Sunday, April 23, 2017

my faith

A friend recently asked me to explain my own spiritual/religious beliefs.  My response:

I suppose I'm pretty spiritual too.  I certainly feel energy as trust, or fear or any number of underlying feelings that we have, which includes phenomena like remote viewing which the CIA experimented with, later the NSA, on subjects including survivors of intergenerational ritual abuse (I don't know whether you've heard about my years of bringing survivors and advocates to my classes, and close involvement with survivor activists, where early on I wandered into an active satanic site with a human grave marker, sacrificed animal, and all kinds of stuff two blocks from home).  I often find myself having thoughts that others, particularly my wife, often express.  So...for starters, esp is acceptable to me.
  My father was a non-practicing Jew from Minnesota, my mother a WASP from Louisiana.  I was sent to Protestant Sunday schools by my mom to "learn about the Bible," and I knew believed (as you can see below accepted for myself) that "God is love," until I reported to my mom that my Sunday school teacher, a Batelle scientist, had drawn a picture of the Nautilus nuclear sub and told us it was God's work (my mom was a pacifist; I think married my dad during WWII in part because he was 4-F for nearsightedness, my mom did all the driving, my dad rode a bike or took a cab to work).  In college (U of Michigan) I joined a de facto Jewish fraternity, where it was made clear by brothers during initiation and from Jewish sorority girls who wouldn't date me that since my mom was Gentile, "my parents wouldn't approve of my dating you," while of course I didn't get a bid from my grandfather and uncle's Sigma Chi because my name is Jewish.  So that kind of took care of my formal religiosity (and Jill fell out with the Catholic church in Poland after first communion).
   The summer after my first year of college, I got a scholarship to get my start on becoming a Chinese language and literature major.  (I knew I wanted to become a lawyer like Clarence Darrow, and law schools didn't care what I majored in.  In fact, my major got me into Harvard Law School, where Jerome Cohen had moved from Berkeley after becoming the first US law prof to specialize in Chinese Communist law; and where my third year of law school was paid by an NDFL scholarship, which in turn got me my legal internship in the State Dept.'s legal advisor's office for East Asian Affairs.   And I recall thinking at the time that Laodze's Daodejing was my first spiritual guide.  I also embrace Buddhism, which as the Dalai Lama puts it compassion becomes the highest value across formal religions.
   As I turned toward Asian Studies, I had the feeling that the spirit of love I embraced came from a Chinese general.  Decades later, I discovered that Japanese WWII supreme commander Isoroku Yamamoto had been shot down, later found lying strapped to his aircraft seat holding his samurai sword, nine months to the day before I was born, April 18, 1944.  I also accept that the spirits of people with whom I have lived, such as my parents, live on in me, as I expect to see my will to love informed and strengthened in those who live after me, and sometimes procreate too.
  As to life after death for myself, who knows whether it will take any form in which "I" become aware of this life of mine, or disappear?  As to earthly immortality, I concluded long ago as I sang in nursing homes that any of us is lucky to live latter years aware that we have made a significant difference for the better in at least one other person's life.  I know I have that, and also that I have been blessed to live many interesting, in many ways rich and sometimes reckless lives in one lifetime, which I expect to be doing once more in a year when Jill and I move to Durango.  I have experienced so much, I have enjoyed so much love and respect and appreciation: I am so lucky simply to have lived at all, and yes, I can even imagine enjoying another lifetime of consciousness even if that part of me turns out to be unaware of our history together.  Call me an agnostic believer:-)  l&p hal

Monday, April 17, 2017

US Military Policy on Patriot's Day

US Military Policy on Patriot’s Day as Containment

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

April 17, 2017


                We now have retired generals in charge of the Defense Department and the National Security Agency, veterans of combat and war games strategy, and a Secretary of State who apparently respects military advice and to synchronize it with political foreign policy.  I look on the recent series of military events—dropping a Mother Of All Bombs on Afghan resistance underground central command center, bombing a Syrian air base to uselessness, and I join others in speculating, setting off self-destruct mechanisms in missiles North Koreans have tried to launch.  Each is a case, two overt and one covert, of a measured signal that—as Vice President Pence put it yesterday in South Korea—we will take measured means to teach you, or in Afghanistan’s case force you, to desist.  I can imagine that the Secretary of State carried that message to President Putin when they recently met, to pass the message that the US held the Syrian government responsible for all nerve gas attacks, and would take “whatever measures necessary” to respond to any further gas attacks.  And I can’t help thinking that someone, perhaps even Trump during his recent visit with the Chinese president, has let North Koreans know that the US with not allow North Koreans to succeed in launching any missile that could even reach Japan.   And voila, the US vice president happens to visit South Korea just as the North Koreans are celebrating the birthday of Kim Il-Sung, and the missile no doubt to cap the North Korean’s celebration of defensive strength went poof.  Whatever covert messages the North Koreans may have received, I imagine they’re aware that the US government—including a president who by now openly accepts and respects his newly minted senior military and foreign policy advisers—will officially stay silent or deny any claims to have destroyed the missiles North Korea goes to such lengths to launch, and dare the North Koreans to admit they are militarily so weak.

