Saturday, September 29, 2012

check Bill Moyers and Co. this wk on the American Legislative Exchange Council

...or ALEC, the source of legislation that feeds the for-profit side of the prison-industrial complex.  It's this week's program at .

love and peace--Hal

Friday, September 21, 2012

videos: me on drugs; inter-amer conf on human rights

The Institute of International Relations at the University of West Indies in Trinidad has posted video streaming of today's Seminar of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (4 hrs.) and my presentation on drug legalization at the International Conference on Penal Abolition in Trinidad last June (12 min.), on the IIR website at .  l&p hal

Thursday, September 20, 2012

meanings of life

Hal Pepinsky,,
September 20, 2012
                These days I’m exchanging a lot of emails with a beloved cousin who is a Catholic priest.  Somehow, recently, we got back into whether abortion is murder.  My cousin asked me how I could claim to respect life and not oppose taking an innocent life.  In the moment, I responded that I don’t distinguish taking innocent lives from taking guilty ones.  And I told him that I thought he and I meant two different things by the “life” we hold sacred, and that I wanted to think my own definition over and try putting a straight answer into a blog.  So Cousin Nick, this one’s for you.
                I just came back from the Thursday singalong at my mom’s nursing home up the way.  She sleeps a lot in her wheel chair, but lifts her head and looks me in the eyes when I sing a love song she taught me, “Girl of My Dreams.”  The nursing director, Kristine, and I play guitars and harmonize on old time favorites.  I feel the vibration as my eyes lock with other singers’ and with eyes of those who otherwise sit still.  I smile and laugh with those who sing and clap.  By the time our half hour together ends, my voice is strong and clear, and I feel a surge of energy that carries me smiling through the day.  To my thinking, I get a dose of synergy in my relations with others.  The music we create together is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.  These are expressions of the life force I hold dear.   It is the force that brings human lives into harmony in all our relations.  Within the lifetime of each of us, the force is the homeostasis that fends off bodily decay.  Indeed, it appears to me to be the force that gives form and substance to all matter.  That force embraces, energizes and empowers us when we let it happen, as we let go of being transfixed by striving to get somewhere in particular.
                We can’t kill the force that created us and turns our lives and bodies into food for future generations, but we can obstruct and “correct” it by trying to make ourselves and others get somewhere or do something or be somebody.  That amounts to trying to make instruments of ourselves and others to reaching some earthly goal.  Our lives depend on cooperation in trying to get jobs done;  trying to get it done to the same specifications regardless of who gets hurt or left out is unsustainable—too entropic, too socially heated, wasteful of human energy.  It isn’t death; the life we embody precedes conception and lives through us when life as we know it dies.
                I don’t know one way to define murder.  I know people go to great lengths to stop murder by killing those they blame, including people who call each other murderers.  As Karagwa Byanima, a Ugandan freedom fighter who entered parliament when Idi Amin was overthrown, assured me, I speak as one spared the killing and torture she had endured.  I feel I have no right to judge people for killing because I can’t distinguish right killing from wrong killing in my own mind and heart.  Assuredly, though, “murder” is an occasion for taking what safety measures one can first, then attending the bereaved and killer for the sake of building what harmony one can out of loss and threat.  That is the only way I know to honor and embrace life in action.  And so, dear cousin, I feel unqualified to have an opinion on whether abortion is murder, or to distinguish good from evil.  Love and peace--hal

