A Mostly Minor Injustice Reveals The Evil Beneath

Buyer Beware: How HeathPartners Subverts ObamaCare To Further Enrich Themselves by Steve Clemens, December 27, 2013
I’m sure all of us have found examples of the evilness of supposedly “non-profit” health insurance companies as they seek to maximize their bottom lines. This complaint is only for $73.24 so it doesn’t qualify for major outrage but does go to illustrate the lengths to which insurance companies go to justify the obscene salaries they pay their corporate officers and then use their “profits” to buy up smaller health providers in their march to secure more.
At age 63, I’ve been plagued by decreasing hearing loss and have gone to an Audiology Clinic run by HealthPartners. I like the audiologist and he takes time to explain my hearing loss and his recommendation to get hearing aids to both enhance my hearing ability as well as hopefully slow down or avoid further deterioration. As a conscientious consumer, I price out similar styles of hearing aids at nearby Costco with the HealthPartners’ model and with the price being competitive, decide to buy the HeathPartners’ ones for $2,600 because of the ability of Dr. Geddes, the Audiologist, to take the time to carefully explain my choices. I’ve had the hearing aids for almost a year and a half and they seem to work well. Dr. Geddes asks me to return annually to re-check my hearing and make sure the hearing aids are working properly.
Meanwhile, my health insurance carrier changes due to my wife’s employer and then retirement and I’m now at the “mercy” [sic] of Blue Cross/Blue Shield who must now share the blame with HealthPartners for my unfolding complaint. Under the Affordable (Health) Care Act, aka ObamaCare, all insurance carriers must provide “preventive care” at no additional co-pay for their customers. Because my new policy has a higher deductible, I want to be sure my return for the annual check-up is covered before I go. So I call both Blue Cross, the insurer, and HealthPartners, the provider, prior to my appointment last July to be sure I won’t have to pay out-of-pocket for this check-up since its purpose is similar to an annual physical. Both parties tell me it “should be covered” – however with the proviso that it will depend on how the visit is “coded”. I make the appointment, stressing that I merely want only this as an annual check-up. The visit goes well, the doctor is his usual helpful self but tells me the “coding” for the visit is done by another department.
It take about a month or so to get the “Explanation of Benefits” statement from Blue Cross (maybe I should add “the ones who put the ‘BS’ into Blue Shield” – but their system is no more or less transparent than the other insurance vultures out there) and notice at the bottom the “amount you owe” is $73.24 after the insurance payment of $63.72. Since it says “THIS IS NOT A BILL” at the top, I hope that I won’t see a bill from the provider. But, alas, the envelope bearing the HealthPartners’ logo with the clear window allowing the customer’s name and address arrives the next month telling me to “Pay This Amount”: $73.24. However, the figures they list to get to this magic total owed by me is different than my “Explanation of Benefits” from BC/BS. The former claims the charges to be $96 with an insurance payments/adjustment of $22.76 while the latter tells me the charges are really $179 but the “allowed amount” is only $136.96 so $42.04 becomes the “Provider Responsibility Amount) meaning Blue Cross thinks HealthPartners is over-charging for this “service”. BC/BS tells me it is paying $63.72 but still leaves me with the same $73.24 owed to the provider as my “Deductible Amount”.
So I call HealthPartners to dispute the bill. The “billings” employee I talk to on the phone is quite friendly and hears my complaint. After explaining that I called both BC/BS and HealthPartners before making the appointment, and also telling the doctor that I wished to be seen only for my annual check-up, she told me they will order a “code review” and will contact my insurer so I should not pay the bill until it was reviewed. Finally I received a letter informing me that “HealthPartners Clinics are committed to providing quality customer service and an exceptional patient experience. The coding for your services … has been reviewed and confirmed to be accurate.” It went on to say I could fill out an appeal form if I wished to dispute this decision. The letter was not signed but “HealthPartners Patient Accounting Representative” was helpfully typed after the “Sincerely,”. I filled out the form, hoping for some sanity in this morass.
