Archive for August, 2013

PhillipAgnewPhillip Agnew said it better than all those Washington marchers. Phillip Agnew hoped to deliver his message to tens of thousands observing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, but time worked against him. Now he’s making up for being cut with an online video. Click Mr. Andrew’s picture to watch the speech.

“This is about more than the speech,” said Agnew in a statement released by the Advancement Project Thursday morning. “It’s about the voices of hundreds of thousands of people across the country that have been silenced for too long. Our generation’s dreams have been deferred for too long. While the words spoken amidst the pillars of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday may have reverberated throughout the nation, the actions, energy and love of the rising generation will resound in history books for centuries to come, like those of giants before us.”

———————————— Transcript —————–——————-

By the time we finish another black boy will lay bleeding in the streets of Chicago and as we rest our heads tonight 300,000 of our veterans lay homeless, and I want to explain how the hate we spread abroad is the reason that hatred washes on our shores….but I only have two minutes.

And, I could tell you that Philadelphia just closed 23 of its schools at the same time it builds a $400 million state of the art prison and that North Carolina and Florida continue to silence its citizens at the ballot box- but I only have two minutes.

I could tell you how as we celebrate Dr. King’s Dream, over 400,000 of our immigrant brothers and sisters languish away in privately owned detention camps…and how we still find our queer brothers and sisters imprisoned in the shadows of closets—but I only have two minutes.

I’d tell you how our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters still earn less, have no control over their bodies, and are traded and trafficked like slaves….or that it’s easier for someone to buy a gun and put it to their head than it is to diagnose the illness within it. – But I only have two minutes.

If there was time, I’d tell you that millions of young people and queer people and poor people and people of color are asking what we do with this anger, fear, disappointment, and frustration. This MAD that we feel??? —but, alas, I only have one more minute.

And with it. This last minute of our conversation I’d like to tell you that…though it may seem that all is lost…that there is a generation of dreamers, fighters, defenders, lovers builders bubbling, bubbling, bubbling beneath the rubble.

And beneath your feet you may feel a collective quaking…tremors of a sleeping giant awakening. Emanating from fault lines at the Arizona-Mexico Border, and Raleigh and Austin, and Cleveland, and Chicago, and Tallahassee, Florida.

And we’ve come here from every crack, crease, and crevice of our country to our Capitol to say, that for all whose cares have been our concern. We will not be co-opted. We will not be bought. But, we are ready.

And for those that doubt our energy, and discipline. We are ready.

For those that believe that future fingers may fail the torch. Fear not. We are ready.

For all those that believe in the power of nonviolence and love as unconquerable. We are ready.

Fifty years ago a man told us of a Promised Land. And for 50 years we’ve wandered and wondered. Where are the youth?…a constant whisper in our ears.

And so we have come, asking neither permission nor questions, but to say that we are here. Believing indeed that we have a beautiful history, and that the one we will build in the future will astonish the world.

And we are ready.

May the outcome always prosper over income. Peace over Profit. Revolution over revenue and all peace and power to the people. Don’t believe us just watch.

Ahmed-syria-napalmHumanity hemorrhaged last night. As a BBC team reported in the “Walking Dead (Warning: Graphic Video).” Even though the US and UK say the Assad regime killed hundreds in recent poison gas attacks, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed Britain would not be involved in any action against Syria.

Consistently, like most dictators, Syria’s President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, backed by Russia, blamed the attacks on rebels or terrorists. And in the wake of international intervention, while you slept, the Syrian government took the fight to the terrorists.

A playground full of children (or terrorists should you believe Assad) in northern Syria was bombed by a fighter jet with a napalm-like substance. Eye witnesses described how a jet had passed the school in Aleppo numerous times, as if it searched for a target prior to dropping its ordinance.

British medic, Dr. Rola, working in Syria with the charity Hand In Hand, told reporters:

“It is just absolute chaos and carnage here. We have had a massive influx of what looks like serious burns, seems like it must be some sort of, not really sure, maybe napalm, something similar to that. But obviously within the chaos of the situation it is very difficult to know exactly what is going on.“

Later, in a moment of reflection, Dr. Rola said:

”We feel like some sort of, not even a second class citizen, like we just don’t matter. Like all of these children, and all of these people who are being killed and massacred, we don’t matter. The whole world has failed our nation and it is innocent civilians who are paying the price.”

