we're invested in them so heavily, they call the shots in the Senate, on our streets and in our schools. 

Although the great majority of NRA members approve of background checks, as does the citizenry, the industry lobby does not. So we continue to see the likes of Newtown where school children and teachers were massacred, most recently in the aborted attempt in a Georgia school and the killing of the Australian runner shot by three bored teenagers. There have been more than 21,000 Americans who have died from guns since those 26, nine months ago, at that Connecticut school.    

Remember the infant, shot by his mother in January in Florida? How about the 16 year old killed while playing with his younger brother in Florida in February? Or the 3 year old in Michigan who shot himself with his dad's gun in March? Or the 4 year old who shot a woman in April at a family cookout in Tennessee? Or what about the 2 year old killed by her 5 year old brother in Kentucky in May? Did you read about the 12 year old in Ohio who shot his younger brother in the head then killed himself, in June? Or the 8 year old in California killed when her apartment was sprayed with gunfire in July? How about the 2 year old killed this month by his grandfather in Georgia?

We're killing our children, literally, as our policy of preventive and perpetual war comes home. But we're killing our kids in other ways as well. 

Instead of developing strong minds and bodies in stronger public education, we nickel and dime our educational system, pay teachers poorly, provide little infrastructure support for children in need, and then blame the system if there's less than excellent performance. In the meantime, the Obama administration submits a 2013 budget request where 57% of our national resources will go to the military, including nuclear weapons programs, with 6% for education. And you know, some in our Congress don't like that 6%, and educators don't like what some of it supports.

But the national budget simply reflects national priorities. As President Eisenhower said as he left office, five star general that he was, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in  the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who  are cold and are not clothed." 

Those war priorities also get played out in states and localities. Our South Dakota Governor goes to the Mall of America wooing "development" away from Minnesota (we have an economic, how should I say this … is it a war or just friendly competition?) with our neighbor to the East. And how much will these new industries wooed to come here pay to help fund education in the state? And who gets a special invitation to locate in South Dakota? Answer - arms manufacturers from the state of Connecticut unhappy with sensible legislation passed there in the wake of the killings in Newtown. 

I haven't heard how many South Dakota schools the Governor has wooed or visited recently, many I hope.

I have a long list of ways the war on terrorism is coming home, too many for this short space. But let me name a few, because we're all potential terrorists! And the definition of terrorism, especially according to security agencies and authorities, grows with each passing day.

Now it's whistleblowers! Although he avoided the worst of the charges against him, Bradley (Chelsea) Manning is off to prison for an act of conscience and a legal duty, according to international conventions, to reveal war crimes. He's not the first, nor will he be the last. The rights of citizens to know the actions of their government are disappearing in the climate of fear and the burgeoning development of "national security systems."

And journalists! Now we have intelligence agencies in England trying to intimidate journalists and their loved ones and destroying property of their paper in concert with U.S. interests. Most media outlets in our country have already been intimidated to the point of silence, where we seldom if ever get the truth about what's really happening. Who remembers investigative reporting?

There is also a war: on the poor, on voters (certain kinds), on objectors to certain policies favorable to big corporations like Keystone XL, on immigrants (really, "give me your tired, your poor?"), on small farmers, on women and their rights, on folks who want to know what's in their food, and on those pesky young people who had the gall to say "we're the 99%."

And our privacy? The revelations about NSA surveillance are not all out there yet, but it's coming. Just know that big brother is watching, because we are all "suspects," and will be till proven otherwise, I suppose when we are buried and in our grave!

Carl Kline

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Another Reason to Oppose Keystone XL: Man-Camps

In case you need another reason to oppose Keystone XL and similar projects, here’s a big one: The man-camps that would be built along the pipeline route would bring with them skyrocketing violence, prostitution, sexual assault, human trafficking, drug use and trafficking (particularly heroin and methamphetamine), traffic fatalities, damage to local infrastructure, and more. These increases would have to be borne by small rural communities that don’t have significant law enforcement, medical or social service resources, and whose infrastructure is insufficient to meet the demands of the camps.

Keystone XL man-camps are currently planned in at least the following counties in the Upper Midwest: McCome, Valley and Fallon counties in Montana; Harding and Meade counties in South Dakota; and Holt County in Nebraska. Each camp will be 100-150 acres in size and will house up to 1,000 workers. Additional man-camps in support of other fossil fuel projects are also being planned in other counties.

