Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pro-bomb, Pro-life?

Of all the arguments against nuclear arms reduction in the US, the most idiotic to me seems to be the one that proposes the United States needs our arsenal to remain at the current level in order to be a deterrent to rogue nations like North Korea or Iran. If the people running these countries are maniacal dictators bent on destroying us and our allies, it is clear that our current ability to wipe them out whenever we would choose is doing nothing to stop their rhetoric or advancement on proliferation. Our nuclear deterrent has NOT kept us safe. We've been lucky. That's all. Our arsenal puts us in ever-increasing danger as nations, often unstable, feel threatened and pursue proliferation - by building, buying or stealing - in order to balance power and eliminate perceived threats. A world where the bomb exists is a world where the bomb is used.

The United States has 7,700 weapons of mass destruction*. Just one of these would be enough to destroy any one of our perceived enemies and wipe out enough of his surrounding countrymen to classify it as a vehicle of  genocide. There is absolutely no reason we need 7,700 weapons.

We are the only nation to have ever used a nuclear weapon in combat. We killed an estimated 200,000 and injured another 130,000 Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They did not kill only enemy combatants. They did not kill in self-defense. They killed indiscriminately. Women, children, elderly people, scholars, peace-niks, students, teachers, fishermen, delivery men...it is the wanton and indiscriminate destruction of all life that compels me to believe that you cannot be pro-bomb and pro-life.

What's more, general after general has testified before Congress that nuclear weapons do not make us safer. People like Gen (Ret.) Jack Sheehan, Gen (Ret.) James E. Cartwright. Other supporters of Global Zero include Gen (Ret.) Anthony Zinni,  Gen (Ret.) Merrill McPeak, Gen (Ret.) Robert McFarlane, and Gen (Ret.) Charles Horner.

And in the mid-90's a whole host of military leaders from across the world signed on to a letter calling for the reduction of current stockpiles, the standing down of weapons on current alert, and a for the development of a long-term international nuclear policy based on continuous, complete and irrevocable elimination of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, if the purpose of having a nuclear weapon is to deter nuclear attack from other nations, then getting to Global Zero (no bombs) would remove the rationale. Our allies who are under our nuclear umbrella of protection have already roundly rejected the claim that our reduction increases the incentive for them to develop nuclear programs.

As the countries with the two largest arsenals, Russia and the US need to lead in this area, and therefore, we ought to support the things President Obama said on this topic in his speech in Germany yesterday.

*According to Globalzero.org

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Homeless Divide

You must see Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog

Three times in my life that I can remember feeling like a spectator in a group of people where the anger and tension was palpable:

1) On the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado during the Democratic National Convention in 2008. A group of abortion protesters were holding up giant signs with pictures of aborted babies on them and bible scriptures on them. The crowd was pressing in around them. It was creepy because there was a low angry murmuring but otherwise it was too quiet for being outdoors on a sunny day with that many people around.

2) At the Penrose Library downtown Colorado Springs this year after a screening of Occupation 101.  There were both people from Palestine and Israel in the audience. The anger they expressed was a result of very real experiences.

3) Tonight, at a forum hosted by Colorado College and The Gazette called "Community Conversations: The Homeless Divide". It was a panel moderated by the president of Colorado College. On it was Mayor Bach's wife, Richard Skorman (local businessman and sometimes politician), someone from The Marion House, a city police officer, someone from the Springs Rescue Mission and someone who works for a church-based charity helping the homeless (he was also formerly homeless for something like 30-40 years if I heard him correctly). I'm sorry I don't remember all their names and I didn't take a piece of paper. Maybe one of the articles below will list them.

Anyways, the panel was just okay. They just basically talked about the problem from various perspectives: city government, small business, non-profit service...But throughout their time speaking to us, a rumbling was building...like at the DNC. Like at the film screening. The evening got good when the moderator turned the mic over to the audience for questions. I was glad to hear from homeless people, formerly homeless people, people who work with homeless populations day-in and day-out. They were angry. Why? I guess because we have a huge problem in this city. The services we have are insufficient and underfunded. Churches and non-profits are tapped out. Cops take their stuff. And probably because people treat them like they're less than human. Like they're garbage.

My favorite question of the night came from someone who honestly wanted to know if being without a home is a crime. Because if it's not, he said, then why is there a cop on this panel? An extremely good question. Second favorite question came from a young man who wanted to know what the people on the panel were doing to bring the homeless into the room when they are having their board meetings, when city council is making policy decisions. I think the implication from a lot of the audience was that we are fooling ourselves that this is a "community conversation" when we're missing those voices. The divide was apparent indeed.

