Xenophobia: America’s Challenge

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt

The Nation Magazine published an article this week that reminds readers of Eleanor Roosevelt’s message to a fear-racked American public following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Perhaps, on us today lies the obligation to prove that such a vision may be a practical possibility. If we cannot meet the challenge of fairness to our citizens of every nationality, of really believing in the Bill of Rights and making it a reality for all loyal American citizens, regardless of race, creed or color; if we cannot keep in check anti-Semitism, anti-racial feelings as well as anti-religious feelings, then we shall have removed from the world, the one real hope for the future on which all humanity must now rely. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt quoted in The Nation, “What can we learn from Eleanor Roosevelt in a time of Xenophobia?”, February 5, 2016.

Any Presidential Candidate who voices hatred for another religious belief or race leads us away from the great mandate of our national creed. David Woolner’s article follows The First Lady’s visit to a Detention Center, to President Roosevelt’s error in giving into the demands for internment  by a fearful public. The article is extremely useful in the malaise  of fear that pervades the American psyche today.

How Quickly We Forget

FreedomThe cries for boots on the ground in Syria, for retribution, and a growing “fear of other” are not new. In fact it is a predictable response to perceived threats to Americans.

I remember so well the face of George W. Bush as he declared “Mission Accomplished” after the first few rounds of that administration’s “Shock and Awe” campaigns. Did it make Iraq safe, did it stamp out terrorism? Is Al Quaeda wiped out?

No, in fact the opposite is true, and many analysts now target the Iraq War as the beginning of the rise of ISIS.

Another pernicious behavior among Americans is the “fear of the other” – of anyone perceived to not look like “us”…us being white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian immigrants. Americans are and never were of that description though the people in power for so long could be described that way. Of course, over nearly 3 centuries of grieving their rights, Americans begrudgingly are accepting that the “face” of the United States is multi-ethnic, and religiously diverse.

Let us not forget these ugly facts that are a part of our history: genocide of Native Americans; enslavement and persecution of African Americans; internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and so on.

Now the cry is to keep out Syrian refugees who might harbor terrorists. The fear is understandable in light of the bombing of a Russian jet, killing all aboard; the Paris shootings and slaughter, and the Beirut attacks on civilians — all claimed by ISIS as retribution for our way of life. This is a threat no doubt. But let it not push away our better angels to respond in an equal force, BECAUSE WE HAVE RECENTLY BEEN REMINDED THAT THE STRATEGY DOES NOT WORK, IN FACT IT CREATES WHAT IT PURPORTS TO STAMP OUT.

This is a time for calm, for prudent decision making and for our humanity to be strengthened. The Syrian refugees are fleeing the forces that have destroyed their homeland. Just as the Irish fled to America under the brutal oppression of the English in the nineteenth century. Our relatives were refugees fleeing from brutal forces, poverty, and oppression. Let us not forget who we are and extend a helping hand to people who are without country, without the basic resources to live.

We can keep our humanity and also keep our country safe.




Capitol Polemic

Staircase Detail Up to DomeHistory and JusticeFreedomCapitol Bldg RotundaHouse Chambers Hall to House of RepsCapital Bldg Daytime19th Century Handpainted Ceiling_House at CapitalDuring a trip to Washington D.C. Congressman John Mica offered to take our group on a special evening tour of the Capitol Building. He is a real history buff and with 21 years serving in the House of Representatives he has a few good stories…

These photos taken with my smartphone speak for themselves. The quality of workmanship and art in the architecture, paintings and sculpture makes my proud of my government. Washington D. C. has long been my personal inspiration.

The workshop I attended was a special session of Florida State Public Universities. We met with representatives from Department of Defense and major uniform services, and then with staffers from Democratic and Republican representatives with the Florida delegation.

Given the acrimony and loss of the traditions of discussion and respect for disparate viewpoints, many Junior Conservative representatives have never experienced what staffers described as the Regular Order of legislation. They all expressed dismay with ongoing sequestration, little hope of a bipartisan spending bill, and the general loss of appreciation for the 200-year-old process of compromise to pass bills that work for the America Public.