TransCanada (the company that wants to build the Keystone XL) repeatedly reassures citizens along the pipeline route, “You don’t need to worry.” But we do worry. We worry deeply, and for good reason, and so should TransCanada. Though obviously not all workers living in man-camps are a threat to society, the presence of man-camps practically guarantees harm to adjacent communities, and even to communities a great distance away.

Man-camp in Williston, North Dakota
(photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)
The gravity of the threat posed by man-camps to women and children can easily be illustrated by what’s happening amidst North Dakota’s oil boom. That boom brought its own man-camps, some of them registered and run by corporations, others unregistered and set up in farmers’ yards. According to North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, there was a 7.2% increase in overall crime statewide in 2012, including 23,647 arrests of men for everything from forcible rape to drug abuse, prostitution, and “other” sexual offences. Rapes increased 17%. Aggravated assaults increased 3%. North Dakota doesn’t keep statistics on human traffickingwhere women and children are forced into sexual slaverybut maybe the state should start. Stenehjem acknowledges that it is a serious and growing issue, as is organized criminal drug activity.

Brendan Johnson, US Attorney for the District of South Dakota, has no doubt that the Keystone XL man-camps would bring similar challenges to local communities in South Dakota, both along the pipeline route and far from it. And this would happen at a time when federal cutbacks due to budget sequestration are making law enforcement, criminal investigation and prosecution of cases even more difficult.

Brendan Johnson & Faith Spotted Eagle 
(photo: White Buffalo Calf Woman Society)
Here in South Dakota we are already seeing increases in human trafficking. Johnson says that he has handled 12 major cases of sex trafficking of young girls in the four years he has been in office, and more cases are pending. South Dakota’s busiest human trafficking season, he notes, is during pheasant-hunting season, when there is an influx of out-of-state sportsmen. But the sexual predation of native women isn’t limited to pheasant-hunting season. As one conference participant put it, “It’s been open season on native women since first contact” with Europeans on Turtle Island (i.e., North America).

Ihanktonwan grandmother and conference organizer Faith Spotted Eagle says that “an urgent conversation needs to be held about the parallels between sexual violence, conquest, colonization, environment racism and the rape of Mother Earth. All are related” (Native News Network, May 25, 2103). This themethe inseparability of violence against women and the violence against Mother Earthresounded again and again throughout the two-day conference in Pickstown. The violence suffered by native women, in particular, was front and center.

 One in 3 native women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Nearly 90% of the perpetrators will be non-native, and most will never be prosecuted because of jurisdictional, budgetary and other constraints. Crime against native children is also a gut-wrenching reality.

Efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes against native women and children are often derailed by prejudice on the part of non-native public officials. As Lisa Brunner of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center says, “When [one of our kids goes missing] and we try to get local law enforcement to help, we usually get one of two responses. Either `We have better things to do with our time,’ or `Why don’t you native women be better mothers and know where the hell your kids are?’”

Photo: Jo Lynn Wolf spoke of the issues of the relationship of murdered and missing women in Canada in industrial predation in Indigenous communities at the Protecting the Sacred II conference on Friday, August 16th.  There is an average of 600 missing women and her stories of families  trying to find the missing women and the heartache that goes with it. She emphasized how the issues of the war on our women is important and they bring the message of ‘what is happening to our young women and the need to protect each other.’
Jo Seenie Redsky
Jo Seenie Redsky, who lives in “Grandmother’s land” (better known as Canada), spends most of her waking hours trying to locate missing and murdered First Nations women and children. The dead, she says, are usually found in pieces, having been dismembered by the perpetrators. Jo admits that she has trouble shutting down her “search mode,” in which her senses and intuition are exceptionally heightened, always trying to pick up a trace. While the Canadian government counts “only” between 600 and 700 missing, a native list that is still being tallied now stands at nearly 4,000. “There’s a war against us native women on this continent,” she declares, warning that man-camps will only mean more disappearances.

In the United States, around 500 native women and children are officially missing, but that list, too, may grow. Searchers express deep frustration with local and state barriers that hinder access to national databases vital to their investigations. They too fear additional disappearances (and losses) as a result of the man-camps.

As the conference concluded, Rosalie Little Thunder, longtime indigenous and environmental activist, offered a sober reminder to both native and non-native participants. “All of us are tribal people. Every one of us came from a tribal origin at some point. And we were connected to the Earth. But we have become disconnected.” She urged us to make a serious commitment to resist the Keystone XL“the artery of greed”—and other such threats.