I'm guessing the Gazette will do a write-up. I'll post that, but in the meantime, they had a couple articles already up on their site. You should read them:

http://gazette.com/homelessness-faces-perception-problem/article/1500480
http://gazette.com/one-day-survey-gives-a-glimpse-of-homeless-numbers-in-el-paso-county/article/1500553

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Words We Use


One of the things that never ceases to shock me is the casual, non-filtered way that we speak about "the other" in this country, especially online. My congressman recently posted a question on Facebook about the Denver Post no longer using the term "illegal immigrant" in their stories. He asked, "what term would you use?"

Here are some of the reactions his post received:
"Criminal immigrant"
"Illegal border-jumper"*
"Tax evader"**
"Undocumented democrat"***
"Felon"
"Entitled immigrant, future DemocRAT, freeloader"
"Criminal trespasser"
"What else would you expect from a liberal rag like the Post? Falling right in lockstep with the new AP policy of forbidding their employees to use the term "illegal immigrants". God forbid we'd want to describe something accurately and truthfully and report on an issue of such national importance with any level of honesty. By the time you've got over 11 million of them here, I tend to think of them more as illegal invaders!" 
"We have to stop coddling lawbreakers. or treat all criminals the same. Just ignore them? Riigght!"
"It might help to STOP giving them federal aide [sic] too."
"So when I break into all of your homes tonight and steal all of your TVs you cant [sic] label me a criminal because that would be insensitive and might hurt my feelings. You should call me a telivision [sic] relocator." 
"He's illegal if he jumped the border or is a felon."
"How about making them all dead, then we can just call them bodies..."
Yikes. These are my neighbors utilizing their first amendment rights in the most idiotic way possible. I want to mention the only substantive comment (besides my own) that showed some level of intelligence:
"A human being or a person are two good ones...instead of being small minded, try not to label and stereotype someone, and show ALL people respect they deserve as people." 
I believe everyone has the right to hold whatever opinion they want. The Constitution says they are free to express that opinion (with very few exceptions). But this trend towards spewing idiocy, nonsense, ignorance and hatred is something I find deeply disturbing.

You hear it in the way people talk about poor people. We have top level politicians and leaders in our nation referring to them as "takers", dependent on the government, believing themselves to be victims, entitled to health care, food, housing, "you-name-it."

After Governor Romney had his famous 47% gaff recorded and publicized, I remember reading a comment about his obliviousness being one of the more shocking aspects of his words. They were said in the presence of people who would likely fall in the income bracket that Romney would classify as the 47%. They were serving lunch to the wealthy contributors. They likely set up the room before Romney came. They cleaned the room after everyone left. They probably provided security. The people listening could be those who spend their lives doing hard jobs yet somehow don't earn them a sufficient wage to work themselves up out of that bracket.

You also hear this arrogance when people speak about abortion. About people with mental illness. About alcoholism. About any number of social problems that can be invisible until you get to know a person and find out what they're dealing with.

My friend Jeff told me that he recently showed "The Line" to some of his coworkers. He said it was difficult to judge the reaction. Several of the people who viewed it are probably living very close to the line as it is. They probably either receive federal assistance or qualify for it. But do they see themselves as the people in the film? Or do they, as most Americans do, put themselves in the middle class? The Non-47%? The non-takers?

Can you see how it'd change the conversation if we knew we worked beside the people we tend to demonize? If we knew the people serving us our food were unable to put the same kind of food on their own table? If we knew our co-workers were undocumented? If we knew people sitting next to us in the pews on Sunday receive food boxes from the same church on Wednesday? If we had a friend who had to terminate a pregnancy and it didn't feel like much of a choice to her?

Would you ever, in a million years say to someone's face, "You are illegal. You're a criminal. A felon. A rat. You don't pay your taxes."?

Would you ever say to your waitress or your fellow church member "You are a taker. A freeloader. A mooch. You don't like to work."?

Would you ever tell your friend "You kill babies."?

If you can't ever imagine yourself saying these words to someone that you know, why would you ever think it's okay to say such things on the internet?



*Most estimates I've seen say that about 50% of the people here illegally came with a valid passport and visa, and just overstayed their visa, so they didn't illegally jump any borders. They came in through the proper gate.

