Archive for June, 2011


It is time that we have a little sanity about the immigration mess.  First, conservatives need to stop shouting “no amnesty” because there is no realistic way we have the money or the will to try to send 12 million people back where they came from.  Then the open border folks need to also stop yelling racism.  Sorry, but illegal, Italian, Mexican or Canadian, are not a race.  The reason the folks of Arizona have taken a hard line on the illegal immigrant issue is that the problems there have bred fear.  It was fear that pushed Roosevelt into incarcerating our innocent Japanese population in WWII.  Fear trumps rights every time it hits a certain level.  It is fear now that has driven my 75 year old brother in Phoenix to arm himself, which no one should have to do in this country.

What has driven fear in our border states?  It is certainly not fear of Latinos because these are the folks who teach in our schools, are our policemen, often our politicians and are the waitresses at Panera Bread.  However, no one wants to talk about the daily news:  lists of usually Hispanic names that are the 10 most wanted in Riverside County, the gangs that terrorize neighborhoods, the estimate that half our California prison population is made up of “undocumented” persons.  This is where fear breeds.  The sad situation that is ignored is that the thousands of illegals in our prisons are draining state money that could assist our law-abiding American Latinos to get the college education they want and need.  Add to that 24% of our high school students dropping out, with an even higher rate among Latinos.  That sad statistic indicates that we are growing a permanent underclass in the state that will further drain resources needed for education.  We in California already have 34% of the welfare recipients in the whole country and folks wonder where all the money is going!

Since this issue is so politicized with everyone using it for their own gain, the likely result is that the federal government will continue to do nothing.  Twenty years down the road the grandchildren of the illegal population won’t even know grandpa’s language, the folks that came over the fence when they were young will have learned how to play golf as seniors and the folks in Washington will continue to dither about a solution.  Anyone want to lay a bet on that?


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American Empire

On my volunteer day at the Palm Springs Airport USO it is my privilege to have conversations with our young military men and women.  Usually they are Marines headed for 29 Palms, a base that is a huge 500 square miles with about 18,000 servicemen plus their families.  Often these troops are either headed for a foreign country or returning from one, with places such as Okinawa, Iraq and Afghanistan quite common.  It is always a reminder of how far our American empire stretches.  I believe we now have 270 military locations around the world.  Now we have new “military actions” in both Libya and Yemen.  It is good to remember that the Korean War was never called a “war” but rather a “police action.”  As our countries debt now includes payments in the billions just for “interest” it is a good time to ask, are we stretched too thin and to ask “why.”  Let’s look to history for some guidance.

Spain had become a major world power as demonstrated by the fact that half the Americas became speakers of the Spanish language.  In 1588 Spain decided to attack the English and to cripple that kingdom led by Elizabeth I.  They spent the fortunes of the country on building a mammoth fleet of 150 ships, which came to be known as the Spanish Armada.  Through a few battles and other misfortunes, over 100 of their ships were sunk with only 50 returning to Spain.  The nation was never again a major world power.

The famous French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, had realized success with his brilliant leadership.  However, in 1812 he stretched his armies a bit too far, marching a few thousand miles into Russia and actually taking control of Moscow.  His supply lines were stretched too thin and the Russian winter finally sent him and his armies scurrying toward home.  This start of his decline is preserved in the book by Tolstoy and the film War and Peace.

In 1942 and 1943 Adolf Hitler disregarded the history of failed conquests in Russia and sent his armies into “the Eastern Front” with the loss of thousands of men and materials.  This effort culminated in what is known as the Battle of Stalingrad, with combined casualties of the two sides reaching two million men. As with Napoleon, the Russian winter and the fortitude of the Russian people took an immense toll.  By February 1943 the Germans headed for home.  So much of their manpower and materials were wasted in this exercise of Hitler’s ego, that it made the fight by the Allies much easier in the defeat of Germany and the Axis powers.

The examples used in this writing could probably be expanded by noting the fall of the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and to some extent the recent Soviet empire.  I also omitted the recent debacle of Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam where we lost 55,000 of our youth.   Hopefully the lessons of history are being reviewed by those making decisions for the United States.  Of course we should remain a military power, and without great sacrifices in the past we could be speaking German.  However, we need to have a national discussion on this issue.  For the coming election, I actually on see Congressman Ron Paul seriously addressing the issue but his “negatives” will not facilitate a rise to national leadership.

Perhaps we could contrast two different images of our nation, much as Christians do about Jesus Christ.  Through the history of the church at times the Creator and Victorious Jesus was front and center.  At other times the individual lives of the faithful followed the example of Jesus who washed feet.  At various times in our nation’s history we were the Conquering America and many times we were the Savior Nation, developing medicines, sending out youth in the Peace Corps and developing crops that would survive poor soil and provide food for millions.  Are we stretched too thin now to be both the Conquerors and the Saviors?  It is likely that one of our two identities will suffer because of the other.  It is time to debate and think things over, always with an eye on history.

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Our parents and aunts and uncles often told us about listening to the radio on December 7, 1941 and hearing the news bulletin that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  They all knew this was the start of a major war but they couldn’t have comprehended at that moment that the war we were entering would extinguish over 50 million lives across the globe in the next five years.  But at that moment, their lives all changed.  However, new events are part of life and continue endlessly.