“Remind yourself every morning, every morning, every morning: `I’m going to do something, I’ve made a commitment.' Not for yourself, but beyond yourself. You belong to the collective. Don’t go wandering off, or you will perish.”

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Yesterday, one of our trees on the boulevard in front of our house was marked with a big, red X. There have been lots of those letters appearing on trees in our town this year. According to the city forestry staff member I spoke with, it's a tough year for elm trees. Disease is rearing it's head in a big way. Elms may be having a more difficult time resisting the disease as they can be stressed by draught conditions, little snowfall and mild winters. The spread of the disease will likely result in twice as many trees coming down this year as in 2012. Several trees have already disappeared in our neighborhood and I'm aware there are several more that will fall.

The fungus that kills the tree is carried by a beetle. It can fly from tree to tree and the signs of disease often appear as wilted and yellow leaves at the top of the tree, before the usual turning of leaves in the fall. The forestry worker at our tree cut a piece of the bark out near the base of the trunk. He explained that he was looking for signs of the disease going into the roots of the tree. If it were in the roots, the two standing elms right next to it were likely impacted as well. Fortunately, it appeared that the disease was just in the higher branches.

Some years back, we lost an old elm in our side yard. It was beautifully shaped and shaded the whole side of the house. I had said for years if we ever lost that beautiful tree we would move. Then it came down and another one came down on the boulevard. With both of them gone we discovered how hot the summer sun really was. Although I'm convinced summers have been getting hotter (certainly more humid), without that eastern shade, curtains and air conditioning were essential. We'd always managed with fans before but shadeless structures demand another form of cooling. Funny, we never thought of figuring up the economic value of a tree, although I was certainly aware of the aesthetic value of the elder elm in the side yard. 

In talking with forestry people, I'm appreciative of the proactive stance our city takes with the disease. We still have many elms in the historic district. And since there's a program in place to remove diseased trees quickly, others standing beside them survive another year, or more. And it gives us time to plant new ones.

We haven't moved from our home of 34 years, even though that beautiful elm has been gone a long time. There's a lovely red maple in its place. Gradually, it's growing large enough to provide some shade in the yard, if not on  the house. Give it another thirty or forty years.

The Dutch Elm disease plan of action in our community is both an effort at mitigation and adaptation. We know we have a problem so we will slow it down as much as
possible, mitigate the worst scenarios. Spot the diseased trees and remove them as quickly as possible. That way the community doesn't get treeless all at one time. And then we adapt to the reality of the disease by diversifying the new trees that take their place. We plant them as quickly as possible in the treeless sites to keep the community shaded and beautiful for our children and grandchildren. 

Thinking about trees, we spent several summers at a camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. One year we noticed the trees were losing their leaves near the top and bits and pieces of the leaves would come floating down to the ground as you walked through the woods. We didn't think too much about it till the second year when it was worse and there were these strange caterpillars hanging on strings directly above you. Walking through some areas of the forest you might have thought it was winter as they were without any foliage.

The third year, people at camp were in a panic. The trees were being stripped and walking under them was a horror. Things were falling constantly, like rain. The Forest Service was called. They came. I still recall the slow New Hampshire drawl of the worker who educated us. "These are Saddled Prominents," he said. "They come every ten or fifteen years. We're watching them. The trees can survive a couple years losing their leaves. We're looking for ground beetles and other predators."

Sure enough, the next year there were beetles all over the place. And the caterpillars were disappearing. The leaves were coming back on the trees. And I was grateful for the intelligence and wisdom of the New Hampshire Forest Service, using their powers of observation and knowledge of the natural processes to effectively manage the forest without the need for massive chemical or other  forms of intervention.

There are lots of folks observing what is happening on the planet. They are sharing their wisdom with us about natural processes that are sometimes becoming unnatural because we're, as humans, no longer in harmony with our environment. Ours is too often a discordant note. We need to mitigate our human arrogance and continual reaching for "more." We hardly take time to appreciate the "more" that's all around us. And we need to understand and adapt to our environment, not make natural processes adapt to us. Mitigation and adaptation; with the increasing warming of the planet the future will require more of both.

Carl Kline

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Doing T'shuva

As the month of August unfolds and the Jewish Holy Days draw near, the profound notion of t’shuva, of turning away from sin and seeking forgiveness has been on my mind.  Rabbi Art Green* describes t’shuva as a much broader concept than repentance, “one that goes to the very root of human existence.”