And that’s the key. Humanity hemorrhaged and the world failed. In 2010, the world’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons was about 30,308 tons. A total of 71,315 tons of agents, 8.67 million munitions and containers, and 70 production facilities were declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  Since I have a military background, I will make it plain: “That’s a whole lot of shit.”

Additionally, several countries are not members of the OPWC, especially Syria and North Korea, while other member states (including Sudan and the People’s Republic of China) have been accused by others of failing to disclose their stockpiles.

As the sun rises in my window pain, I think of Britain’s inaction. I think of our own indifference and ponder a time when men of goodwill prevented such atrocities.  Sipping coffee, I believe the men of goodwill have given dictators a free pass. Momentarily, I think of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech and the march on Washington. Indifference marches onward; the devil is alive and well.

One witness of the Aleppo attack had a message for the United Nations:

“You are calling for peace. What kind of peace are you calling for? Don’t you see this, don’t you see this? What do you need to see?

As a former military member, fighting atrocity is a nasty and ugly business. But as men of goodwill, we must fight the fights worth fighting.  That’s all that separates us from the devil.

Martin-Luther-King-I-have-a-dreamIn truth, it’s awfully hard for me to connect with Dr. Martin Luther King. After all, I was only three years old at the time of his “I Have a Dream” speech.  But because I have several African-American friends, I can understand some level of racism by simply witnessing what they’ve endured.

Today, being a fifty-three year old Buddhist, I remember reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s perspective of Dr. Martin Luther King:

The moment I met Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew I was in the presence of a holy person.  Not just his good work, but his very being was a source of great inspiration for me … On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors …  When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition, you also touch your own . . . When those who represent a spiritual tradition embody the essence of their tradition, just the way they walk, sit, and smile speaks volumes about the tradition.” 

There have been times in my life when I have offended all sides of one issue or another. I have gone beyond meditation to campaign for internal dialogue of peace between colleagues and clients. I have walked in the aftermath of tsunamis,’ earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.  And I wish I could say I always lived and breathed in the core principles of Buddhism, but I have yet to live each and every moment in complete awareness of the present moment and the abandonment of worldly thoughts.

By walking across this small planet; having encountered and losing the greatest live of my life, I reflected on Martin Luther King’s humble and devout lifestyle. Of all I’ve read, I know Dr. King struggled with his role for many years. Many of his friends were killed. Yet they live on with him. Of course the words and choices were Martin’s. Yet his very words and life remain among us in many forms. His very being, as well as many unknown martyrs, continue with us today. Their spirits live because we live.

Still, my greatest fear is that our nation is becoming a nation of silent onlookers. In the face of hate, we shrug. In the face of brutality, we pass by. And in the face of mass murder, we simply accept. We must not remain silent. America is not merely black American, but all of America.

With that, I end with King’s words:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning; you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Dr. Martin Luther King was very Christian, very Buddhist. Why can’t we all?

the_marchThe New York Times noted civil rights heroes, current movement leaders, labor leaders and Democratic officials addressed a vast crowd that stretched east from the Lincoln Memorial to the knoll of the Washington Monument today.

The New York Times also noted several memorable attendees:

  • One person in a hoodie with the phrase “American Justice;”
  • Several with signs urging “Support Trayvon’s Law” to repeal stand-your-ground gun measures; and
  • “We march because Trayvon Martin has joined Emmett Till in the pantheon of young black martyrs.”

Columnist Jerry L. Barrow was spot on several months ago when he authored, “What Do I tell My Son? “

… as I sit here at my computer more than a year later reading the reactions to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, I am gripped in fear. My soul is laminated in a coat of hopelessness at the thought of my son, who is presently enjoying a vacation 1500 miles away, being engaged on the street by someone who finds him suspicious because of his appearance and kills him.”

However, all the evidence in Till’s death points explicitly to race. And colorblind Americans accepted and failed to condemn his killers accordingly. The circumstances in Martin’s death merely suggest that Martin’s race was likely a factor in Zimmerman’s judgment of him.

From a personal perspective, when I think of Delbert Belton brutal killing by two black teenagers, I respond by asking a similar question, “What do I tell my 83 year old father?”  And truth be told, I have not seen Melissa Harris-Perry cry on television for Christopher Lane, a 22-year-old student at East Central University who was shot in the back and killed by three black teenagers while jogging in Duncan.  Similarly, I have not heard if NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock tweeted about how the black community failed to raise their children in an abundance of love and proper role models (and that’s not saying they don’t).