                Whatever gets worked out diplomatically will be led by Secretary Tillerson, who appears in these early moments in office to be working in close partnership with his military counterparts.  I’m not a fan of punishment and violence, but practically speaking, I find myself respecting the discipline by which today’s US government sets limits on its tolerance, its containment of violence.  Love and peace, hal

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Corporate Restorative Justice

United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz Follows Restorative Justice Script

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

April 13, 2017


                Just as I’ve been writing and reflecting on the process of victim-offender reconciliation as described and experienced in mediation, I heard a major corporate CEO follow the script mediators aspire to have offenders follow.  It is the incident of a paid and booked Vietnamese-American being wrestled out of his seat and off the plane to make way for an airline crew.

                What crucial stages does the offender go through?   First, s/he apologizes directly to the victims and their families.  Then, having heard and acknowledged the harm done, s/he makes amends.  Yesterday in media interviews, in an NPR interview, I heard United Airlines Oscar Muñoz literally do that, first saying, “I’m ashamed,” then apologizing to the victim and his family in particular and customers generally, and offered cash “amends” to those affected, promising that no such incident would ever happen again (  Somewhere, somehow, Mr. Muñoz has learned the textbook elements of mediation.  It’s worth noting that a private-sector for-profit corporate chief executive believes that accepting responsibility and making amends for harms one does, pays.  Love and peace, hal

Monday, April 10, 2017

Interaction of Political and Cultural Change

Interaction of Political and Cultural Change

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

April 10, 2017


                I have just returned from a conference on “Critical Intersectionalities of Crime and Social Justice” at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.  Profound thanks to the graduate student association of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice managed to bring in keynote speakers from as far away as Italy, and provide all the meals I as a participant needed to feed myself from beginning to end, with free registration.  What a remarkable feat, and how much I got to share and learn with old friends and new ones, including making music together.  Thanks again.

                I have a habit of asking myself what substantive conversation most profoundly disconfirmed stereotypes on one hand and helped me affirm further define for myself and those I’m having conversations with the roles I choose to play as an economically privileged white man privileged to have managed to avoid even traffic tickets, let alone legal felonies I have committed.  At this conference, that moment came during discussion at a session on police violence against people of color, notably murder of African-Americans, going unprosecuted and unpunished.

                When a white friend and experienced mediator and I proposed transcending getting legal justice, black people in the session responded that if we had grown up being black, we would be angry and want convictions and punishment to show us white folks that black lives matter.  Then as now, I agree.  My principal responsibility is to change my own kind, whose racist political domination has driven mass incarceration represents the US Constitution’s exception to the 13th Amendment’s prohibition on slavery…for penal servitude.

                In his essay “On the Jewish Question,” Karl Marx argued that, as attempted by the Chinese Communist Party, first the underclasses had to gain political power over their oppressors, then in self-interest come to a cultural transformation, a state of “human emancipation”—the revolution to end all revolutions.  I propose that the two social movements can be built simultaneously, symbiotically.