I attended a memorial service a few weeks ago for a woman who had died of an aggressive cancer at 58 years of age.  The family dynamics were complex.  She was the surviving step-mother of three young women, having married their father within a very short time after their mother died in an automobile accident.  The three daughters were still in deep shock and mourning when their dad decided to re-marry. It was a terrible struggle to accept this new woman into their notion of family.  Even as lovely and gentle as she was, the resistance on the part of the daughters was very hard to overcome.  Eight years into the second marriage, the dad developed malignant melanoma.  The stepmom provided exquisitely tender and compassionate care for him through his illness and eventual death.  Still the daughters had difficulty with her.

Three years after their dad died, the young women were confronted with another cancer scenario, this time with their step-mother.  The complex issues of resentment, guilt, sorrow began to be combined with greater compassion and understanding but, even so, there were still the shadows of wounded-ness and anger and guilt coloring all their responses to their step-mother’s illness, making a loving relationship all but impossible.

As the memorial service unfolded, the opportunity was given to members of the congregation to share their personal memories and stories of the woman who had died.  Several people stood to share very loving memories of an extremely gentle and compassionate and self-giving woman who had touched their lives deeply.  As the sharing began to wind down, the pastor asked if there was anyone else who wanted to speak before the rest of the service resumed.

There was a long pause, and then the youngest of the three step-daughters stood.  She said she didn’t know if she could speak without crying, but she wanted to speak to the family of the woman being remembered.  She eloquently apologized to the family for the rough time they had given their step-mother.  She spoke of the tender care their step-mom had given their father when he was dying.  She confessed on behalf of herself and her sisters that they had not been receptive to their step-mother and had been unkind.  And then she asked for the forgiveness of the family.

A congregation of about 80 people witnessed this act of t’shuva - - of a courageous turning away from the sin of alienation and separation and turning toward a higher way of being.  It was a powerful moment.

I have been reflecting on that moment ever since.  Doing the work of t’shuva is essential to our continued survival as human beings.  “It is no wonder that the Talmud lists the power of t’shuva as one of those seven things that existed before God created this world.  Human life is inconceivable without t’shuva.”

As attempts at peace negotiations resume between Israel and Palestine, as spectacular murder trials proceed in the US, as controversy rages around leaked security information and embassies close due to terrorist threat, it seems that the power of t’shuva is ignored - - or at the very least is simply relegated to the private realm.  I wonder where the possibility of a collective t’shuva resides?

As I observed it in action, I saw that it involves so much more than simply saying “I’m sorry.”  T’shuva means I have seen the pain I have caused.  It means that I have finally opened my heart to the persons against whom I have transgressed.  It means that I can witness clearly enough my part in a difficult relationship and relate to the other as a human being who suffers just as much as I do.

T’shuva implies compassion for the other.  It elevates the smallness of my world to something more cosmically universal. It wanders over into the Buddhist concept of ignorance as the cause of suffering and calls me to a higher way of compassion for the other whom I perceive as adversary or enemy.

T’shuva opens the heart.  So, I am left with a big question.  Is it possible for a nation or a people or a congress or any population bent on violence and destruction to find its way collectively to an opened heart – to a place of witnessing the suffering of The Other?

As the Holy Days cycle around again, so does the opportunity to reflect more deeply on noticing my own complicity in the violence that pervades so much of life - - to find my own way to apologize and seek forgiveness – to do the work of t’shuva that is required for the healing of the world.

Vicky Hanjian

*Rabbi Art Green, THESE ARE THE WORDS  A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life , Jewish Lights Publishing,  Woodstock VT.  1999  p. 137.

Pictures: Vos Iz Neias

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Vision of Hope from Out of the Whirlwind

Winging our way home from Europe, thoughts come on their own, unbidden, flitting for a moment, some alighting, recall bringing reflection, a smile, a sigh, a tear. We spent a wonderful week in Belgium visiting family, cycling, walking, talking, laughing, catching up; Shabbos by the North Sea, in bed before her arrival and again the next night before her departure, long rays of sunlight well into night. From Belgium we went by train to Amsterdam for a conference. Worlds come together, the canals as streams of consciousness joining one to another, arteries that flow with the blood of history, life blood of a city, flowing with old and new, the beautiful and the sordid, streams of life pulsating.

