Friday, December 27, 2013


There will be many seniors reading this who receive a major portion of their income in the U.S. from Social Security. Some who see this column will be disabled and are enabled by a system called Social Security, set in place to help keep them from falling through the cracks. And whatever Social Security is, it's not an "entitlement" program. Social Security is an "earned income benefit" that has changed the face of our country, from elderly poor on county poor farms to lives of dignity in elder years.

As a self employed person, I paid into Social Security for more than fifty years. When you are self employed, you pay it all, with no employer providing half the cost. That was sometimes a hardship. But I paid into the system because I knew that money was helping others, before I retired, and would help me, when I retired. I resent the elite in Washington and elsewhere calling it an "entitlement." It's my hard earned savings account, to insure the health and welfare of all. And it's a sound and popular program at that. There's a $2.8 trillion surplus today and financial stability for at least the next twenty years.

Over three quarters of Americans in recent polls say they don't want Social Security cut. If anything, the great majority of Americans are committed to keeping Social Security healthy and whole. There's a good reason.

With the continuing disintegration of the middle class and retirement savings becoming more and more difficult to accumulate, Social Security has become the major retirement bedrock. Why? Because most corporations have cut back on more traditional pensions. Eighty Nine percent of Fortune 100 companies offered a defined benefit at retirement in 1980. Only twelve percent offered this kind of security in 2012.

Corporations are being followed by governments. States and municipalities are dropping or cutting pension plans, often maligning their employees and workers, suggesting they are the cause of budget deficits. The city of Detroit is the latest and most obvious example.

It's interesting that those who are most responsible for the move to cut Social Security, or to chain the increase of benefits to the Consumer Price Index, are part of the lobby group "Fix the Debt" or of the influential "Business Roundtable." Here are some three hundred CEO's and Chief Executives who are sitting on the biggest retirement bonanza in human history. A report from the Institute for Policy Studies describes how the CEO's of the Business Roundtable hold an average $14.6 million in their retirement accounts. That's enough to pay themselves $86,043 monthly on retirement. The average American worker today, within ten years of retirement, has saved about $71 a month in retirement income.

David Cote, a key figure in both lobby groups, is holding $134.5 million in his Honeywell retirement account. That will mean about $795,134 a month. And he would have us believe we need to raise the retirement age to 70, or cut benefits with a chained COLA to retirees, effectively cutting lifetime benefits by twenty percent, in order to "save" social security. He certainly won't need to worry!

How about this David! Instead of saving Social Security with cuts to people who depend on it, including a sizable number of veterans, how about we just take the cap off the program. If people like you had to pay the same percentage in Social Security taxes as the common folk, ninety five percent of the suspected shortfall down the road twenty years from now would be resolved.

Or better yet, what if we cancelled some of the defense department contracts with companies like Honeywell?

According to the Congressional Budget office, President Obama's proposal (and the Business Roundtable's and Fix the Debts's proposal) to use the chained CPI to calculate cost of living increases would save the government $127 billion over ten years by cutting Social Security, and $36 billion over ten years by cutting "programs affecting veterans and the poorest elderly and disabled." That's a total of $163 billion.

For 2,457 F-35 aircraft, the Pentagon will spend $379.4 billion. That's money to acquire them, not fly or maintain them. The current estimate for operation and support is $1.1 trillion. That's a grand total of almost $1.5 trillion. Do the math! If we didn't buy 267 planes, seniors, veterans and the disabled wouldn't have to be whacked and the Pentagon (that arm of the federal government that has never been audited as their books are such a mess and the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing) would still get 2,190 planes.
Tell me now, where is the "entitlement?"

Carl Kline

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Follow the Sticky Notes

A recent edition of our local newspaper featured a photo of a corridor in one of our local schools.  The photographer captured the full length of the hallway with all the student lockers on either side of the hall.  On every locker and on the walls above the lockers were 500 sticky notes in bright fluorescent colors, each with its own message on it addressed to the student owner of each locker.  

The 500 messages were full of affirmation and encouragement for each student.  The messages said: “Be who you are!”    “You are beautiful inside and out!”   “Smile!”   “You matter!”  “I ‘heart’ you!”   “You are a bright idea!” Students wrote notes to other students and to their teachers.  Teachers wrote notes to the kids.  Even the office personnel custodians and cafeteria staff found notes affirming and appreciating them. 