The letter from Flannery Daley, Operations Manager of HealthPartners Patient Accounting came last week. I must quote the explanation: “This service was covered by your insurance and was applied towards your deductible. Generally speaking, if there is a problem-related diagnosis, a service is not considered preventive. Because you have a diagnosis of hearing loss, the annual check is not considered preventive. Therefore, the $73.24 that Blue Cross Blue Shield has applied towards your deductible for this service will not be waived.”
It would have been helpful if HealthPartners or the doctor would have told me this when I made the appointment! Following this logic, I must pay for my annual eye exam since I wear glasses. I should pay for my annual physical because I am “overweight” – all this despite the clear wording of ObamaCare that all insurance companies must provide this preventive care at no additional cost. I can’t say for sure that a Single-Payer plan will cure all these problems but I do know that getting insurance companies out of the mix would greatly enhance the “exceptional patient experience” HealthPartners promised me.
My friends from Iraq just scratch their heads trying to figure out the total confusion and obfuscation of the “Health Care” [sic] system our politics has saddled us with. My new insurance provider starting January 1 doesn’t have HealthPartners Audiology in their “network”. Now, I’ll need to call again before my annual “check-up” this fall.
In all fairness to HealthPartners, this rip-off pales in comparison to my son’s itemized bill from Allina Health for his emergency room visit this fall to Abbott Northwestern Hospital: 4 chewable aspirins (81 mg) listed at $26.40 – a bargain since only 2 acetaminophen tablets were $26.20. But further down a 325 mg aspirin tablet was $26.05. Of course the really important figures are the lines which read “insurance payment: $11,118.86” followed by an “adjustment” listed as “insurance discount: $13,360.19” I guess even HealthPartners (his insurance company this time, not the provider) isn’t willing to pay those prices.
My pharmacist, Tom Sengupta at Schneider Drug in Minneapolis tells me (about health insurance companies): "They're all evil - but some are worse than others. Try to find the least evil one."
-->The sign in his front window urges us all to support “Single-payer healthcare for all”.

30 Years Ago ...

Remembering and Resisting for 30 Years by Steve Clemens. August 8, 2013
It was 30 years ago; the U.S. Army School of the Americas was still in the Panama Canal Zone but military troops from the repressive government of El Salvador were training at Ft. Benning, GA. A small cadre of peacemakers, primarily from Koinonia Farm and Habitat For Humanity, came to the main entrance to the sprawling military base for the weekly Quaker-style candlelight vigil. The vigil had begun 4 months prior and usually consisted of 8-20 people who gathered in a circle to prayer, reflect, and protest U.S. policy in Central America.
It was the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero while saying mass in the capital city in March of 1980 that had awoken many of us to the suffering of the Salvadoran people and the U.S. complicity in the harsh repression of the people; campesinos struggling for land and justice from the couple of dozen families of elites that controlled the land and the government. Romero had written to then-President Jimmy Carter just months before his assassination asking him to stop the flow of military aid and weapons to his nation. He never received a reply from the President before the bullet ended his life as he held the chalice of wine over his head during the mass.
Three years later activists discovered that Salvadoran troops were being trained by U.S. Military instructors at the large infantry base on the outskirts of Columbus, GA and a protest march and rally was scheduled around the third anniversary of El Salvador’s increasingly famous martyr. Unfortunately (from my perspective), the tone and tenor of that protest was strident and caustic and I felt that while I agreed with the political aim of ending the military training and changing the foreign policy of the Reagan Administration towards Central America, we would be better served by a reflective, contemplative and confessional presence outside that military base than the bombastic chanting and finger-pointing of the larger demonstration.
A week later, our Thursday evening hour-long candlelight vigil outside the base began. Some friends from across the Chattahoochee River in neighboring Alabama joined us as did a couple of others from nearby Buena Vista, GA. Someone would often read a short reflection, a poem, or a prayer, we’d sing a song or two, but mostly held signs with our candles and reflected and prayed. Occasionally someone driving out of the base would shout something (frequently it wasn’t PG-rated even though children were often present); less frequently someone would stop and talk to us.