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

cutting losses with dignity

Hal Pepinsky,,
September 18, 2012
                A US colonel in Afghanistan announced in time for this morning’s US news that US ground forces would no longer “support” Afghani patrols and police.  And since our military would never dare give command of our air power, especially one that might be infiltrated by “the Taliban.”  And oh yes, the Afghanis have to supply their own troops now.
                Reportedly, US-Afghani political relations are “strained.”  I imagine that Afghani  ex-patriots who relied on the promise of firm US support to return home, are feeling betrayed by a US-led NATO occupation that is abandoning them, just as a succession of leaders of national reform or liberation movements from Ho Chi-Minh at the outset of the Cold War on, has been used and abandoned to suit US realpolitik.  It is particularly galling, I’m sure, to hear “Americans” tell you that we have given you more than enough chance to clean up your act, and if you can’t make it on your own now, it’s your own fault.  This sense of national superiority and infallibility galls me too.  But my conscience tells me that it is better to be abandoned sooner rather than later by US largesse.  However much the bloodshed continues in the wake of US withdrawal into fortresses in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will always be worse the longer we remain present outside our fortress walls.
                As importantly, the firmness of President Obama’s withdrawals saves “American” lives too. As safety required Norwegians to sentence Anders Breivik to life in prison, so transforming the violence of US military occupations may need to begin by separation of us from them.  Indeed, on its face national self-governance requires that colonizers and occupiers let go, which always happens by degrees, not as wholesale change.  Stripped of political correctness, the president has decided that we are not going to win these wars, and that he is going to save US life and limb especially as fast as politics and the safety of our troops permit.  Kudos to the US president and our military for continuing to back out of Afghanistan during a close US election.
                It takes even more courage to withdraw knowing that resistance fighters, seeing that they have us on the run, will celebrate their victory over invading non-believers by nipping at our tails, killing and humiliating us by bits and pieces as our young fighters struggle to return home safely and with a shred of dignity.
                Non-military war resisters made the mistake of vilifying troops returning from Vietnam, and we certainly owe returning troops respect for having risked so much to serve others, and more dignity back home than relegating them to our streets, hospitals and prisons.  Adding blame to anyone, and declaring winners and losers doesn’t help make anyone safer and more secure.
                Requiring any party to apologize or to “accept responsibility” for a war only gets in the way of de-escalation.  It isn’t necessary.  Gandhi is among those who called upon conflicting parties to end their impasse by embracing one another as friends.  I may have happened to have long believed that landlocked, mountainous Afghanistan could no more ever have been or will be conquered than its European counterpart, Switzerland.  I may wish that Afghanistan is the overt invasion to end all overt US invasions, as I did when the last US helicopter rose out of the US Embassy in Saigon.  The realist in me is grateful to get US withdrawal on any terms my government and media want to use.
                Plea bargain ceremonies before US criminal court judges drove home to me the absurdity of demanding contrition, remorse, or acknowledgment of having learned somebody else’s lesson.  When a defendant has signed onto a bargain reached between her/his lawyer and the prosecutor exchanging a guilty plea to a certain offense for a sentence, and the judge has agreed to the deal, the defense attorney and client stand before the bench as the judge, step by step, requires the defendant to assure, on the record, that this plea is voluntary (never mind that the defendant can’t make bail), and that s/he has indeed done each element of the crime charged.  I have sat there knowing that defendants knew themselves to be innocent, but who couldn’t wait in jail for a trial date.  The ceremony is a farce.  So it often turns out to be too, when people who batter their partners apologize and promise never to let it happen again.
Conversely, governments like all power holders may well back off and do what I think is the right thing while justifying it for the wrong reasons.  When the trustees of my university approved a policy opening faculty promotion and tenure files to public inspection, I called a press conference to catch the president as he left the meeting, to shake his hand and thank for doing the right thing, without further comment.  It wouldn’t have helped for me to claim victory, nor to point to how many years it had taken the administration to recognize what the on its face had always required.  So it is in the diplomatic world that face-saving accords have supplanted the unconditional surrenders we required to stop pounding Germans and Japanese.  So it is in common practice in consent decrees US regulators enter into as they extract fines and other sanctions from corporate wrongdoers.
I have been exposed to many training protocols for victim-offender mediation or conferencing.  Some place a premium on offender apologies.  I have never asked for apologies.  Some require that those labeled offenders “admit responsibility,” for their alleged legal transgressions, as in pleading guilty beforehand.  I’m mainly interested in honesty regardless of whether I hear what I might want to hear.  I may feel personally obliged to listen actively and self-critically in a mediation process; that is my offer of a way of relating, not a demand.  If parties realistically and voluntarily accommodate one another, I don’t find it necessary to push them to do so with conscious insight.  Many of the wonderful ways we respond to one another happen without being thought of or put into words.  Insight may promote settlements of wars, but giving dignity to those who settle takes precedence over requiring insight in others.  Peacemaking happens in many real ways.  Love and peace--hal