Capitol Nightime

E.F. Schumacher – Why We Need Him Now

E. F. Schmacher, British Economist best known to the U.S. public in the 1970’s with publication of Small is Beautiful and Small is Possible, developed economic models based on scale. His basic idea: past a particular size, true profit declines and true costs rise – thus the title “Small is Beautiful.”

He also clarified that shared ownership of the means of production is key to equitable distribution of wealth and development of healthy communities.

The New Economic Institute (previously the E.F. Schumacher Society) includes several excellent videos and articles by new economics thinkers and teachers. Go to the link and take time to listen or read. These visionaries describe likely scenarios about where our cultures and global community are moving with economic collapse around the world and with climate changes continuing to play havoc with community resiliency.

Profitability as the sole goal of corporate behavior is addressed by Neva Goodwin, Tufts University.  She discusses Walmart’s discovery that being ecologically responsible is profitable. However, her discussion is realistic about the kind of deep change that is necessary and how the likelihood of many people being harmed again by corporate excesses is predictable.  She offers a way to use corporate charters to shape corporate behavior. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is a group she cites that is using a new community led strategy that creates municipal ordinances.  These ban corporate control of land, water, and other natural resources that are critical to life and health.  How can we make money and profits flow to the most responsible companies that protect human and ecological well being? Many examples of new economic structures are described using real companies that ARE making a profit while doing good in society.

The Heart of Our Democracy

With the advent of the Internet, increasingly finer discernment is required of students in complex learning environments.

FreedomEducation is the focus of my professional life. My ideas about education – what it is and what is should be – have evolved.  Formal education, as in public schools, colleges, and graduate schools, is under constant revision in our democracy. Ideas change as the society-wide discussion continues.

Our country knows that an education is at the heart of a democracy.  Without informed citizens, a democracy cannot out last tyrannical and opportunistic forces. Education develops our best nature while ignorance breeds the opposite.

In its simplest form, education is a framework for learning. Children learn to attend. From the self-directed learning of childhood, the classroom and teacher focus their attention to particular facts and phenomena.  Children are taught to use tools for discovery, primarily mathematics and reading.

In the early days of education we were satisfied that kids would grow into adults who could read well enough to understand voting instructions and could sign their name in cursive. Later, we became more ambitious. Courses of study made it possible for average citizens to attain higher levels of performance for career tracks that moved them from blue collar to white collar work, or to scholarly levels of study.

Education became a means of social and economic equality in America.

Education in our public schools today is still very goal oriented but may have lost track of the original idea: that educated adults help preserve a democratic society. With the advent of the Internet, increasingly finer discernment is required of students in complex learning environments, and a complex, interconnected global community.

Social media offers students sophisticated tools for communication – perhaps beyond their intellectual and emotional development. Technology is driving society—proven to be an upside down relationship.

The role of the teacher has returned to guide and the classroom to a framework for learning. Students explore their own interests using online tools that transform learning. Teachers and curriculum need transforming, too, to meet students in the new learning reality. How will technology aid or hamper our democracy?

What do you think?

Resources for Exploring This Topic

Alive Enough? Reflecting on Our Technology – an interview with Dr. Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Science of Science and Technology at M.I.T.

How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus – Psychology Today Online, article by Dr. Jim Taylor, December, 2012.

The Science of Attention – interview with Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia.

NEA Policy Statement on Digital Learningdiscusses the recognition of the new learning environment and changing role of teachers but cautions that education leaders need direct the uses of the technology as opposed to private owners of new technologies.

Autobiography of Values: Charles Lindbergh

charles-lindbergh-t12762This Christmas my son, Tom, gave me Winston Groom’s terrific new book, The Aviators. Groom paints a detailed portrait of Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, and Charles Lindbergh.