A teacher remarked “If you talk about school culture, of course the push is toward an anti bullying culture.  But as we talked, we got to thinking, what if we had the kind of culture in our school where that’s not an issue, where we build people up, support them, let them know how wonderful they are?”

What if????? 

I wondered if it would be possible to change the culture of congress by encouraging senators and representatives to find and focus on each other’s strengths and abilities.  Could town officials take some time to uncover the best in each other before addressing the issues of town government?  Could boards of directors increase their effectiveness if they took time to recognize the special gifts and attributes each member brings, adding to agendas a time for positive human interaction before the business of the day begins?   What if the halls of congress and crowded town halls and dignified board rooms were to be covered with brightly colored messages letting all who entered the room know they are honored and appreciated and loved and respected for who they are?

It was not the adults in the school who dreamed up the idea of the sticky notes.  It was the kids.  It was the kids who hand wrote the 500 messages.  It is the kids who want and need a safe and positive culture within which to learn and grow and be creative and they know what is required in order to achieve it.

We live in a culture of bullying.  So many adult models are models of the exertion of power over others without regard to the sanctity and dignity of the lives that are diminished and sometimes destroyed by adult bullying.  It gets cloaked in a respectability of sorts - - we shrug our shoulders and say “That’s politics!”  and the damage continues.  Bullying does violence.  It does violence to the bullied.  It does violence to the bully.  It seeks to control. It shames. It destroys the soul.  It is a spiritual travesty.

If young school children know how harmful it is - -and can decide to do something to change their immediate culture, what are the possibilities for some visionary adults to do the same?  Maybe it’s time to follow the sticky notes.
Vicky Hanjian

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Leaving Room for the Other to Move

Among the painful memories of childhood for me are those of sandlot and schoolyard fights. The images still make me wince, groups of small boys, and later not so small, ganging up on one among them, bravado and proving of oneself at the expense of another. Whether of primal origin or a tragedy of socialization, it is brutal behavior transmitted through the generations that has far reaching consequence. Beyond the personal scars that are carried, small boys grow up to be men primed to fight, and it becomes the way of nations. Not a way that is learned at the breast, gentler generations of fathers and greater awareness of the dangers of bullying today offer hope toward breaking the cycle of violence, but there is so far to go. Mostly I stood back then, unsure what to do, no words to describe the torment of uncertainty, wanting to save the unfortunate child, sometimes being that one, on at least one occasion, remembered with shame, drawn in to be an aggressor. The worst moment in these primal contests, still remembered vividly, came as the terrified victim cried for mercy, and the crowd yelled, “Make him say uncle.” And then it would continue, even after “uncle” had been sobbed out, “uncle who, uncle who?”

These images came to me this week amid congressional debate on Iran. Calls to increase sanctions came as echoes from the crowd in the sandlot halls, “make him say uncle.” There were times back then when the humiliated and bleeding child may indeed have said or done something to cause insult, perhaps at another time having been the aggressor, lending to the moment a sense of just deserts. But belligerence and brutality never make sense. Among nations, there are times when sanctions are an effective tool, offering a nonviolent response to bad behavior. Sanctions have made far more sense in helping to shape Iranian nuclear ambitions than war and the cascade of violence sure to be spawned in its wake. The crux, however, is in the framing of sanctions, nonviolent only if enacted in a manner that affirms the humanity of the other and allows a way out of the bad behavior. Whether brought about through the economic impact of sanctions to this point, or concurrently as a reflection of Iranian desire to be more fully welcomed in the family of nations, it is clear that change is happing in Iran. It has been made clear through the recent negotiations and through speeches and messages to the world. To call now for increasing sanctions is to give no way out, to deny and defeat the very goal of sanctions. If sanctions have helped to bring the change in tone from Iran, to call for more sanctions now is akin to the crowd yelling, “uncle who, uncle who?” 

Leaving room for the other to move, not to be pinned to the ground, is essential for nonviolent change and conflict resolution. Stepping back from one’s own position of power in order to allow the other to find a way forward with dignity is the only way to break the cycle of violence. It is also the way of justice, the seedbed of peace and security for all. To add new sanctions at the moment of coming so close to meeting the goal of sanctions already in place pushes Iran into further isolation, increasing the likelihood of war and the development of an Iranian bomb. As though another scene in the same script as it played out this week, Israel’s unabated settlement policy leaves no room for Palestinians to move, for there still to be land for a Palestinian state, without which, two states together, there shall be no peace. It is all about learning to leave room for the other to move, allowing, eventually, for movement toward each other.