Monday, September 17, 2012

a wave of US peacemaking

Hal Pepinsky,,
September 17, 2012
                I just heard a wave of peacemaking sweep over National Public Radio.  On one news talk show after another , hosts and guests seriously addressed the question of what the current wave of Muslim anti-US protest is about.  Yesterday they had begun asking about the video and whether its publication might justify the demonstrations.  Today, the dialogue was split between arguing that the demonstrations represent an insignificant number of Muslims so let’s not make a big deal of it on one hand, to acknowledging the long historically reinforced perception that people in predominantly Muslim nations were backward and needed to learn to understand and appreciate superior Euro-American values.  From locally an Ohio State political science professor to the Executive Director of the Council on Foreign Relations, commentators stressed the reality of the widespread anti-Americanism across the Muslim-majority world for a history of Euro-American disrespect, denigration, colonization, exploitation, and today, pretending that the US has a God-given destiny to bring its enlightenment and democracy while supporting despotic rulers who massively torture them and restrict their civil rights.  That all presidents from Eisenhower on had a history of perpetuating this policy.  And that it was time for us all in the US to wake up to our own role in further inflaming anti-US fear and anger, especially after US-driven invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
                How refreshing it was to hear these voices of empathy from out of the US.  I call it an act of peacemaking.  It is the crescendo of a little wave of reflection from the US in response to the small but widespread anti-US murders followed by marches on US diplomatic posts.  Short as the US media attention span generally is, I expect we will now drift back toward beefing up US military security and trying to identify and track down the number one villains who murdered a beloved US ambassador.  In the best of circumstances, peacemaking is an incremental process.  The increments are particularly slow when it comes to the intergenerational process of transforming a national political culture.  Small as the wave of peacemaking I celebrate here may be, it is an infinitely significant peacemaking event.  It is significant because it is such a rare US news media event.  It shows that peacemaking can come unexpected from anywhere.  It draws a wave of surprisingly sympathetic call-ins.  It will be heard and noticed by many people in the US.  It may marginally and momentarily pleasantly surprise those who hold anti-US sentiments—that not all “Americans” hold the sentiments they normally hear us express.
                A commitment to peacemaking entails limited expectations, what social psychologist Karl Weick some forty years ago call a strategy aimed at “small wins,” which are the only changes that ultimately transform a group’s consciousness.  And so today, I celebrate the little wave that rolls through NPR, and thank the spirit of love and compassion that binds us for this blessing.  L&p hal