                When I first got to know survivors of inter-generational ritual murder and cannibalism historically coinciding in the US with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan who in rare cases sought legal retribution against those who had raped and tortured them from infancy, I learned that it is not my place to judge victims’ choices for legal justice, for punishment of their torturers.  It is instead my duty as one privileged to have grown up safely to respect their decisions, recognize rather than try to change the pains they have suffered which I have been privileged to avoid, and respect their primary authority to decide to pursue prosecution as fully as their anger demands and the justice system allows.  Opening ways to transcend the anger, pain, loss and injustice suffered by people of color depends white people’s political recognition, in practice, that arresting, detaining, convicting and punishing, let alone shooting and killing is as wrong and unacceptable when white people do it, especially those given legal authority to use force and confinement, to use violence, in the white supremacist system of enforcing law-n-order.  You can’t move people to change the system until there’s enough recognition by the dominant political class that the system is inherently unfair and provocative of the violence it seeks to oppose, and instead joins and leads.  Of equal importance, you can’t persuade people to give up on systematic punishment, from children by adult “caregivers” to law enforcement, or for that matter in war, until the oppressors acknowledge that “the system” is inherently unjust.  Speaking from my own position of privilege, it is my responsibility not to speak for black people, but to spread and amplify their voices, their feelings, their demands for justice on their own terms.  That’s one of the responsibilities I accept.  It’s real, and it’s not my place to change “those people,” but to try to change my own kind first and foremost, to get us to give up on the punishment we do and support, as the prevailing, self-serving punishers…my other responsibility.  Members of oppressed classes are capable of commitment to non-violent change rather than punishment, among my leading role models in cultural transformation of violence, as in my own country, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harriet Tubman…just for starters.  I also have come to respect and support the primary right of victims to obtain justice on legal principle, on their own terms.  The primary responsibility to persuade my own kind, let alone people of color, that mediating resolution of conflicts and violence in all our relations, rather than punishing those we hold power over, is in my own economically, white, male, adult practical self-interest, whether I’m a perpetrator or a victim.  I also have admiration for black sisters and brothers who somehow respond to the injustice of their individual and collective pain, oppression, anger, loss and fear, to transform violence itself in their own communities and in mine.  May political and cultural transformation proceed hand-in-hand, victims and offenders playing their own roles in getting harm and injustice recognized, let alone transformed.  I come to the project of social change as a member of the offender class, primarily responsible for transcending the impulse to establish order by punishment itself…driven by awareness of the damage that systematic domination does itself.  Once more, many thanks to the student organizers of the conference, and to learning from and being moved by those over whom I have been born to hold privilege and pass judgment, to oppress.  Love and peace, hal



Sunday, April 9, 2017

"If You Can't Afford a Lawyer"

“If You Can’t Afford a Lawyer”

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

April 9, 2017


                I have long known there are differences between public defenders’ offices which represent clients more thoroughly than many private attorneys at lower-end prices (e.g. Colorado public defenders trained hired and managed at the state level, as I have observed from the time my son-in-law became one, through his present position as a district who has worked to reduce jail populations and levels of sentencing to prison), and those who focus on plea-bargaining (as I observed to be common practice every morning I appeared in and around courts in Boston as a student public defender).

                Just now on NPR I listened to this week’s hour-long radio episode on Reveal Radio, at

New Orleans, Lousiana, Parish, who with his staff has decided to decline all serious felonies so that within their increasingly limited budget (funded by Louisiana by declining traffic fines during flood disasters), they can provide effective counsel to as many lower-level clients as the US Constitution demands…which means that those face more time with higher bail are left in jail without counsel, period.  He welcomes the federal suit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the constitutionality of holding federal detainees who have no counsel in federal court.  Meanwhile, the parish jail, under court order to limit the local jail population, have sent detainees to other parishes, including one at a northern corner of the state, whom a public defender cannot manage to visit personally and so does so via the prison phone, whose security is questionable.

                To make things worse, the state requires that those who accept public defenders have to pay $40 up front both to have the public defender appear in court, and another $45 up front that is forfeited if the defendant is found guilty of anything.

                The program moves to follow a public defender and a defendant in a parish where all cases are plea-bargained, the price the defenders pay for giving detainees a speedy trial, followed up with confirmation that this continues to be common practice as I found it to be in 1963-65.

                It is nice to find a public defender who refuses to fail to fully defend his clients.  It is a tribute that he acknowledges the suffering he has caused those he refuses to represent, where the work involved in preparing an adequate defense expands considerably.  The program traces the efforts of one private attorney who accepts a one-dollar fee to obtain the defendant’s alibi for multiple attempted murder charges (photos of him out of town).

                When you consider what it costs taxpayers to detain needlessly and force innocent detainees to bargain for “lower” but still serious prison time, the program and those it gives voice to make a pretty good case that providing adequate assistance of counsel saves taxpayer dollars.

                I seriously recommend the podcast of this program to anyone who wants to understand how seriously those who cannot afford bail are often innocent, probably far, far more so than those on death row who have been exonerated by concerted legal effort.  It makes a stronger case than I’ve encountered in any textbook for the realities of criminal defense for the indigent, and the hope it inspires (in me at least) that even underpaid, seldom noticed public defenders and their constitutional rights allies may have the potential to make a huge part of incarceration in the US go away, including the innocent in far outnumber the murder exonerations which gain so much public attention.  Love and peace, Hal