So ancient and so immediate, it all unfolds in the weekly Torah portion, Parashat Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43). In what becomes preparation toward reconciliation, Jacob wrestles in the night with a mysterious figure prior to his first encounter with his brother Esau after twenty years apart. Jacob had fled from Esau’s threat to kill him for stealing the birthright of the first-born. Reminding us that this is far more than a story of long ago, the Slonimer Rebbe emphasizes that the Torah is eternal and teaches us a way of going, eych l’hitnaheg/how to conduct ourselves

We learn a way of going in regard to conflict, how to conduct ourselves toward a greater good, as Jacob limps away from the night wrestling. Was it an angel, the spirit of Esau, his conscience, perhaps all of that and more? His hip having been dislocated by his opponent, he was in pain as morning came. The rising of the sun brought healing for Jacob, and yet he limped. In a powerful teaching that a rabbinical student drew me to, the Ha’emek Davar, Rabbi Naftoli Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, suggests that with his pain dissipated, Jacob was surprised that he could not walk as he had before. He thought that he had been entirely victorious and had not suffered at all at the hands of the other. He now realizes that the angel had also overcome him somewhat, as well, that they had each overcome the other in the course of struggle. From Jacob’s wrestling with the angel in anticipation of his encounter with his brother, the Ha’emek Davar then guides us in the way of conflict resolution that is rooted in leaving room for the other, not to inflict undue pain and humiliation, that resolution once achieved shall last: This comes to teach us how to conduct ourselves with an opponent, that we not compete excessively/she’lo l’hitacher imahem b’yoter; and when the fear (which gave rise to conflict) passes, it is seemly to give pause to the pursuer to go on their way/l’haniach et ha’rodef leylech l’darko….

For all the distance between Congress and schoolyard and sandlot bullying, there is a common thread. It is the elusive challenge to resolve conflict peaceably, to recognize the humanity of the other without threat to our own sense of self. Sadly, there is no monopoly on self-righteous claims to the rightness of one’s own view, and there is a short gap from the spark of belligerence to the igniting of violence. There is a clear danger in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, but so too, a dangerous hypocrisy in failing to see the ultimate danger of nuclear weapons in any hands. Iran’s belligerent words toward Israel require response. Ever more sanctions, and most certainly a military response, will bring exactly the kind of conflagration that is feared, bolstering Iran’s will and justification toward developing a nuclear bomb. The efficacy of sanctions as response requires recognition of change when it occurs and the corresponding easing of sanctions as the goal is reached. Not to do so, and even worse, to increase sanctions in the face of change, offers no incentive to further change. Belying any morality of motive, forcing a cry of “uncle” casts us as the bully and plants the seeds of further violence. Toward the flowering of peace and reconciliation, may we recognize the change we seek when it appears before us and do all we can to nurture it to fruition.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Thursday, December 12, 2013

We All Have a Choice to Make

I have recently been listening to some of my favorite bands in car rides to and from teaching, and I have stumbled across some lovely lyrics that tie in nicely with living nonviolently. I have recently been asked if I think mankind is inherently good or evil. I was asked once to give it a number on a one to ten scale: one means we are inherently pure evil and ten is pure good. This is a tough question for me because I can’t see how it would be one way or the other. We have a mixture of sorts within us. I know that I can flip in a matter of minutes from being completely self-centered to looking out for others’ interests. 

I have heard the Christian gospel countless times in my life, and I always heard an emphasis on our inherent evilness. We broke God’s good world and creation by going against his ways, and we needed a savior to come and save us from our wretchedness. Only lately have I thought more about the good in us. We have gone against God’s wishes and ways, yes, but we are also image bearers. We were still made in his image. We have goodness within us. 

So, I see it as both, and I think these lyrics from Switchfoot’s song “The War Inside” displays this tension beautifully: “Yeah, it's where the fight begins—Yeah, underneath the skin—Beneath these hopes and where we've been—Every fight comes from the fight within.” This to me sums up these internal struggles that so obviously make their way to the external world, into personal, national, and international relationships. We all battle this: which part of our self will prevail this minute, hour, day, lifetime.