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Roots of anti-US rage

Hal Pepinsky,,
September 15, 2012
                Better watch out, you might get what you wish for.  In my last blog post, I wished that the USG and news media ask themselves whether under our law, the video trailer caricaturing Mohammed didn’t constitute a hate crime as surely as the federal prosecution’s position is on Amish beard and hair cutting.  Wow, did I get my wish.  The alleged author of the video has been interviewed by the FBI and is back in court to show cause why his probation shouldn’t be revoked.  The news media are falling all over who these “rioting” Muslim mobs are and why they get upset over one obscure video.  My president and my media are once again showing the world that “Americans” take crime seriously and detest the video, while showing that unlike some countries, we staunchly defend the right of politically and religiously offensive speech.  The message is consistent, and earnest, as in the sadness “Americans” feel over the loss of four of our people (in contrast to people who throw their lives away in suicide bombings), and in the fear we feel that for the first time in this generation, our diplomats have been murdered inside a compound flying our national flag.  And from our president, we expect and appreciate the seriousness with which our president is quietly but firmly bringing all our military and economic might to bear to ensure that no foreign government ever let’s this happen again.  In criminologists’ terms, we are doing all we can to prevent recidivism.
                As luck would have it, just before the invasion of the US consulate, in a post on “criminology as diplomacy,” and in a preceding post on “peacebuilding v. peacemaking,” I proposed that from victim-offender mediation to gang violence, we shift our frame of reference from turning once and future criminals and their young cohorts into model citizens, to mediating among opposing individuals (as in victim-offender mediation) and in groups (horizontally, as in negotiating and maintaining truces between gang leaders by respecting them; or vertically, as between employer and employee, or prisoners and guards).  That is, that we apply the principles of diplomacy rather than of military strategy to violence we call crime by principles diplomats employ as between warring parties.  Now, having gotten my wish that we attend to who is upset by our video and why, I return from diplomacy in the streets to international diplomacy, and wish that US politicians and media would shift from diplomacy that focuses on identifying and bringing individuals on all sides who are guilty to justice, to looking at how on earth that absurd little video trailer could have sparked such an over-the-top response by Muslims from Cairo and Benghazi to Sydney so far.  I think it’s a cop-out to dismiss the scale of the reaction of morally inferior outlaws drawn together by a fanatic willingness to kill over cartoons.  As pioneering family psychologist Virginia Satir proposed in the late sixties that we look beyond treating the “identified patient” like a problem child to treating the child as the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.  I think characterizing any outpouring of violence as irrational is an irrational way, a self-defeating way, to respond to violence that no one is in a position to stop.
                I see the collective violence against symbols of US government presence as a mini-explosion of pent-up anger and indeed terror of all the “American” suppression, surveillance, and repeated anti-Islamically directed invasions, and of the greatest reign of military against concentrations of Islam since, to borrow President Bush II’s words in a state of the union speech and elsewhere, the last Christian Crusade, where on “American” front lines, Muslims became “towel heads,” where once Filipino and Vietnamese national liberation fighters had been called monkeys and “gooks.”  I can’t stop it, but for years what I see as a US military, cultural and economic war that is to me blatantly built on stereotypes of followers of a religion, despite the fact that from my community through the Mideast to Asia, Muslims keep trying to tell us that Islam means followers of the path of peace, and that those who terrorize “Americans” in the name of Islam are to them as foreign and repugnant as the idea of killing for Christ would be to almost all Christians.
                I won’t bother here to go through another litany of what I consider US military terrorism and willingness to embrace “Muslim” despots for the sake of global hegemony in the name of defending democracy, which through the superiority of US military technology and spending, is gaining mastery of the art of killing anyone the president openly or secretly declares to be on the US most-wanted list, to say nothing of the political culture that gives rise to a furor at the gall and insensitivity of building a Muslim community center near Ground Zero.  In the Geometry of Violence book published in 1991, in a chapter written in 1989, I pointed out that even before the Cold War ended, an axis separating East from West shifting to an access between North and South, where the prevailing differences were between a Christian region dominated by whites, and a Muslim stronghold in a hemisphere dominated by people of color.  I’m not a Muslim, but the prevailing anti-Islamic attitude in my country’s political culture has angered me, especially because it is so absurd for “Americans” to believe that scaring and terrorizing our “enemies” as mightily as we have made “Americans” at home and abroad, as now in Benghazi.  Notice that I keep putting “Americans” in quotes.  We in the US get that name from the first European ship’s captain to set foot in Latin America.  To call our country “America” and ourselves “Americans” connotes what President John Monroe declared in 1815, that the US is and “under God” deserves to be the political and economic center that speaks for the “democratic” interests of both Western Hemispheres.  For those who attack our citizens, property and symbols, calling us “Americans” is a tribute to our international hegemony—all the more dangerous because it is so much more than a little land mass of 4 or 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants.  That is why I refer to my country instead at the US.
                I see the wave of anti-US street violence as a brushfire flaring up of anger at US anti-Islamic political, military and economic domination.  And here in the US, we do seem to be determined to remain recognized as being the world’s Number One at whatever we do.
                Many are the ways that US inhabitants choose to serve their country, including those who out of love of homeland gives their lives and limbs for their country.  I speak from an enviable  position of personal safety and privilege.  Perhaps my way of serving my country is a product of my life of luxury and privilege, although I know, and international critics of US policy like Arundhati Roy affirm, that there are many “Americans” who share her resistance to what the world sees as “being American,” especially so in a time of national frenzy over which candidate for president most epitimozes the personal qualities we want the world to see as truly “American,” in the service of “God’s” will.  For my own personal safety’s sake at home and abroad, and to serve what I perceive to be the interests of the people of my country, I want to be as clear as I can to foreigners that I am a radical critic of the politics and fiscal management that prevail in my homeland.  When I do so, I want to be known more for the attention to foreign concerns and knowledge of “their” thinking than for self-condemnation of my people for their xenophobia and chauvinism.  I want them to know that I will not take it personally if any “outsider” criticizes my people any more than I do.  There was a period when I felt deep guilt and shame for being an American.  I think I’m pretty much past taking US violence so personally.  In another positive sense, I do feel responsible for the privileges of US citizenship in where my family and I live and thrive.  When I am a guest abroad, I am wary of coming across as a foreign expert who knows what good for people in other countries, but I do want to be able to talk about violence and peacemaking wherever I am invited or visit outside my country.  At this moment, I want to be known as among those who figure that while publication of the notorious video may be highly improbable, the outpouring of anger it has sparked is understandable.  And to raise among my US neighbors the belief I share that as a nation, from genocide of indigenous “Americans” and enslavement of Africans on, we have a lot of bloodshed and economic exploitation to atone for.  Love and peace--hal