**In fact, undocumented immigrants pay all kinds of taxes (and in some cases OVER pay): sales tax for one, as well as income and social security in many cases. Those last two are pretty important because if they are undocumented, they cannot ever hope to benefit from most of the things income/SS tax goes to provide. Turns out, the taxman just likes to take money from anyone, regardless of their status.

***I'm not sure if you know this, but immigrants can't vote, unless they're naturalized. That's a privilege afforded to citizens.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Have You Had Enough?

Several months ago, my friend Eric started talking to me about genocide and told me about this guy I should know named John Prendergast. Don't know who he is? First, watch this:



(rest of the interview is also posted on their channel in clips)

I think most of us hear about a topic like genocide and feel completely powerless. We don't know what to do. Eric actually has spent quite a bit of time with JP and has some good ideas on how normal people like you and I can help, so I, being a complete outsider to the issue, decided to ask him some questions about the project John started and why Eric is involved.

Megan: What is Enough Project? 

EricEnough Project was formed in 2007 by a small group of policymakers and activists who were frustrated by our government's inaction toward genocide and human rights violations, and decided to turn that frustration into pragmatic solutions and hope. It was founded by Gayle Smith and John Prendergast, and was launched as an initiative of the Center for American Progress. Their strategy is to energize various communities... students, moms, Harry Potter fans... anyone, really, to speak up and demand solutions to genocide and human rights violations. They also publish strategy papers aimed at informing opinion from the so-called "grassroots" through the top DC analysts. 

Megan: Was there a particular impetus/tipping point? Why then and not sooner/later? "Enough" to me, suggests something happened that was the last straw and made them want to do something. 

Eric: That's where the name came from. It was a collection of people who'd individually reached their "enough moment" long before, and were frustrated by lack of individual ability to affect policy. JP actually co-wrote a book with Don Cheadle called "The Enough Moment" about people who've had similar moments and come up with inspiring ways to speak out for the rights of the destitute. If you care about genocide (and if you don't...say it out loud one time and see how bad it sounds), and you have an idea for raising awareness or money or anything else, Enough Project will help you make it happen and make it better. 

Megan: You've met JP. What can you tell me about him?

Eric: I read his first book with Don Cheadle (Not on Our Watch) and realized that genocide was not an isolated incident in Rwanda, and that as long as children were being macheted to death in their sleep, I had a human responsibility to react. This was in 2009. So I wrote an email to Enough Project and arranged for him to come to my university to speak and show a film. Turns out he's a huge Chiefs fan, so I wound up picking him up in KC, driving him the 3+ hours to Springfield, doing the event, and driving him back (he had a congressional hearing the next afternoon) in one day. 

I can tell you this: you will never meet another activist who is on his level in terms of drive, know-how, insider savvy, vision, intelligence, raw guts, and pure unadulterated passion. This is a man who's been beaten, tortured, blown up, had guns stuck in his mouth in the Congo, is a wanted Enemy of the State in Khartoum, Sudan, was at one time the Director of African Affairs at the State Department during the Clinton administration, and has written now eleven books including two NY Times best-sellers. He still spends 100+ days a year in Darfur, Abyei, Juba (at risk of getting shelled) on fact-finding missions. He's brought celebrities like Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, into the fight against genocide and human rights. He hasn't taken a vacation of the non-working variety... in years. Maybe decades. 

Megan: Why did you feel that human responsibility to act? 

Eric: Back in 200...4 or 2005, I sponsored a child (through Compassion) from Rwanda. So I watched Hotel Rwanda. I picked up Not On Our Watch thinking it was Don Cheadle writing about what he found out making Hotel Rwanda. But it was about the then-blooming and still-occurring ethnic cleansing of the Fur, isZegawa, and Masalit tribes in the Darfur region of Sudan. When I read that book, I read about children forced to kill their parents, dead bodies dumped in wells to poison drinking water, thugs with AIDS being paid to rape women... because some of the people in their community might have been rebel fighters. Emmanuel Levinas says that when you see someone's face, you can't deny their human nature. That you become, in a human sense, responsible for them, on a basic level. That's the human face. I'm a human being. Human rights are MY rights. And if *I* was tied to a stump and forced to watch while my family was burned alive, or bombed at school, or MY mom and sisters were sent to get firewood because roaming marauders are paid to create havoc and they shoot men but only rape women... silence from everyone else would be unacceptable. Anything short of outrage would be unacceptable. They tell activists we're supposed to lead with positive, and even JP would tell you that our media does a shit job of reporting the tons of GOOD stuff that happens in Africa, the reasons to be optimistic. But at a basic level, you're either okay with women, children, the elderly being murdered and tortured, having basic human rights violated on a daily basis... or you're not. It would seem to be easy but apparently there's varying degrees... ultimately, I'm just flatly not okay with those things. 