Tenth Avenue North, another Christian band, sings this chorus in their song “Losing,” “This is love—this is hate—we all have a choice to make.” The entire song is beautifully crafted and convincing, but this line has special importance for this line of thought.  We will all experience these universal emotions, but we can choose what we do with this internal struggle. Too often have I heard people say that they feel hate for someone because of something the other person did. It is a choice to feel this way. This song always reminds me of this choice and gets me on the right track back toward realizing the ways in which I am failing to love the people who treat me well and those who do not. One of these words can define our entire existence, and people who choose hate are so clearly miserable because they chase after something that will never satisfy. Their hatred does much less toward the hated than the hater, so that’s the reason the lead singer says he is losing because he is choosing to judge and hate those around him. 

So, I listen to this song and think, okay I need to be better at loving the people around me, but how? How can I daily put them first? How can I unselfishly listen and serve? Well, there are obviously many answers to this question, and it is something that we will forever wrestle with: how can I be better today than I was yesterday? The thing I want to focus on is being a better listener. I know that listening helps me love better. This song, “Listen Up” by Brandon Heath displays such a beautiful kind of listening:

"Listen Up"
Why are you crying
Did I say something wrong
Were'nt we just talking
Tell me whats going on

Cause I'm pretty sure my intentions
Were nothing more than conversation
Maybe you just needed someone
To listen to your heart

Maybe I spoke too soon
Maybe I said too much
Now that my face is blue
Think it's time I listen up
I've already said enough

Sometimes I do this
Thing is I'm so afraid
When it get's quiet
What you might have to say

Cause I'm guilty of
I'm lost in my
Own translation
I apologize, I know I
Should listen to your heart

I often listen to the entire album this song is on from beginning to end, and when I get to this song, I tend to get kind of emotional. I’m not really sure why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I know how important this is in relationship. We need to listen, really listen and try to understand what other people are going through; this is how we can help them fight the war within. This is how we can fight our own wars. Understanding leads to compassion, compassion to love. 

In his book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about “Real Love” in a brief chapter. He encourages people to ask this of the one they love: “Darling, do I understand you enough? Or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don’t want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy” (80). He says that we need courage to ask these tough questions, but asking them and listening for the answer can make love between people deeper and stronger.

As Thich Nhat Hanh points out, “There are many kinds of seeds in us, both good and bad. Some were planted during our lifetime, and some were transmitted by our parents, our ancestors, and our society” (74). So, I still could not assign a number to how good or evil we naturally are on a scale of one to ten, but I know we can choose what to do with these seeds, will we let the anger and hate fester and grow? Or will we deal with these seeds for what they are and let them make us more compassionate, more understanding, more loving? 

Recently, my boyfriend and I were talking about someone we know, and I said “hopefully we will see some drama!” He replied, “Well don’t pray too hard for it.” And I knew this comment had revealed a bad seed in me: wishing for someone else’s hardships for my own amusement. So, I was quiet for a little while until I built up the courage to say, “I should not have said that. I really did mean it though. I really need to deal with my feelings toward this person. I guess it was good that I said it because now I know how deep seeded they are.” It took courage for him to convict me about this, and it took courage for me to admit this obvious downfall in myself, but it wasn’t until I had to admit it to myself through talking with him that I really saw it for what it was. And it wasn’t until then that I could start the journey toward compassion for this person. When I saw this downfall in myself, I recognized the war within, and I could consciously make a choice to love. I love these songs because they help me fight the war within. They help me live better. 

Switchfoot’s “The War Inside”:
Tenth Avenue North’s “Losing”:
Brandon Heath’s “Listen Up”:

Jodi Moore
Guest Blogger

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Recognizing that one of the most admired apostles of justice and nonviolent reconciliation of our time just died, we wanted to turn our readers attention to a website that honors him and helps us remember his life and accomplishments. Thanks to those who called our attention to this tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Monday, December 2, 2013

To Dwell Is to Make Peace Where We Dwell

November 22, 1963. The passage of fifty years seems almost unfathomable. As in grappling with any watershed moment in history, there is something that seems trite in remembering when we heard the news, just where we were, what we were doing, with whom. And yet, something not at all trite, an expression of connection to a moment in time, to people, not wanting to be alone even in remembering so we go back and think about who we were with. We struggle to make sense not only of that moment, but of life itself in the face of such terrible events. Every death is a mirror into our own mortality, every tragedy a reminder of our own fragility. So much written, so much said these days, still grappling with that day long ago that stands as a backdrop for so much other tragedy. Like all others who were alive then, who were of an age to remember, I find myself today sifting and turning shards of memory, events too big to grasp filtered through a personal mesh of life’s details.