Each was an extraordinary person. Besides their enormous personal courage , they displayed a generosity of spirit in their willingness to improve aviation, make better airplanes and instruments, test pilot experimental designs, and play key roles in aviation and space after the war – all for love of country.

Groom writes with the easy rhythm of a old storyteller about the historical events of the 20th century’s technological transformation, and studies the influences in the development of boy to man, and the personal struggles and triumphs of each  of these iconic American heroes.

In exploring the inner lives of his subjects the author exhibits a good dose of fairness. This was never more true than how he handled the complex life of Charles Lindbergh.

Lindbergh, like Rickenbaker and Doolittle, began with the belief that aviation would change the world for the better. But as Lindberg’s life unfolded he experienced a series of blows that caused him to change his values nearly 180 degrees from where he started.

The first blow came not from his young son’s kidnapping and death (though personally traumatic), but from the American public’s relentless thirst for tabloid sensationalism. Haunted day and night, even suspected of murdering his own son, Charles and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh, fled America to Europe for personal peace.

Groom then follows a complex series of invitations to the Lindberghs by heads of state – including Nazi leaders like Goering who asked him to fly various new planes Germany was turning out by the thousands.

Due to a series of events including a medal from Hitler in honor of his courage and accomplishments, Americans and especially FDR accused him of being a traitor to his own country – which only served to drive the Lindberghs into further isolation from the press.

Lindbergh opposed America’s participation in WWII because he observed first hand the superior technological capabilities of Germany in aviation. He believed America would suffer great losses. This opposition led to Lindbergh plummeting from national hero to villain in the minds of many Americans.

But Lindbergh joined in helping America after Pearl Harbor, even though the President would not let him reenlist (Lindbergh gave up his commission when he fled to Europe). Lindbergh worked for aircraft companies in the states and engineered improvements in aircraft that saved thousands of aviators’ lives and increased the capabilities of the US military.

After the war he was invited to reenlist, and during a top secret mission for the U.S. military, Lindbergh observed the terrible destruction of Europe. of the land, and was among the first eye witnesses to Nazi death camps. These experiences shook him to his core.

While reading Grooms’ magnificent book, I learned that Lindbergh asked the publisher William Jovanovich (a friend and publisher at Harcourt, Brace, and Janvanovich) to edit and publish essays and journal notes from across his life in a book after his death. Lindbergh had just learned he was dying from lymphoma.

The book chronicles the evolution of his ideas about technology and the environment. Lindbergh had become an advocate for wild lands and wildlife. The book that was published is Autobiography of Values. Lindbergh had spent years traveling the world learning cultural values from indigenous tribes.

He noted that in each culture the relationship with the land and with wildlife was very different than in the so-called civilized nations. He concluded that man’s pursuit of science must be guided by other, deeper values – values that relate to our responsibility to the land, wildlife, and each other. He described his journey as one of finding true values. (Read a perceptive book review in the New York Times from 1978.)

Visit the Lindbergh Foundation to see how Reeve Lindbergh – Charles and Anne’s youngest daughter – with notables like Neil Armstrong – has carried the traditions of her parents into the 21st century by establishing awards and collaborations supporting, among many exciting initiatives, development of an electric plane. The intent is to fly a plane from NY to Paris but with no gas! Explore the website to learn about many visionaries carrying the flame of innovation but with a new, informed set of values.

Thanks, Tommy. This gift given to honor your grandfather (a WWII bomber pilot) will always hold an important place in my heart. Its also a great read that I know I will return to again and again.

