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Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots

Trunks to Tails

By Leonard Adame

Leonard Adame

We tend to think that the seasons will always follow one another like elephants linked trunks to tails, that clouds will always fill up our water bottles, that the earth will always be fertile, that minerals and rivers and forests and people will forever multiply. But eventually, the sun will run out of gas and blast itself and the planets out of this existence like some cosmic video game. And these immutable assumptions will finally become extinct. But let’s scale back this depressing information back a little since we do have a few years before the end.

Many Americans love thinking the United States will forever be No. 1 economically, militarily (we forget about Rome) and culturally. We love thinking the fruits of our hard work and investments will infallibly be there (despite recent corporate-caused economic disasters). We believe ourselves safe in our homes, cars and jobs. We are concretely certain our government and judicial system will always have our best interests at heart. Some believe otherwise, of course. But the majority consider these beliefs immutable mandates from a god who is (what else?) immutably American.

So too the attitudes that some hold toward people who can’t always eat when hungry, who don’t have beds and thermostats waiting for them, who wake up aching with the (immutable?) plagues of old age, people who because of treacherous accidents are sentenced to walkers, beds and wheelchairs. Stubbornly ignoring these things, many insist on believing that people become homeless and poor because they expect government entitlements (though government bailouts and interest-free loans to corporations are acceptable); wish to live off of friends, relatives or strangers; don’t know the value of work and savings; or come from “backward” or “barbaric” cultures lacking the American values so many of us think superior.

Many times, I’ve heard people speak of the disenfranchised as if they existed to vex those who because of the grace of God (as if God were looking out only for them) are not poor, homeless or ailing. Listening to them, they clearly feel someone should do something about those depressing people out on the streets on freezing nights pushing shopping carts dripping with their worldly goods. They ruin everyone’s day. Obviously, they don’t have the good sense to stay out of sight of the hard workers, homeowners and family types. They shouldn’t go around upsetting the dignity and calm of regular churchgoers who would never sink to being alone, cold and despised for not having the things society says are essential.

This view, of course, doesn’t take into account disasters, accidents, loss of jobs in a still faltering economy or suddenly becoming fodder for the black plague. But, in fact, these are some of the eventualities that force people to end up sleeping on doorways and alleyways and having to glean dumpsters. There are exceptions; a rare few do choose homelessness.

Nevertheless, for some, having to live with the homeless bobbing in out of their spheres is the same as entering contagious isolation wards.

Making matters worse, too few understand that many homeless people have severe and untreated psychological problems. When we see bandages, casts and body wounds, we immediately understand that people are injured. But psychological illnesses and wounds are invisible. We can’t and sometimes don’t want to understand that anyone can become debilitated psychologically. Yet we see someone without physical wounds or problems living on the streets and we assume that he or she is well and able to work and do the rest of the things required of us by complacency, a well-taught skill (learned in an education system that thrives on churning out non-thinkers) that requires us to ignore the profound abjectness of so many of our brothers and sisters. But those without obvious injuries must by choice be derelicts.

Now, of course, there are people who are compassionate and understanding and incessantly working to aid the helpless as much as they can. The compassion and self-sacrifice and kindness of these angels are miraculous. But there just aren’t enough of them to go around.

Some (clerics included) who disagree with what I’m proferring often fall back on a disastrously misinformed understanding of Christianity, disingenuously claiming that God helps those who help themselves. This is just an oblique way of saying, “It’s obvious I’m good, therefore God will bless and protect me.”

But then there are any number of self-serving pious remarks that allow us the contagious conceit that stipulates one is successful because one has worked hard, has raised his or her children with solid morals (conjured specifically to serve our wishes and values) and that one, above all, is a believer in Christ. This, of course, means that anyone who lacks success logically is neither blessed nor godly. It is not by chance that this Puritanical remnant has survived for centuries.

Thus, the heart of the matter is that we look for ways to avoid responsibility for others. There’s a disconnect here, however, because there is, after all, a Christian principle that stipulates that we are responsible for others. We claim, do we not, to have learned it in catechism classes and Bible schools. Yet the Golden Rule now comes with qualifications: I’ll help you only if I conclude you’re worth it, according to my morals and cultural ethics and values.

Because the number of homeless, destitute and forsaken souls grows exponentially, I must assume these lost souls don’t qualify for a life of equality, opportunity and justice. So we sentence them to haunt the nearly invisible margins of our consciousness.

Therefore, it seems, these attitudes and conditions are immutable. And perhaps this apparent immutability is also a trait in other beings, should they exist, on some of the planets that recently have been discovered whirling around other not so immutable stars. But since even the universe will disappear (or in some way transform itself), there is a bittersweet realization that when the end comes our terrible attitudes, our intractable immutability about those we’ve branded as inferior, finally will be blown to hell.

Is that what it’s gonna take?

*****

Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids.

An Open Letter to Rupert Murdoch
by David Roy

(Editor’s note: Rupert Murdoch is the founder and head of News Corporation. The Fox News Channel is owned by the Fox Entertainment Group, which is a subsidiary of News Corporation. Fox News was created by Murdoch.)

David Roy
David Roy

Dear Mr. Murdoch: While you may be too modest to say this of yourself, you have demonstrated an incredible genius in acquiring vast and diverse media holdings. I don’t believe anything of this magnitude has ever been done in human history.

This gives you and the people and institutions over which you have authority unprecedented power to shape the content and the mood of information and entertainment that reaches billions of human beings in many areas of the world. I am certain this has not escaped your attention. I also cannot imagine that you and your reigning executives are oblivious to the fact that the emotional context (mood) is often far more important to whatever message is to be conveyed than simply the content.

You are, after all, a highly educated individual. Wikipedia indicates you had the honor and privilege of attending some of the most outstanding and intellectually demanding schools in Australia and later in Britain.

I have little doubt that the traditions of these schools supported Western civilization’s core principles of rigorous and honorable intellectual pursuit. These would include the ideals of intellectual rigor and honesty, pursuit of the truth, verifiable results, the importance of reason over emotion, the value of open discussion of differences of opinion in a respectful manner, the ability to recognize and challenge false reasoning and inflammatory rhetoric, to name a few.

This is why, I confess, I find it difficult to make sense of the fact you allow someone like Glenn Beck any air time at all. He represents the opposite of the ideals in which you were steeped during your sophisticated education. He is grossly uneducated and uninformed, as I am sure you know. He either makes things up or takes a sliver of information out of context and then concocts some of the most nonsensical stories anyone can imagine. His background in radio suggests he will do and say most anything to attract and keep an audience. But you know all of that.

The problem has been that a great many viewers treat him as a credible source of knowledge and fact. You know he is not, yet you give him a platform that automatically lends unearned credibility to his outlandish comments.

Viewers and advertisers are beginning to discover his hollowness, his wrong-headedness, the fact that he spins tales only to polarize and alarm, thereby frightening his audience. A growing number of both are walking away from him and Fox. This erosion of his support casts a negative light on you. What kind of lapse in judgment led to putting him on the air?

The bottom line, Mr. Murdoch, is that Mr. Beck and quite a number of your other on-air staff at Fox News increasingly are making you look like a fool to a growing number of people.

Is this really what you want as your legacy? Yes, Beck and many of the others on Fox do keep things stirred up and through them you have helped push our world in a more conservative direction, something I am certain helps protect and enrich your holdings and those of others who are at the your level of wealth.

But you are at the stage in life where you are considering your legacy. How are people going to see you, what are they going to think about you some 50 to 100 years from now?

Perhaps it is too late for you to consider changing, that even if you did, it might not make any real difference. I also have to consider the possibility you are so invested in things the way they are that you do not see a need for change. If so, then when Beck becomes too much of an embarrassment and the cost of keeping him around (due to loss of revenue) gets too high, you will simply bring out someone else to occupy this stage and keep the review moving on. I hope not.

I do hope you will consider your legacy and come out on the side of seeking a more intellectually honest and mature staff, one you can endorse without embarrassment, doubt or hesitation.

I am sure that if you make these changes your staff nonetheless will continue a conservative approach but do this in a way that is open to and even seeks respectful dialogue with those with differing viewpoints. That would be a fine legacy to establish.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this.

*****

Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology.

Nuclear Meltdown—from Japan to Fresno
By Patrick Young

Patrick Young

At 54, I remember the Atoms for Peace program, and I can remember well the promises of the atomic scientists:

  • “Clean, safe, almost inexhaustible source of power.”
  • “It may be too cheap to meter.”
  • “The danger of an American being killed by a nuclear power plant are literally a billion to one, same likelihood as having a meteor strike you directly on the head” (Norman Rasmussen, MIT; yes, they changed that estimate after Three Mile Island).

Well friends, we’ve got dozens of power plants in shaky places. The coast is popular as it makes cooling a plant cheaper.

California’s Diablo Canyon reactor is located on the Hosgri fault, which connects to the San Andreas fault. When this was discovered, instead of stopping construction, a PR campaign was launched by PG&E, and the plant was built anyway.

And “too cheap to meter”? Well Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant cost 16 times its original estimate of $357 million. It came in at more than $6 billion. I am stuck with this as an unwilling customer without any alternative.

It is also a fact that a disaster at Diablo Canyon could contaminate one-third of California. Who could possibly have enough money to pay off homeowners and businesses if folks were forced to leave their cities and relocate?

The incidents at both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were the result of human error. Now we’ve got a whole new threat. Nuclear power plants have never been safe; they are just accidents waiting for the right sequences of errors or disasters to coincide at one time.

Some developers even want to put a plant in Fresno, where I live. We have no water; technically, we are in a desert. We irrigate and steal others’ water. And being the world’s richest farming district, can you imagine how a radiation leak would affect California produce and the nation?

Wake up. Nuclear is uneconomical, unsafe and unnecessary when alternative energy needs the push right now, not more dangerous nuclear time bombs.

*****

Patrick Young is the coordinator of the Wheelchair Project and has sent enormous amounts of material aid to Haiti, Central America and Mexico.

Food Not Bombs at Roeding Park

By Al Williams

Al Williams

For the past couple of months, Saturday afternoon with Food Not Bombs at Roeding Park has been the place to kick it at. We have had the largest increase of volunteers in the 15 years that Food Not Bombs has been serving meals in Roeding Park.

People from all parts of the city are coming to support, socialize, enjoy a meal, see old friends and meet new friends, and just have a great afternoon at Food Not Bombs, while providing food for everyone, including those who cannot afford the food chain prices. Homeless people, the less fortunate people and even some well-off people have come to realize that Food Not Bombs is the one place to gather in Fresno where people from all walks of life—the homeless, the poor, the well off, the wealthy—and people of all races, colors and nationalities can come together. Whether you are preparing, serving or eating a meal, for that time, everyone is on the same page and extremely humane with each other. That’s the way it should be everywhere.

Since December, a number of people have become active volunteers with Food Not Bombs. Ashley Stark and her friends are there every other week, along with Elaine Schiszler, our “guardian angel.” Kathleen, Sasha and Mia are now there every Saturday. Joan Poss and WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) are also in the house, as well as the WILPF interns, Randy Ridenhour and Henry Garcia, along with Becca Allen and Jenna Allen.

We would like to give special thanks to Akiko Miyake-Stoner from the United Japanese Christian Church and the 17 youth accompanying her, who gave the Food Not Bombs crew a much needed hand in helping prepare and serve meals at Roeding Park on February 25.

Of course, Kelly Borkert is the life of the afternoon, and only his wife Tina can slow him down. Keith and Bobby always take up the slack when needed. Donna Lopez isn’t allowed to miss a Saturday now, along with her many grandchildren who help with the event. Yes, I’m still there, although people say I must be getting old because I don’t make as much noise as I once did. (Humpf.) The thank yous would not be complete without mentioning Tom Machado, the “godfather” of Food Not Bombs.

Food Not Bombs is stepping up to the plate this year, not only in growing numbers but also in providing meals at special events, such as the Statewide Homeless Memorial on June 11 at Eucalyptus Grove in Roeding Park. Food Not Bombs has supported this event with excellent food for several years now. Places like the Farmers Market and Whole Foods have contributed food for 15 years so that we can continue feeding the less fortunate, and all are invited to join us for a Saturday afternoon of relaxation, good company and networking to make life a little better for everyone.

Food Not Bombs never turns away anyone whether you are there to volunteer, cook, serve, enjoy a great meal, socialize or just see what we do. Large groups of young people (teenagers and younger) from various churches and schools throughout the city recently have been helping to cook and serve, and we greatly appreciate their presence and help.

Saturday meals are served at 1 p.m. in Roeding Park on the Olive Avenue frontage road just east of the Olive entrance. For information about Food Not Bombs, or how you can help, contribute to the cause, arrange to bring a group or just enjoy a Saturday afternoon and a meal with us, contact alphonsowill62@yahoo.com or 559-647-7165.*****

Al Williams is on the Community Alliance editorial board. Contact him at alphonsowill62@yahoo.com or 559-647-7165.

Dystopia Fresno Style
By Doug Mackenzie

Doug Mackenzie

On January 16, crowds of people descended on the Save Mart Center in Fresno for the Get Motivated Seminar. The Get Motivated Seminar is a production of Get Motivated Seminars Inc. and has been described as a “traveling motivational road show” that sponsors 25–30 seminars a year. Scheduled motivational speakers included former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and retired Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Joe Montana.

We were at the Save Mart Center motivated to arrest Rudy Giuliani under California’s private person’s arrest statute, CA Penal Code Section 837 et seq.

Our criminal complaint alleged that Giuliani committed the felonies of conspiracy and fraud by willfully, unlawfully and feloniously engaging in public fraud, dishonesty, deceit and deception in his description of his relationship to the events of 9/11.

The factual basis for these allegations is that, in an interview with Peter Jennings on 9/11, Giuliani made the statement that he was “told that the World Trade Center was going to collapse” before the buildings actually collapsed. He therefore clearly admitted to Jennings that he had foreknowledge of the collapse of the World Trade Center. The audio recording of this interview is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vCg8Fp8aw8.

While Giuliani was confronted inside the Save Mart Center by members of We Are Change Fresno, we walked to the entrance and started to hand out a leaflet we had prepared for the occasion. The leaflet had an image of Giuliani and the words “Wanted: Rudy Giuliani: American’s Thug” on the front side. On the back side, the leaflet included a link to the Jennings interview clip and a demand to know who told Giuliani that the World Trade Center was going to collapse before it actually collapsed. It asked that people join in the private person’s arrest of Giuliani.

An ABC-TV crew was interviewing a couple that had just exited the Get Motivated Seminar. When the interview was over, I approached the reporter and handed him a leaflet. I went on camera and explained our position and what we were motivated to do. After the interview, the reporter and the cameraperson said that they would look into our allegations and check the YouTube link.

Nearby, a group of people eating catered pizza from cardboard boxes were commenting on Giuliani’s performance—that what he had to say was irrelevant, old and outdated. A woman offered me a slice of pizza, which I accepted. I told the group that we were there to arrest Guiliani, that he had foreknowledge of the collapses of the World Trade Center. I tried to give them a leaflet. The pizza offering woman said, “That’s OK, but we won’t go there,” or something to that effect. Her statement shut down the whole group’s collective curiosity and intelligence.

Things then got interesting as we continued to pass out our leaflet to the hundreds of people coming and going from the Save Mart Center. We got a range of responses as you would expect from such a diverse crowd. Many people simply walked by without interacting with us or saying anything at all, refusing to take the leaflet.

Some had an immediate and visceral response. “You are crazy.” “Take your meds.” One woman told us that George W. Bush was in on the 9/11 attacks. She also said that her employer had given her a choice between being at her desk or being at the seminar. She wasn’t happy about having to make that devil’s choice.

Soon a charming and charismatic TV weatherperson showed up. He was wearing a suit and red running shoes, which he was showing off to the crowd. Many in the crowd posed with him and were excited to see him there.

I approached the TV weatherperson and gave him a leaflet and told him that we were there to arrest Giuliani on suspicion of conspiracy and fraud. He took the leaflet, folded it and put it in his suit pocket. To the group of pizza eaters he said something like “he has a right to say what he wants” and “what a great country we live in.”

Then the TV weatherperson went to work on the crowd. He assembled not only the pizza eating group but also other groups of people for a staged shot. He told the participants what to say, how to say it and when to say it. When he had the choreography down and about 40 people participating, he took the shot. “We had a great time at the Get Motivated Seminar in Fresno and the weather is fine.”

It was an amazing performance to watch. The TV weatherperson worked the crowd so easily. Assembled for the digital “Simon Says” game were people sporting corporate-wear identifying them with their respective place in the corporate order.

Someone has said that celebrity worship is a toxic mimic of the admiration, respect and love expressed for actual heroes and I agree. Almost everyone seemed to know the TV weatherperson, and all were eager as puppies to please him and do his bidding.