Megan: Many organizations work on human rights issues. What do you think makes Enough Project different? Why do you like them? 

Eric: Three things:
  1. The people. John Prendergast, Gayle Smith (both very good friends with Samantha Power), John Bagwell is their Executive Director now and he's really good... they're founded and run by all-stars. This creates opportunities for them: fact-finding and diplomatic missions. They can bring in Hollywood stars that open doors to meetings with Governors and the President. World Poker Tour stars, news anchors like Ann Curry and writers like Nick Kristoff - they're attracted to the Enough Project. An army led by lions is a formidable army indeed.
  1. Pragmatism. Enough Project isn't insistent upon this hackneyed model of "how activism is done" that keeps shuffling around the same sixteen beltway insiders between election cycles. Of course, some of that happens (though several of them WERE the beltway insiders and because of that "Enough moment," are no longer playing for a White House job, but instead want to see results on these issues). It's sad but seems to be true: people in DC looking to work themselves out of a job are few and far between.
  1. The Plan. Enough Project is designed to mobilize people where they're at, not to try to lead them to being fodder, being numbers on a sheet to be discussed between folks in the Boys' Club. On top of that, the policy papers and strategy papers are designed to let everyone know what the situation is, and what needs to happen to make it tenable. I like groups that mobilize passionate people to pursue intelligent, meaningful, lasting results, and Enough Project does that. 
I went with three P's, FYI, because there are three required P's for Darfur: Peace in the region, prosecution of the perpetrators, and protection for the victims. 

Megan: How does someone get involved?

Eric: Right now, they're trying to encourage people to head to DC to see the One Million Bones exhibit on the 8th and 9th of June, then go to Capitol Hill with other Enough Project members on the 10th to demand solutions. You can go to enoughproject.org to get more info. Or, if you're still on the fence, read The Enough Moment, or just go poke around on the enoughproject.org site. Read up on these issues. Tell your friends how it makes you feel... don't be silent. Decide when enough is enough, and don't tolerate anything beyond that point. If not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

In Your Guts

Splagchnizomai: to be moved in the inward parts, i.e. to feel compassion.

A few months ago, our executive team at Compassion introduced this Greek word to us at our monthly chapel. You can listen to the full chapel here on iTunes. It is a word that our ministry's name was derived from.

See, a lot of people equate the notion of compassion with pity. But if you look into it, it is a word that means you are literally moved within your guts. You have to act.

I was thinking, a while ago, about the Passion of the Christ. The event, not the movie. I didn't grow up in a religious experience that focused on the suffering of Christ too much. We did the Last Supper, the garden, the betrayal, the crucifixion (swiftly), death and moved on to the resurrection pretty quickly. Was something lost in that teaching by glossing over what Christ endured?

I heard a story on the radio once of a woman who sat in a Redwood tree in California for two years to stop a logging corporation from bulldozing it. She endured rain, wind, freezing temperatures, loneliness, harassment, uncertainty and who knows what else. But because of her passion, she lived those two years with amazing amounts of joy and purpose. She said there was no place else on the entire planet that she would rather be. I remember listening to this and finally understanding "Passion". Passion is the suffering that you're willing to endure with joy because of the purpose.

I think "compassion" is related. It is a very active word. It does not sit idly by while there are people who are suffering. At best, that is pity. No, compassion moves. It stands up and says "enough." It does not take "no" for an answer. It understands that when one suffers, all suffer. It puts itself in the shoes of the person who's life is in disarray. Who's country is turned upside down by war. It identifies itself with the person who has had their identity stripped. It speaks for those who have no voice or who have been silenced. It is moved in it's guts. I actually know a lot of people who have taken on compassion's mantle.

I am blessed to know many people who take on this mantle. For them, compassion is part of their DNA. You cannot ask them "why?" about the things they care about. It's a nonsensical question to them. What's more, they don't like to be perceived as being anything more that human. Do not call them heroes. Do not look at them as if the future is somehow better because they are in the world. They will wave you off as if they have no time for people who don't consider the well-being of others to be the primary objective in life. They don't have time.