So I sit and wonder, what would Dr. Martin Luther King think of today’s era of racism and the 50th anniversary of the Marches in Washington, D.C.? Maybe Dr. King would emphasize Americans seem blinded to matters of color.  The racism strewn through every cornerstone of Dr. Martin Luther King’s day is the same racism that lives today.  Yeah, the time is different. True the people have changed. But the roots of oppression are from the very same weed.

Delbert Belton, Christopher Lane and Trayvon Martin should have never been killed. But I refuse to March in Washington, D.C. this week simply because someone believes Trayvon Martin is a civil rights hero or martyr.  Trayvon Martin was neither. But I will march in Washington for the following reasons:

  • The black unemployment rate last year was 14.0 percent, 2.1 times the white unemployment rate (6.6 percent) and higher than the average national unemployment rate of 13.1 percent during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1939.
  • After adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage today — 7.25 — is worth $2.00 less than in 1968, and is nowhere close to a living wage.
  • More than a third of non-Hispanic black workers (36 percent) do not earn hourly wages high enough to lift a family of four out of poverty.
  • A report by the Violence Policy Center found black males are nine times more likely than white males to be the victims of homicide — 29.50 out of 100,000 black males compared with 3.85 out of 100,000 white males.
  • A study found the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.
  • The imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

For the above reasons, I will stand by your side and fight the fight worth fighting, for these reasons are worthy of Dr. Martin’s dream.

us immigration reformRep. Michele Bachmann, no stranger to outlandish claims, once said: “It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government” by the Muslim Brotherhood.

At the time, a member of the Brotherhood responded to the Minnesota congresswoman’s rant by quipping: “We can’t even penetrate our own government.”

Traveling across America, I ask a broader statement of America: “Are we big enough to make room for the liberal, secular and more traditional religious segments?”  The ideological fight in America wages onward and mirrors extremism found in the Arab Spring.

A negotiation instructor once said, I can deal with the person who cares too much and the person who cares too little. It’s almost impossible to deal with one who doesn’t give a shit. Remarkably, American’s are really adept at not listening to each other. Our own internal dialogue faces tough challenges against the philosophy of limited engagement. In the wake of draconian voter bills, legislatures fighting to protect the lives of unborn children, while hurting the living; lack of support for healthcare, the budget crisis and an environment that doesn’t proactively create work, our society should worry.

Will America experience an Arab Spring? Probably not like that of Egypt’s. For instance, the U.S. “Day of Rage (September 17, 2011),” a set of peaceful protests against corporatism and corporate money in politics, went mostly unnoticed. But Occupy Wall Street did not. Unfortunately, the appetite for serious reform remains illusive.

So … from a Buddhist perspective, what should I be doing and thinking to defuse these tensions and break through egoism? Motive-mongering and demonetization must be called out – stand up just as you would if it were something that was racist or sexist. If we avoid the demonetization, disagreements can be more positive.

Eliminate the use of extremism. While I hate to solely pick on Fox News, but Mother Jones noted the network’s inaccurate and often times bigoted coverage of LGBT issues. Some of the worst examples of contrived hate from just the past two months include:

We need to be more careful about the things we say — about the things that might inadvertently create a hostile climate. But the larger picture is that polarization emanates from the elites. Congress has become extremely polarized and this then drives polarization in so many other realms of society.

We must build relationships, we are always interdependent. I cannot live without you and you cannot live without me.

employee_participationIn case you hadn’t heard the miracle in Missouri, on August 4, 2013 a drunk driver crossed the center-line and struck the vehicle Katie Lentz was in head-on. Local rescue crews spent 45 minutes after the accident trying to get Lentz out of a car to no avail. With Ms. Lentz pinned in between the steering wheel and the seat, medical workers told rescue crews that Katie was failing and fast. Katie then asked rescue workers to pray out loud with her.

Mysteriously, a Catholic priest came and offered a prayer. A sense of calmness came over her and the rescuers were told remain calm, that their tools would now work and Ms. Lentz would be freed from the vehicle. After that prayer, rescuers were able to finish the extrication. After getting Katie safely into the air evacuation helicopter, at least a dozen of the rescue workers turned around to thank the priest who was nowhere in sight. First responders had said they were convinced the mystery priest was sent from above.