DC Reflections

During a recent business conference that concerned the impending Sequestration and its impact on university funding, my hope for a decent future found purchase in the basic human quality of resilience or even rightly applied pugnaciousness.  The meeting – American Association for State Colleges and Universities Grant Resource Center Funding Forecast – draws university grants professionals and faculty to an annual heads together on how to win funding to educate the nation’s youth. This year in particular could be termed “Reading the Tea Leaves.” As the Legislative Branch stampedes toward the fiscal cliff chased by a frantic Executive Branch, the rest of us are left to wonder whether we’ll have a job, schools can operate, students continue on in higher education, or the transportation and financial infrastructure upon which our nation has thrived will remain in tact. Many threatening scenarios are spiraling around communication networks AD NAUSEUM, so much so I predict record viewing of the Academy Awards for sheer relief from the worry. At least the year’s films are somewhat predictable! Funding for education will surely take a hit right when we are trying to graduate more students from college in technical fields, put Veterans to work, make sure preschool kids get a decent start, keep us safe from cyber threats, and figure out how to mitigate climate change.

My hope stems from meeting or reconnecting with friends and colleagues from across our county who are devoted to their institutions and communities. There is no loss of hope among us; in fact we are made more savvy by contemplating the loss of funding and termination of funding sources we’ve depended upon. There are many ways to peel a banana. So if a bunch of grants professionals respond so, why not the rest of the country? We are by long tradition the kind of people who “dig in” when times are tough. Maybe we can do a lot with little on a local basis – with the exception of  the federal programs that work at scales that address widespread problems beyond the community’s abilities.

Its clear to me that communities and institutions will be required to collaborate and coordinate projects in order to win funding.  That is not a bad thing. The fact that there is less money will have impacts that we should work to prevent: early preschool funding; Pell grants; community grants that target very low income and high health disparity neighborhoods; innovation grants that support entrepreneurs, creators, scientists and students to try novel ideas for solving common problems. This is what agencies are trying to puzzle through right now, to use what funding they will have to make as big an impact in the right direction as possible.

All of us can make a call, write, blog, show up or support advocacy groups for education, health and welfare, and new policies and technologies for a sustaining environment.  The colleagues I had the privilege of sharing ideas among inspire me. From every region of our country there are caring, intelligent individuals working to make the best out of the mud pie this Congress continues to deliver.

The Power of Trees

When I consider that a single man, relying only on his own simple physical and moral resources, was able to transform a desert into this land of Canaan, I am convinced that despite everything, the human condition is truly admirable. ~ The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.

Each day while he tended his flocks, the shepherd drove a heavy steel rod into the soil on the rolling hills, dropped an acorn, covered and tamped it down. In his day pack the old man carried 100 perfect acorns, sorted through in silence the night before. Tomorrow he would repeat this work—planting trees while his sheep grazed.

Elzéard Bouffier determined the land was ravaged for lack of trees.  Wind whipped across its tortured slopes after years of war and human exploitation.  Throughout WWI and WWII—while the fates of younger men lay in bloody trenches—the elder Frenchman methodically played out his chosen vocation, planting sturdy oaks, a copse of beeches and orchards of apples.

“The Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness” was published in Vogue Magazine in 1957.  Jean Giono—a celebrated French writer—created a story that awakened the American passion for wilderness at a time when environmental degradation burdened the public mind.

About that time a teenager from Kenya travelled to America to study ecology.  Raised in a traditional Kikuyu family in the northern hill country of Kenya, her mother had taught her to never take firewood from the fig tree because it was sacred.  God dwells in the fig tree, her mother cautioned. Wangari never questioned her mother. But, Catholic missionaries later convinced the villagers that God did not live in the fig and to destroy the sacred groves to build new churches which they did.

Ten years later when Wangari Maathai returned to her homeland she finally understood the wisdom of the Kikuyu.  Without the fig groves’ deep root systems, the hill country had eroded, turning clear streams to muddy pools.  Without clean water the community suffered from disease, hunger and poverty—unknown in past times.  The Kikuyu lost an ancient environmental protection policy.

By the time Wangari came to a leadership position in her government, forests that once blanketed Kenya were being harvested on a massive scale.  Her path to Deputy Director of Environment and Natural Resources began humbly in 1977 when she returned to her native country. Wangari realized that the people and land were being harmed by expedient government policies that promoted logging for quick profit in international markets.  Women in particular were impacted by extremes of drought and floods, erosion and loss of the land’s productivity. They were the traditional farmers.