I was an eighth grade student in Winthrop Junior High School. As I write, it is fifty years ago to about this very moment, near the end of the school day, in Miss Tice’s math class. It was certainly “Miss” then, change in so many ways of understanding still some years away, perhaps imperceptibly set in motion by the events of which we were about to hear. Miss Tice was absent that day. Our substitute, Mrs. Dimento, with whom we always felt a bond from then on, went to answer a knock on the door. As she gasped, we heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. There was barely time to comprehend, as though time would bring comprehension. The bell rang and we began to file out, questions, rumors, confusion overflowing. I would like to think that we handle such things better today, so much practice in responding to tragedy, to guiding children through the unspeakable, no better though to protect them. I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I had planned to do. I got on a bus to go to the subway, then taking the “MTA” from East Boston to the Science Museum where I was taking a class on Friday afternoons. I had no way to call my mother, and since the family car was with my dad, and mom was at home with my brand new baby brother, she had no way to come get me from school. I felt as a wanderer, going through the motions of routine.

That is one of the images, an awareness that stays with me, that I could not have given words to then, but which I felt, of being a wanderer, of being alone. That inchoate sense within myself reflected a rising reality to which the epochal churnings of the “sixties” would be a response, seeking a way out from disorientation, confusion, alienation; anomie. For all the tumultuous issues and challenges soon to come, response was so rooted in the interpersonal, the personal becoming one with the political, all about making human connections and treating people as human beings, so basic, so simple, so complex. As the Youngbloods sang with an air of innocence about a decade later, words heard in the midst of demonstrations as well as in dormitory rooms, “come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together try to love one another right now.” And it was still brother, closer, but still waiting for the change to come as we wandered.

I thought about the journey, the wandering in the desert and about how far we have come and haven’t. I thought about the anti-government rhetoric that surrounded President Kennedy’s death, and about the guns, the guns, and all of that today. I thought about the racism and the hate, and the guns. With the first anniversary of Newtown a few weeks away, I wondered how many future presidents, teachers, leaders and guides along so many paths we lost, of all the innocence and innocents. I stood in line in the post office during the week and thought about people and connections. There was a long line and one single beleaguered clerk. One woman kept bemoaning, “this is gonna take forever.” I wondered about time and how we use it, and of those who never got to wait, who lost their place too soon in the slow moving line of humanity. Then almost at once several cell phones rang and all seemed to have been poor connections. As though choreographed, all these voices were calling out, “hello, hello, are you there, hello, hello.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or pity us all. There was something desperate in their voices, but they were our voices, all of us as knowing witnesses, drawn together in an urgent desire to connect.

In the Torah portion read during that week of remembering, the portion that is called Vayeshev (Gen. 37-40), the Yosef saga begins. A boy of seventeen, his mother dead, so alone and different, he goes out to seek his brothers. Wandering in a field, lost, a figure appears to him and asks him what he is looking for. He says so simply, I am looking for my brothers/et achai anochi m’vakesh. It is a portion of turmoil and torment, of endless seeking for connection, of love misdirected and unrequited. As Yosef approaches his brothers, they see him coming and say, Behold here comes the master of dreams/hinei ba’al hach’lomot ha’lazeh ba!/Now come, let us kill him….

The shots rang out that day. But dreams cannot be killed, as Rev. Martin Luther King had reminded us just a few months earlier, as though to prepare us, but we didn’t know it then, nor could we imagine that he would be the next dreamer to be killed. Vayeshev/and he dwelled, with a simple grammatical shift becomes va’yi’yashev/and he made peace. In the name of the Torah portion is its challenge, to dwell is to make peace where we dwell. Looking back to that shattering moment of fifty years go, those who were alive then remembering every detail of where they were, what they were doing, who they were with. And then we come back to the moment. Wandering in the desert with Yosef, daring still to dream, seeking our sisters and brothers, even those who would kill the dreamer and the dream. But dreams cannot be killed. The legacy of that day, the challenge of every day, is to make peace where we dwell.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein
Reflecting on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 50 Years Later