Almost all attributed the Catholic priest to be a miracle. But it wasn’t. I always figured there was a priest. And it turns out that priest none other than Reverend Patrick Dowling.

Mr. Dowling stated,I have no doubt the Most High answered their prayers and I was part of his answer, but only part,” the Rev. Patrick Dowling told ABC News Monday.

The real miracle lies within us. The real miracle is that God works many of His miracles through each of us. We are so interconnected, intertwined and spiritually significant. Our power is strong in numbers, when we find commonality and connection. Each of us is loved and needed.

Simply put, to perform miracles, participation is mandatory.

Finding Utopia

Utopia-in-Four-MovemensFed up with government control of the U.S., not believing in “abortion, homosexuality, in the state-controlled church” and saying their faith came from reading the Bible and through prayer, the Gastonguay family “decided to take a leap of faith to see where God leads us.”

The Gastonguays took their two children and father-in-law and set sail from San Diego for the tiny island nation of Kiribati … They never made it.

Kiribati is a strange place to set sail. Kiribati is one of the world’s poorest countries and one of the least developed countries in the world. It has few natural resources. The soil is thin and calcareous. It has a low water-holding capacity and low organic matter and nutrient content. Most health problems are related to consumption of semi-raw seafood, limited amount of food storage facilities, and bacterial contamination of fresh water supplies. It is one of the least suitable places for agriculture in the world.

Weeks into their journey, the Gastonguays hit a series of storms that damaged their boat, leaving them adrift for weeks, unable to make progress. They were eventually picked up by a Venezuelan fishing vessel, transferred to a Japanese cargo ship and taken to Chile where they are resting in a hotel in the port city of San Antonio.

All of us should reread the tale of Jonah’s voyage of fleeing from, and then finding alignment with God’s will. This is a common theme to the sacred scriptures of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Spiritual transformation of the Soul is paralleled in the death and rebirth mysteries of numerous ancient religions.

There are lessons for us all in the Gastonguays story.

First, as police prefect Jose Luis Lopez eloquently stated, “They were looking for a kind of adventure; they wanted to live on a Polynesian island but they didn’t have sufficient expertise to navigate adequately.”

Secondly, the Bible is a book use to enhance one’s faith. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover several times. Nowhere does God actually detail instructions for sailing a boat 5,005 miles (4,346 nautical miles) while living off the sea.

Third, from my limited Buddhist perspective, when you become miserable you divert your attention to something else. If something undesirable has happened in life, you become agitated. You cannot bear this misery and want to run away from it. You may go to a cinema or a theater, or you may indulge in other sensual entertainments. You may go out drinking, and so on. All this is running away from misery. Escape is no solution to the problem-indeed the misery is multiplying.

And fourth, the key to all spiritual solutions resides within. Like many of us today, the Gastonguays seemed severally out of alignment with God’s will. The Gastonguays lost sight of their spiritual goal. Instead of facing their own spiritual crisis, they ran from the problem.

Like Jonah, one can’t run from a spiritual crisis. Taking a cue from the late Harry Chapin, “… you can travel on ten thousand miles and still say where you are.” Endangering children and other family members to solve your own personal crisis is not an act of faith. Seek a spiritual community or sangha. Spiritual alignment cannot be found on an island, car, watch or boat.

As for the Gastonguay family, latest reports indicate the family will now “go back to Arizona” and “come up with a new plan.”

Screen-Shot-2012-08-20-at-6.17.36-PMWhen America’s thirty-fourth president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, began his administration, he instructed his aides and his executive assistant that there should be only two stacks of papers placed on his desk in the Oval Office. The first would be a stack of those things that were urgent, and only the extremely urgent. The other was to be a stack of the important, and only the extremely important. Years later, Eisenhower commented his bewilderment at how many things were extremely urgent, but never very important.

I think of Eisenhower as I close my time helping to implement parts of the Affordable Care Act. Due by October 1st, Healthcare Insurance Exchanges across the country are estimated to enroll 7 million new healthcare applicants by March 0f 2014, with 24 million new recipients total by 2015 or 2016. In short, that’s a whole lot of new members in such a short period of time.

Of course complications have occurred throughout my tenure on this project. Failures have occurred on all leadership levels. Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming have all notified the federal government that they will not be policing the health law.