On November 22, 1963 my unit at Fort Dix New Jersey was out running around the woods when we were ordered back to the company compound. This was a bit strange but so was everything the Army did. All the companies were lined up in front of their barracks and our young captain came out with somber face. “President Kennedy was shot and killed today in Dallas, Texas. We don’t have much more news at this time but will keep you advised.” Yeah, right. There was a TV down the street in a club if one could get in and we didn’t have computers or cell phones in those days. Rumors started floating which is typical of military units. One rumor was right: we were all restricted to the base. Since just months ago Kennedy had stood up to the Russians over missiles in Cuba, we wondered if this was a foreign attack. If it was war, the country was in trouble, because we hadn’t even completed our training on how to shoot our M-16s.  This is a prime example of how we remember events in our history, when world or national events also become one’s personal history.

The other Brad, a fellow United employee, and I were driving up Brea Avenue in L.A. just after midnight on June 5, 1968, when our radio station interrupted with a bulletin. Bobby Kennedy had just been shot and was presumed dead at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire. That was only a few miles from where we were driving. Bobby Kennedy was vying for the Democrat nomination for president and probably would have won. The younger Kennedy was a hero to Brad. He pulled his little blue Mustang over to the side of the street, dumfounded and broke into tears. Living through the 60’s had already been traumatic and now this.

Morning started like very morning at Spring Arbor University.  I was the assistant to Dr. B, president of the college on September 11, 2001. His first appointment came in at 8 AM and mentioned that a plane had hit a building in New York City and that it was on the news channel down in the student lounge.  After taking care of a few things I wandered down the hall to check out this odd occurrence.  Some other staff and a few students had hung around after breakfast and were watching the smoke rise from Tower One of the World Trade Center.  CNN was providing live coverage and the ever present commentary.

Within minutes as we stood there watching the second plane appeared and crashed into Tower Two with flames shooting out into the morning air.  Dumfounded, it took a couple minutes for even the commentators to realize that these were not some kind of random events.  The country was being attacked.  Hurrying back to my office I charged in on  Dr. Gayle and a school executive and, probably with some drama, told them what was happening.  Being the true assistant I of course advised them that soon we would need to do some kind of campus announcement.  Yes our students were young adults but some of them were also just 18 years old and barely out of high school.  Something tragic was transpiring for which these kids needed a substitute parent and pretty quickly.

Within an hour we had some students ready to drive from Michigan to Manhattan to “help” the wounded, give blood or whatever.  We talked them down and suggested they wait a bit to see if a call for help really would come and also suggested they might call home in the meantime.  By late afternoon a prayer gathering at the large local church was announced which gave the kids a chance to rely on their faith as well as each other.  In crises we are called to remain calm, put the brain “into gear” and be super aware of how those around us are responding.  One thing for sure happened that day:  an event became etched in the memories of the 1500 students on that campus.  That Day these kids took on what we have all experienced, major events morphing into personal memories.

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Saint Francis of Assisi taught that we should treat lepers, beggars and the “least of them” with compassion, because there is a good chance that they are angels in disguise, sent by God to test us.  A legend about his life claims that he once felt that he should embrace a leper, and when he did so the man vanished into thin air, leaving behind only a pile of  rags.  Well, we must be blessed here because God has obviously sent a lot of angels in disguise to Palm Springs.

I get to know a few of our down-and-outers at the Well where I volunteer one lunch time a week.  We get street people, poor folks and some that just need an assist with their food budget.  But a lot of the street folks don’t come because the food is served in a different place everyday and they have no way to get there in the heat if they have carts.  Larry is one of that last category.

Larry is a middle aged black man who is pretty much recognized around town.  He pushes a large industrial type dolly, loaded with his belongings and water jugs.  His main characteristic is to stand on a corner with his earphones on (I guess he has an iPod or something) and he bounces around like he is on a dance floor, his dolly nearby.  I am sure that folks who don’t know him avoid this dancer, thinking he is a nut case.  One night at the downtown street fair I saw him and for the first time said hello.  What do you say to a street “nut job” guy?  I told him thank you for bringing a smile to so many faces as they drive by and see him on the corners all the time.  He responded with a large grin and a thanks back for telling him that.

This morning on my mile walk back from Starbucks I saw Larry up ahead of me, walking on Sunrise.  Soon a nice car pulled over to the curb and handed him something, maybe a bottled water.  Then he crosses the street and at the light a lady in a BMW honked and waved at him.  At the corner I stopped and chatted for a minute, for the first time finding out his name.  I told him that I was one of the guys who honks at him when driving by and he just gave out a big laugh.

One day I would like to take Larry to lunch and listen to his life story.  Was he in jail, have a wife and kids, serve in the military, spend time institutionalized?  I have learned over time that no one begins their adult life hoping to end up on the street with a cart and sleeping behind hedges.  The ones who will tell their story always seem to have an “event” that sends their life into a spiral.  Some folks have a calling to help folks who are going into a spiral of despair but most of us don’t.  But there is nothing wrong with just waving and honking your horn or saying hello, to recognize someone’s existence as a human being.  Yep, they might also just be an angel in disguise.

This might be continued someday if I get to discover Larry’s story.

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