Being a practical woman, Wangari thought, “We can plant trees.” In 1977 she began The Greenbelt Movement through which thousands of women nurtured seedlings to restore the land to healthy functioning.  Wangari broke all the barriers: the first African woman to earn a doctorate degree; the first Kenyan woman elected to parliament.  She challenged the judgment of men in power.  For her efforts she was brutally beaten and imprisoned.  Each time the women of the Greenbelt Movement suffered violence at the hand of government, they planted more trees. They were simply unstoppable.

Today, forty-five million trees have taken root in Kenya and forests grow over the stumps of a less enlightened time.  Streams and rivers have returned clear and broad after nearly four decades of diligent action and a simple idea: plant trees.  A wrong was righted.

Jean Giono—a pacifist—wrote about the wanton destruction of life during two world wars.  He, too, was imprisoned.  “The Man Who Planted Trees” was perhaps his way of righting the insanity that swept across Europe.  The Greenbelt Movement became the manifestation of his vision.

Wangari probably did not know about Giono’s story when it was first published.  She was just a practical woman who saw a simple solution to a complex problem much like the shepherd.  Perhaps the stubborn determination to keep dreaming and the stubborn determination to make it true go hand in hand—flip sides of a coin. Yet, we know that diligence can be the handmaiden of either positive or negative action, as history records.  Thank God diligence leverages the greater force when applied to a just action.

Author’s Note:  Chelsea Green published a special edition of The Man Who Planted Trees in 2005.  The introduction was written by none other than Wagari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Laureate.  She passed away on September 25, 2011.


Truth Be Told – Part I

Deregulate! From the mouths of Republicans this call resounds across the land fueled by a growing national appetite for development starved by the recession.

Truth be told this nation is in decline—decline in its once visionary goals, perhaps present only briefly, imperfectly rendered, but THERE among men in power.  For it took only a Presidency or two before capitalism replaced democracy.  Since Hamilton America’s path is measured by the gross national product (GDP).  America’s physical body, the great continent of wilderness and abundance, has declined in direct relationship to the GDP as unhindered greed unravels the vast web of life that was once our greatest promise.

Deregulate! From the mouths of Republicans this call resounds across the land fueled by a growing national appetite for development starved by the recession.  Jobs, jobs, jobs yell the politic…jobs at any cost.  Perhaps our starved brains forget what is before us:  specifically because of regulation the Gulf coast states are now receiving millions of dollars to repair ecosystems, food webs, and economies damaged by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in one of the nation’s most productive oceans.

The Clean Water Act imposed penalties upon British Petroleum Oil for damage to watersheds, marshes, bays and oceans along states from Texas to Florida.  The Restore Act, just passed by Congress, will bring from $500m (lowest estimate) to $2.3 billion (highest estimate) to Florida alone through application of the CWA.  Our Republican Governor Rick Scott and republican leaders in the state legislature are only too happy to receive this money.  So why then do these same leaders and their national counterparts in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan espouse deregulation, even dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency?  Isn’t this “throwing out the baby with the bath water?”

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is a legal structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. It was first called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1948) but it was reorganized in 1972 when the public became concerned about widespread point source pollution. It came to be called the “Clean Water Act” with use.

Signs of America’s decline include the following:’

  • Participation in wars that were originally to seek revenge;
  • Documented descent into use of torture with war prisoners;
  • Decline in tradition of open-mindedness and inclusion:
    • Mean immigration policies
    • Hatred of gays
    • Roll back of women’s right to control over their body
    • Religious intolerance.
  • No serious response, leadership in regard to climate change;
  • Deterioration in public education:
    • Federal dollars to charter and religious-run schools
    • Teaching to arbitrary tests set by politicians
    • Relegation of education to workforce objectives
  • Loss of the space program and underfunding science and technology in general except for workforce innovation and economic development;
  • Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling that gives corporations the same right to political speech as individuals (rise of super PACs).