Tomorrow, I'm posting about a project that is dedicated to ending genocide. It was started after a few individuals stood up and said "No more. This must end." I hope you'll come back and read it. In the meantime, what are you passionate about? What are you willing to endure for that passion? If you're not willing to suffer for it, and suffer with joy, then, I humbly suggest that it is probably something that you are simply an enthusiastic fan of.

Monday, March 25, 2013

When You Were Three


When you were three years old, you were learning and exploring and playing. You were expressing yourself - or trying to - through full sentences. You probably liked coloring and bugs and pulling stuff out of drawers and putting all of the toilet paper into the toilet. You probably realized all of a sudden that you have five fingers on each hand and enjoyed telling adults that you wore big-kid underpants.

I was a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of kid. I was stubborn (still am), but if I didn't really care, you could pretty much get me to do anything. Garter snake around the neck? Sure! No problem. As long as I have my little pink-haired friend here, we're good. My older brother was the one with the imagination, so he'd dress me up in costumes to play make-believe, and I was usually a willing participant, with various levels of enthusiasm. 


I'm not a child development specialist, but I'm willing to bet that, accounting for cultural differences, a three-year-old's development should be similar no matter where they live. 

Should.

We humans probably learn to talk and walk and interact at approximately the same age, but here are some things that were never part of my three-year-old existence.

  • Lack of access to clean water 
  • Insufficient medical care or immunizations
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Not having a safe place to be a kid
  • Absence of caring adults who kept me safe and helped me thrive

For the 1.2 million children in Compassion's program, the things listed above were likely a part of their daily lives. And for a lot of them, they continue to be a challenge. But Compassion has dedicated itself to focusing on the development of each precious child. They intervene in every circumstance that would prevent a child from reaching her full potential. They transform a child on the brink of survival into one who becomes a thriving member of her community, who sees her own worth and can call it out in others.

How do I know this happens? I saw it. I went to El Salvador a couple years ago and met Jaqueline, my sponsored child. Bright and bubbly and excited to tell me about her hopes and dreams and friends and family and the things she learns at her Compassion project. I saw it in all of the children I met there. 

I see it in Widline from Haiti. I see it in Callixte from Rwanda. And most recently, I see it in Rwibusto Emma (also from Rwanda). That smile is absolutely infectious. She'll be three in another year. 

Know who else I see it in? Killari from Peru. She's going to be four this year. And a year after that, she cross a major milestone that too many children in poverty do not: she'll live past her fifth birthday. But she's lacking one thing that Jaqueline, Widline, Callixte and Emma aren't: Killari doesn't have a sponsor yet. She hasn't yet experienced that joy that a child has when they find out that someone in a land far away has chosen them and wants to be a part of their lives. I wonder how she'd react if she knew YOU, dear reader, decided to step up and be her sponsor. Just something to think about...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Letter to the Editor


I submitted the following to the Editor of the Gazette, Colorado Springs newspaper.

Dear Editor,

It was discouraging to hear our Congressman’s comments regarding food stamps when he spoke to the Gazette’s editorial board on Monday.

In it, Congressman Lamborn said, "In food stamps, we know that there are tens of billions of dollars going to people who we don't even know if they qualify because it's such a lax qualification."

In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) has “one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program.” The error rate is less than 4%, and that includes underpayments. SNAP meets the needs of low-income Americans and has responded effectively during the recession. In fact, we have seen that even though unemployment and poverty has grown over the last several years, hunger has not.

It is disheartening to hear my congressman speak about the cornerstone of our social safety net the way that he did. It contributes to misperception and misinformation. I urge him to consider the facts presented on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ website1.

Further, I highly encourage him and all members of Congress to view a new documentary depicting hunger in America called “A Place at the Table”. In it, we hear the story of Rosie, a fifth grader in Collbran, Colorado who struggles daily with food insecurity. This little girl is just one of the 16.2 million children in America who don’t have enough food to eat. Collbran is not in Congressman Lamborn’s district, but I guarantee there is a “Rosie” here. According to Feeding America, in 2010, 119,850 (16.4%) people living in district 5 were food insecure2. Congressman Lamborn represents them too.


1. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3239
2. http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap/overall-food-insecurity-estimates/~/media/Files/a-map-2010/CO_AllCountiesMMG_2010.ashx?.pdf