From along the Prinsengracht the canal flows past number 263. I linger there, twigs of thought forming a nest of memory in my heart, birds darting back and forth with the closing of my eyes, going to that place and back again, flying up to the tallest branches of a once soaring tree. It is the Anne Frank house. Each time I write of that sacred place, I write the letter “h” small, feeling that it is Anne’s house, and we go there to visit, not an institution, not really a museum. A young chestnut tree reaches up to the sky, not so high yet as the one whose branches gave comfort to Anne through the attic window of the secret annex. The new tree is planted from seed of the old, life renewed. A shoot from Anne’s tree was planted recently in Boston, connections, roots and branches she could not have imagined. 

We waited in line for an hour and a half and the lines seem never to end, continuing into the evening when all other sites such as museums and galleries have closed. It really isn’t a museum, but a holy place, flowers left by the front door. People talk in line, offering each other what they know of Anne’s story, everyone becoming a little more familiar with the story and with each other, connected with her and with those waiting in line in a way they weren’t before, connections, branches, hope. Some around us are clearly Jewish, parents haltingly sharing with their children matters of identity, of what it means and might have meant then to be Jewish. It is part of the meaning and the hope of Anne’s house that most in the line are not Jewish, their questions and words one to another spoken with a hush, drawn to the story of a young girl. Inside, the hush is palpable. We listen to the echoes in the sacred place where Anne wrote in her diary, reminded of words gathered and of others lost, forever stilled, awed by the grandeur and the finitude of words.

We stand in silence, words seeming to fail, even as her words represent the triumph of words, the seeds from which new growth will rise, a tree of life. The Torah portion for the week we were in Amsterdam was the portion called D’varim, meaning “words” in Hebrew. It is the first portion in the fifth book of the Torah, Sefer D’varim, the Book of Words, Eleh ha’d’varim asher diber Moshe/These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel on the far side of the Jordan. Moses would not get there, but his words would remain, guiding reminding, inspiring, intimations of all that remained unsaid. 

We stood before a small exhibit, a prayer book in Hebrew and German that had belonged to Anne’s mother, Edith. She would occasionally show the prayer book to Anne, trying to teach her prayers, though evidently with little interest from her daughter. I felt a surge of connection welling up from within as I gazed at the page the prayer book was open to. It seemed so unlikely, a lengthy Aramaic prayer poem called Akdomos that is said on Shavuous, the Festival of Weeks that marks the giving of the Torah. I was perplexed. It would seem that Mrs. Frank would likely have shown Anne more familiar prayers. By whosever design the prayer book was open to Akdomos, I knew in my heart why and felt a shiver of recognition. 

The poem begins with the words, Akdomos milin/In introduction to the Words, referring to the Ten Commandments. It goes on, however, to realize that all of our words can only be as introduction. Seeking to adequately praise God, the poet sings with love of such futility, Even if the Heavens were parchment, and the forests quills; if all the oceans were ink, as well as every gathered water, if the earth’s inhabitants were scribes…. And so for all that, it would be impossible to utter full praise. And in the same way, there are no words to describe the horrors of the Holocaust. That is my association with Akdomos ever since my dear friend, Mr. Jack Gardner, of blessed memory, a Holocaust survivor in my congregation in Victoria, British Columbia explained to me that if all the trees were pens and all the seas were ink there could never be words enough to convey the horror of what had happened. 

In the innocence of her youth, Anne’s words come close to being more than introduction, or perhaps they are as introduction to another time that she believed would someday be. From the midst of destruction she offers a vision. That was the meaning and the challenge of the Sabbath that would close the week of our having been in Amsterdam, Shabbat Chazon/the Sabbath of Vision. The name refers to the vision of Isaiah, a vision of destruction that is read preceding Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning that marks the destructions of both Temples and so many other tragedies. It is a day when the world hangs in the balance. In the midst of dire warnings and painful images of the horrors to come, Isaiah plants seeds of hope. So it is with Tisha B’Av, a day of destruction and mourning, on which, the rabbis said, the Messiah shall be born. 

From the “Secret Annex” along the Prinsengracht, Anne looked out at the upper branches of the chestnut tree, at birds on the wing and sparkling droplets of dew, and she bravely imagined a better world. Her words are praise enough to honor the human spirit, and in that, even the Holy One. A plea and a challenge to us, her words are a vision of hope from out of the whirlwind: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart…. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I can feel that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein