Be a Force of Nature. Help Heal Haiti.


Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. Haiti’s worst earthquake in over 200 years has taken the lives of tens of thousands and threatens millions more in the aftermath. Out of the darkness of the rubble there must come light.

The forces of nature have devastated the people of Haiti. It is up to us to react and respond.

As Haiti suffers its worst earthquake in over two centuries, it brings out the best in America. Thousands of people are flying into action – from relief workers to the military, from our current President to former ones, from celebrities to average citizens – seeking ways to help.


Will Religion Ever Lead to Peace?

During his recent Nobel acceptance speech, President Obama pointed out that at the crux of our catastrophic failure at achieving peace lies the divisive, fear-inciting force of religion, saying:

“People fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities — their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines. Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint — no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith — for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”


Empathy Vital Not Only to Helping Others, but Also to Helping Ourselves.

How many times has somebody genuinely wanted to help you with a situation, but because they weren’t members of the same social class you dismissed them by saying something along the lines of, “How can you truly care? You don’t understand what it’s like to be (insert identity here)?” Or maybe you said, “You’ve never had to (insert struggle here).” I too am guilty of misinterpreting a person’s willingness to help as a showcase of condescendence in my past.  And, I too, was wrong.

Yes it’s true that unless you have experienced the exact same events, exact same reactions, and exact same outcomes, you can’t truly understand exactly how somebody feels. However, one of human beings’ greatest accomplishments is the ability to empathize. It doesn’t take the exact same experiences to empathize with someone. Not everybody has genial intentions all the time, but simply having a different background does not necessarily make a person insensitive to others’ concerns.


For the People: A Reflection.

I’m a minority.

Ok, I’m a circumstantial minority.  I’m a white guy in San Antonio, Texas working for a company founded, run, and predominantly staffed by Latinos. Living in this city for most of a decade and being surrounded by a people and culture not inherent to my background provides a perspective on certain things that I might not have developed elsewhere.  I find that unconditionally positive.  Living in the Alamo City, or living and working with its people, will never confer ethnicity upon me, though.  I am not, nor will I ever be, Latino.  I will always experience some of the aspects of life here as an outsider.

Hispanic Heritage Month is being celebrated in the United States right now, having started on September 15th and ending October 15th.  As someone without a corresponding experience to compare , I recently asked some of my friends and coworkers how they felt about Hispanic Heritage Month.  Were they happy?  Proud?  Embarrassed?  Insulted?  Did they view it as an important and honorable recognition of the Hispanic contribution to our American culture, or did they feel it was an empty gesture that people used as an excuse to get drunk on margaritas and stuff themselves with burritos?


For the People: Herr Obama and the Socialist States of America

A basic principle upon which I’ve learned to live my life is that I should never be surprised at people’s ability to disappoint me. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and begin relationships from a position of trust. I believe that most people want to do what is right and good and fair. I have simply learned that I am often wrong about that, and I should not let myself get too down when people reveal themselves to be of a different persuasion.

As part of that principle, there comes a corollary requirement to forgive those who disappoint.
I have been feeling a great deal of disappointment lately. Though I have remained steadfast in my insistence on not being surprised, I’m having more difficulty with the forgiveness part. So, before I begin my criticisms of the poor behavior I’ve witnessed, let me take a moment to embarrass you fools who clicked into my post solely for the title, believing this would be another outlet to reinforce the hateful and barely masked racist attitudes you’ve promoted. You’re not going to find what you want here. I do hope you’ll stick around, though. It will be good for you.

I’m disappointed in our President. I feel that President Obama has squandered a tremendous amount of political capital and good will, just as his predecessor did. The people in our own country and throughout the world looked at the election as a graduation from our own past. Because our national history is riddled with inhumane transgressions against people of non-white races, to see a brown-skinned man elected to the highest office in the land gave all a sense that we were moving on, and the change in attitude towards race was interpreted as a signal of further and greater changes to come. Our President and the newly-empowered Democratic Congress have unfortunately demonstrated a tendency to stay the course, and follow in the footsteps of the “leaders” who participate in a puppet-show of political debate while allowing and assisting in quiet Constitutional erosion. But, to borrow a common quote from our Chief Executive, “let me be clear.” My complaints about Obama and the Democratic Party are based in reality. Comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, or shouting the word “socialist” every time a piece of legislation is designed to benefit all Americans (not just the rich ones) is nothing but hateful, lazy, and uninformed fiction.

Adolf Hitler is no longer simply a historical figure – a point of reference for those with an understanding of history. He’s the very opposite. He is a euphemism made possible by his wide recognition, and thereby becomes a simple and fast symbol to communicate negative characteristics to a populace without the time or inclination to think through such a comparison. He is a synonym for Darth Vader. Any person who dislikes another person can lazily invoke the name of Hitler as a slur and achieve some success at disparaging them. Just a partial list of the people who have been subject to that comparison includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, the nation of Israel, Clarence Thomas, Martha Stewart, Bill O’Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean, global warming, and vegetarians. It’s absurd. It’s wrong. It’s offensive.

When people discuss Adolf Hitler, is the major criticism that he wanted to ensure health care for all of Germany’s citizens? I don’t see that as Hitler’s defining characteristic. Socialism? There are many nations of the world that operate under socialist governments, yet we don’t label each of their leaders as another Hitler. Even if you want to label Obama as a socialist (and I’ll get to that fallacy in just a minute), I still know that the following conversation has never taken place:

“Class, I’d like you to get your text books and turn to page 213. Today we’re going to begin studying World War II, the Holocaust, and the evil of Adolf Hitler.”

“Mr. Professor, what made Hitler such an evil historical figure that he still evokes extreme disdain and nearly universal condemnation?” asked young Johnny.

“Well, Johnny,” said Mr. Professor, “He was a socialist.”

Never happened.

Comparing a fascist dictator responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews to a democratically elected President attempting to make sure all Americans have access to health care is reprehensible in every way. It might be wiser instead to remember that Hitler came to power and outlawed opposing political parties, which brings to mind Karl Rove’s blueprint for a permanent Republican majority. He cultivated a populist base by exploiting xenophobia and racial pride, like the Republican “birthers” and the persistent anti-immigration platforms of the Grand Ol’ Party. Those today so vocally opposed to same-sex marriage might be reminded that Hitler was also interested in the sanctity of that institution, and banned marriages between Jews and Aryans. He was a proponent of war and military expansion and was uninterested in the stress those pursuits might put on the national economy, an attitude mirrored by the last three Republican Presidents, at least. So if we want to draw comparisons, let’s make sure we draw them all.

It’s less offensive but equally absurd to paint our President or the Democrats in Congress as socialists. First of all, socialism is not a terrible concept. Like many other parts of our language it has been turned into a pejorative by people who have poorly understood it and misused it. It doesn’t help that the word became guilty by association with foreign governments that were often opposed by our own in the last century, even though those governments were not actually socialist but rather fascist. Have you ever seen those dreams of the future from the 1950’s, in which all of our lives were made better by robots and computers? The fantasies of a 20-hour work-week made possible by advances in technology – technology which would eliminate manual labor, solve the social ills of hunger, poverty, and illness? Those were illustrations of socialism – the application of technology and resources for the betterment of all members within a society.

Obama is no socialist, despite contrary misconceptions. He still supports the American capitalist idea that you can start with nothing, work hard, be competitive, and have it all. He’s actually not a bad example of that concept. He believes in that idea, as many Americans do despite the fact that they’ll never achieve it because they’ll never really be allowed the opportunity. Americans cling to the notion of rugged self-sufficiency without recognizing the publicly supported advantages they already possess, and remain willfully ignorant that barely-checked capitalism in this country has allowed the rich to get richer while the poor become poorer; that the gap between the two groups grows ever more wide; that the laws and organizations of the nation are undermined by corporate interests; and, that most citizens and a growing number of corporations benefit from “socialist” services all the time. I wonder how many people that have bandied about the word socialist at town hall meetings or at the dinner table or on Facebook in relation to their disapproval of our President have ever driven on a road, walked on a sidewalk, visited a public park, checked a book out from the library, had a relative on Social Security, called the police, learned something at a public school, left trash at the curb for pick-up, been thankful to have a fire department, cheered for a sports team at a publicly-funded arena, or supported our troops. Those services and benefits have all been as socialist as a national health care plan could be.

My point is simple. I’m not mad at you, just disappointed. Grow up. If you have a disagreement, discuss it like an adult. Name-calling has no place in civilized debate. It just makes it appear that you don’t know your facts because your ideas were spoon-fed to you in the first place.

Jake Negovan strives to shine a light on truth and hypocrisy when the mainstream media overlooks those small details. “…For the People,” Jake’s column, is his platform to address the issues that our country faces as we continue growing toward a society of equality.

For the People: The Symptom and the Sickness.

Off the northeast coast of Africa, pirates are disrupting the commerce of the seas and demanding ransoms from corporations for the safe return of men, cargo, and ships. On the southern border of the United States, there is a quiet war being waged amongst Mexican drug cartels and against the governments of two nations, while the body count for all is climbing faster upwards. President Barack Obama has made statements in recent days pledging to help bring both of these concerns to an end.

Upon initial assessment, it is easy to see the good in standing against these scourges. We’re talking, in both cases, about innocent lives being put in danger because of illegal activity. But let’s go against the grain of the mainstream media, and fight against the listen-without-thinking-or-analyzing-or-questioning tendency of our national ignorance to dig a little deeper. Come on – I’ll hold your hand if you need me to.

Guys in boats with machine guns who take hostages are bad. That’s pretty black and white. Let me remind you, though, that our world is not. We make cartoon villains out of every enemy we’ve ever had so that the government can sell us Cliff’s Notes on The Truth. The men who have become the faceless public enemy of the moment did not wake up one day and decide to become super-villains of the seas. The people of Somalia have endured over a decade of political and economic collapse that make present-day hardships in our country look like a vain inconvenience. Their economy didn’t recess, it practically vanished, and so did their government. As substitutes, they received first-class poverty and warring factions of self-interested opportunists.

Johann Jari, reporting for the San Francisco Bay Review in February, found that the “pirates” are not the bad guys in their own estimation. In fact, they feel just the opposite. They call themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia. What exactly are they guarding against? Foreign criminals that have taken advantage of Somalia’s volatile political situation. Corporations that rob Somalian waters of seafood that they once would have had to buy, and dump waste – nuclear waste – into the waters off the Somalian coast free of cost or consequence. Those guys in boats with machine guns who take hostages are doing it to stop the environmental abuses poisoning their people, and to collect money in lieu of the cash that would have been legally and fairly traded if the pirates had been able to remain fishermen.

Now, what if those young men in Somalia struggling with poverty and witnessing the poisoning of their families had another way to rise above their circumstances? What if they could farm, with little investment necessary at the beginning, and turn their crops into profit? Wouldn’t that be preferable to piracy? Well, that is the choice made by some Mexicans who have found that they can break the perpetual poverty their families have experienced for several generations. They grow drugs, or buy them from growers, at very low prices. They can then sell the cultivated and prepared drugs to American users at remarkable profit. It seems to me that they have sat outside our nation and looked through the window at capitalism, and learned it well. The men who make up the drug cartels did not go into that work because of a desire to peddle poison, or a lust for blood. They did it to make more money than they could have ever hoped to do otherwise.

I’m not naive enough to think that every pirate on the high seas nor every Escobar-in-the-making is a good-at-heart victim of circumstance that might be town mayor if the reality of their economy was just a little different. I do think that people by nature would rather build than destroy, and that most would rather contribute to their world than live as a parasite on its skin. As much as our governments, our police, and (let’s face it) our wealthy corporate puppet-masters want us to believe these people are monsters, they are essentially poor people just hoping to have a life comparable to the one they see us living. Point at their guns and call them evil. But if you tell me that you’ve never compromised your principles to get more than you otherwise would have, I will look upon you with a skeptical eye. How far would you have to be pushed, how far into poverty would you have to slip, how many of your kids or parents or siblings would you watch starve or suffer before you were willing to go to work with a gun in your hand?

The War on Drugs is a failure, yet we continue to escalate that war. For 40 years we have thrown money and effort at the effects of a problem without trying hard enough to find the cause of the problem. We don’t have a problem because drugs exist, or because they’re easy to get, or because drug dealers are greedy. We have a problem because people want them, and making their acquisition illegal creates a dangerous trade environment. People aren’t going to stop wanting drugs. Know why? Because we’ve already agreed that sense-altering, potentially dangerous substances are fun and sexy. They’re called liquor and tobacco. You’ve seen the ads.

Here is an illustration of where the War on Drugs has gotten us. A week after Obama’s visit to Mexico, I listened to a report on NPR about a girl who was strip-searched at the direction of her middle-school assistant principle in an attempt to discover unauthorized substances. The event happened in 2003. The girl was 13. Let me repeat for emphasis that a 13-year-old girl was strip-searched at her school for drugs. What was the supposedly just cause? Another student was found with drugs and claimed to have gotten them from this girl. Now do you think it was justified? How about when I tell you the drug in question was nothing but one 400mg ibuprofen? This case went before the Supreme Court just days ago, with the school continuing to claim that this search was acceptable. After all, the school has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs.

On the other side of the world, what do we have to show for our military actions against Somalian pirates? We have one guy, one corporate employee (whose life was probably never truly in danger from those pirates) being hailed as a hero for reasons that I don’t buy. We have one teenage boy being brought to a circus trial in the United States for actions that, while wrong and misguided, I believe to be defensible. We have three young men, probably also teenagers, dead at the hands of American snipers because they took drastic action when no other acceptable action was available to them. We still have hundreds of sailors being held hostage by pirates, not harmed, and being treated well by most accounts. And we still have Somalia, ungoverned and unprotected, producing more lawless men as long as there is no law to help them.

The connecting thread of these two concerns is that we tend to apply heavy-handed and poorly-reasoned measures to problems that require finesse and consideration. President Obama seems to be making the mistakes of all those who went before him by acting on the symptom and not the sickness. A lot of us expect more from him than that. The key to combating the pirates is not to start the War on Pirates – that’s the Bush way. The key is to help the people of Somalia establish a legitimate government that protects the interests of the populace, and to help stop foreign interests from looting Somalia’s resources. If you do that, there is no longer any appeal in becoming a pirate. The “pirates” are just men who want money, and if able to earn a reasonable amount in a fair and legal way, are likely to do so. The same goes for drug dealers. Legalize drugs and you remove the violence of the trade. You stop putting people in jail and turning them into ex-cons upon release. You also improve economies by legalizing an industry that has operated unregulated and untaxed. Then, educate, as we have shown to be effective in controlling alcohol and tobacco use. Create a commercial industry and men will put down guns to pick up a suit and tie.

There was another war that we started just a couple of years before Nixon created the War on Drugs. It was called the War on Poverty. You don’t hear much about it. It’s hard to turn it into a sexy summer movie. But maybe if we had spent more time and effort on that one, both wars would be history.