We still had a few leaflets left to hand out as the performance ended when I spotted another TV camera crew. The TV reporter was looking for people to interview. I approached her and tried to give her a leaflet and tell her my story.

She was not interested. She said to me, “I’m good.” She did not want to interview me. I get that saying “I’m good” is a way of brushing a person off because I’ve had it said to me in the street before.

But the Germans “were good” even as Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Reich minister of propaganda, perfected his prescription for fascism, propaganda and mindless entertainment.

Propaganda: Government officials in suits and uniforms repeat the same big lie over and over again. 9/11. Al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden. 9/11. Al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden. TV personalities repeat the same big lie over and over again. 9/11. Al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden.

Mindless entertainment: TV weatherperson in red shoes directs a staged performance for later consumption and corporate profit. The people are giddy about seeing themselves on the shimmering screen.

As we handed out the last of our leaflets (we knew that security would be there soon), the female TV reporter was interviewing the pizza offering woman. About how necessary it is to be motivated in these times. About how great it was to get motivated.

We’re still motivated to arrest Rudy Giuliani for his crimes and await his return to our neighborhood.

*****

Doug Mackenzie is an activist living in rural Fresno County.  Contact him at ddmackenzie@gmail.com

Change Is Needed
By Ruth Gadebusch

Ruth Gadebusch
Ruth Gadebusch

It is difficult to feel very optimistic, given the world conditions, whether created by Mother Nature or humans. We can’t do much about Mother Nature, but we certainly can modify our own behavior. Much of which could mitigate Mother Nature’s actions.

We are getting a serious lesson with the earthquake damage in Japan, probably the most prepared of any nation on the planet: Humans cannot outwit nature and we best learn to act accordingly. Most of all, we can quit creating our own disasters.

We can look to the future instead of living for the moment. While professing great concern for the inheritance we are leaving for our descendants, we continue our same behavior. We refuse to make necessary sacrifices for improvements in the coming years. Someway, somehow, we expect matters to right themselves bringing “Morning to America” without effort on our part—except for those legislators whose effort is to deny any help to the poor, so that they too can work as hard thereby becoming as rich as the already rich!

We continue in deep economic trouble. Yet, we don’t change. Our government bailed out the people and the institutions that caused this fiasco but demanded nothing in return. We thought they would see the error of their ways, although history shows us that big business behavior changes only by force of law.

The State of California is faced with a dire budget situation. Still we have legislators subscribing to the philosophy of “government is the problem, not the solution,” who would do nothing but exacerbate the problem: Cut services but never raise taxes. How can we expect an uneducated populace, or the hungry, the homeless, the ill to solve the problems that we can’t do with all the resources we have at hand? What magic wand are we expecting to allow society to be transformed?

Some of the same drivers complaining bitterly about the price of gasoline fight the possibility of high-speed railroad. It costs too much. People will never ride it. It won’t pencil out. Neither do highways with some of the same problems to building and maintaining that the trains will face. The time to plan for the future is now.

Then there is the environment. Just because we can’t personally feel all the damage we are doing to our atmosphere and land doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. No one thought of the great plumes of poisons now plaguing us when they were being created. No one believed Fresno’s old Community Council study in the 1970s when it warned us that our air had all the potential for becoming like that of Los Angeles in that era. It happened and we pay a price in our physical health as well as in dollars to the agencies charged with cleanup.

Just think what prevention would have meant. Instead of learning that lesson, we continue to make matters worse when we stay on the same path, even expanding the sorrow, the challenge, for future generations. Instead of education, we are setting up conditions that will provide fewer jobs, a less healthy environment, more clients for our prisons and on and on.

Speaking of actions and consequences, look at the obsession with abortion that the majority party in the House of Representatives has. Meanwhile, the country is embroiled in a war that has gone on for 10 years with nothing to show for it but devastation in another nation and death and injury to so many of their and our young. We won’t even talk about the one supposedly ended but where political unrest lives with daily killings and conditions that many might think far worse than under the dictator from whom we freed them.

The examples are but few of the many. All this to remind us of the old maxim, If you keep on doing what you have always done, you will keep on getting what you have always gotten. Isn’t it time that we changed what we are doing?

*****

Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.

 

 

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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