Missouri has prohibited active involvement by most state agencies. If you’re in Missouri and want information on the health insurance exchange, good luck in finding it.  Missouri also requires insurance counselors to get state licenses before they can help people search for health plans on an online marketplace. The counselors must be trained by Oct. 1, but the state has no regulatory framework to license the insurance navigators. Even if it can quickly create a licensing structure, the law bars insurance navigators from recommending specific plans. Additionally, if Missouri insurance regulators decline to approve any exchange health insurance plans because of concerns about the anti-exchange law, it’s not clear what plans an HHS exchange will be able to sell in Missouri.

In Texas, John Greeley, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, said his agency cannot enforce regulations tied to the federal insurance exchange or market reforms because it is not authorized to do so. Texas, along with Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming have notified the federal government that they will not be policing the health law.  Texas’ decision will create an “administrative burden” for insurance plans and could result in confusion for Texans who purchase health insurance under the federal exchange.

So when I think of all this, the conflict between the urgent and the important is inescapable. It is common for us to think that by staying busy and working hard to implement something important, leadership fails. Our ego and rarely represents the things most important. And therein lies the reason so many people today feel such a lack of satisfaction after working so hard for so many people. When we substitute the urgent for the important work, exhaustion replaces satisfaction.

Urgency is a dance. In horizontal perspectives of Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming, urgency of the ego has taken center stage. Yes urgency of the ego is popular. But rather than solve problems, it’s intended to drain time, energy and attention. It’s an all-too familiar voice in everyone’s life.

For Texas, Missouri and others like them, it is important to remember virtue, good conduct, morality needs to be based upon the key fundamental principles:

  1. The principle of equality. That means all living entities are equal; and
  2. The principle of reciprocity: This is the “Golden Rule” in Christianity — to do onto others as you would wish them to do onto you. It is found in all major religions.

For those caught in the urgency, “Are you really following the “Golden Rule.“” What is the voice to whom you listen?

steroidsDuring the fourth week in July, Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game suspension from baseball and admitted:

I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”

Major League Baseball indicates several dozen players will be suspended over the coming weeks, including Alex Rodriguez.  Both Braun and Rodriguez are millionaires, with net worth’s of $130 and $300 million respectively. Thus, it’s highly doubtful either will be accepting unemployment insurance anytime soon.

Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Feller once stated, “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” But the thought that constantly gnaws at me is the “… love of the game” most expose, especially Braun, “… I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”  It’s clear that neither player loved the game.

Almost anyone using performance-enhancing drugs does it to make the money, to get the long-term deal, to stay on the field. The decision has little to do with love; it’s basic math. No longer does a player’s performance rely solely on natural physical talent. To succeed, one must be spectacular.

If we claim to love baseball, then we must recognize steroids use is cheating. They create an unfair advantage, and this breaks ability of two teams having a fair contest. Strangely, steroid use is a federal crime.  While most state laws dictate that the sales and use of anabolic steroids, possession of steroids, or possession of steroids with intent to sell, are all classified as felonies, few states prosecute.

But why do we, as a society, as fans look the other way?  Why do professional players found abusing steroids not receive a lifetime ban like that of Pete Rose?  Why does someone using marijuana often receive a harsher prison sentence that of Mr. Braun or Rodriguez? Why do we as individuals and sports fans have so many contrary actions against those we claim to love?

Clearly, there’s no pope in Buddhism. Last I recall, Buddhism doesn’t have a big agenda on steroids where you go to Dharma talks and your teacher attempts to guilt you to stop. In truth, there are causes for all forms of suffering. And in this suffering world, there are greater injustices than Braun and Rodriguez.

Our actions go beyond laws of society. Unethical behavior involves a host problems, including actions banned in human rights, employment, health and safety, selling of defective products, and human trafficking and so on. There are no laws that cover the breaches within the confines of the human mind where lack of caring can easily become whole by simply by confessing the sin. May work in baseball but it doesn’t work that way in the real world. Trust me, I know.

Most of us have a personal double standard; we honor God, yet we tend to place greater value on profit than on well-being. And until we separate our attachment to such things, probably always will. People will puzzle over and debate this strange love and dance around steroid use. At the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our own legacy and three years from, few will care for either Braun or Rodriguez.

It’s nice to know that all things are impermanent – including Braun and Rodriguez.

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