In August 1983, Father Roy Bourgeois and Father Larry Rosebaugh drove over to Koinonia Farm (where our family lived) to share with our intentional community their plans for nonviolent resistance to the continued training of the Salvadoran troops. It was my first encounter with “Father Roy” but the Louisiana drawl in his voice and his gentle demeanor made me feel energized and included. I had known “Father Larry” a lot better since our 1981 nonviolent witness together in Amarillo, TX led to our sharing the same jail cell for a week after our arrest for praying at Pantex, the final assembly plant for all U.S. nuclear weapons. After he was transferred to a different jail, we saw each other at arraignment, trial, and sentencing before we headed off to different federal prisons to serve the rest of our time.
Larry had told the 5 of us with him in the holding cell outside the FBI office in Amarillo about his travels through Central and South America, especially his time in Recife, Brazil where he was arrested, jailed, and tortured for his work with the poor. I came to love and trust Larry during our jail-time together so when he arrived with Roy, I suspected here was another “radical priest” God had placed in my life to challenge me to further action. (I should have seen a pattern after “Father Tom” from the Maryknoll seminary in Glen Ellyn, IL “schooled” me during my Wheaton college years and then former-priest Phil Berrigan continued that “education” during the year I lived in Washington, DC.) Father Larry, and now, Father Roy: all wanted to challenge me to live out my values in a way that nonviolently confronted those in power.
Roy and Larry told us that they were fasting and planning to nonviolently confront the Salvadoran troops. They didn’t share the details with us (they seemed to just evolve from one action to the next for them), but we did invite them to join our next weekly candlelight vigil and told them some of us would possibly like to join them in their direct action. We talked about “continuing” the candlelight vigil on to the base after our usual hour presence by the entrance, knowing that we would likely be arrested by base security if we did so.
As Thursday arrived, most of us had no idea that Roy and Larry, joined by a local Catholic activist, Linda Ventimiglia, had already stirred up a hornets nest with 3 or 4 other acts of witness including the dramatic scaling of a tree outside the Salvador barracks and playing Oscar Romero’s final radio address where he asked, plead, ordered Salvadoran troops “in the name of God” to “put down their guns” and “end the repression.” The three of them had been arrested and thrown off the base several times that week before our Thursday evening vigil.
I don’t remember now if we walked or drove to the Base Commander’s house but at least 4 of us went with Roy, Larry, and Linda. Someone rang the doorbell while others planted a cross (not burning!, I must add, given the context of Georgia) on the front lawn. A teenage girl came to the door and we asked if the Base Commander was home. We were told he’d be home shortly so we told her we would vigil quietly on the sidewalk with our candles. It was only a few minutes before base security arrived, we were arrested, and hauled off to what we assumed was base headquarters.
In the six hours we were held under arrest, I distinctly remember overhearing various military officers saying very vicious and demeaning comments about “Catholics”, especially since they had become familiar with Roy and Larry’s vocation as priests. About 3 AM, each of us was handed a letter stating that we were “banned and barred” from that military base. We had the right to appeal this order if we wished but otherwise it was in effect with no end date listed. (Years later I was to receive “Ban and Bar” letters lasting 1 year or 5 years; this one was presumably for life.) They then drove us off base in groups of 2-3 dropping us off miles from the city center meaning we would have to walk to get to our cars. Fortunately, they did drop Judy Cumbee off back at the main entrance since her leg was in a cast from a previous accident.
Less than one year after these nonviolent direct actions, it was announced that the “School of the Americas” was moving to Ft. Benning as part of the Treaty to return the Panama Canal Zone to Panama agreed to by President Carter several years earlier. Our weekly vigils continued for several years before becoming a monthly vigil. I moved to Minnesota in 1990 and just months after our arrival, we heard word that Father Roy was going back to fast, pray, and protest at the gates of Ft. Benning. And thus began what has become The School of the Americas Watch, a nonviolent movement to embody the call of the martyred Archbishop: “put down the guns and stop the repression” – now throughout the Americas, not just El Salvador. One by one, nations have begun to pull their troops out of this notorious school now renamed “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)” in an attempt to “re-brand” it from a “school of assassins” to an institution which promotes “human rights” (albeit at the barrel of a gun!)
More than 300 nonviolent activists have gone to prison to protest this school in those 30 years. Late last week 40 members of Congress (including Rep. Keith Ellison from Minneapolis) introduced a bill to suspend operations at SOA/WHINSEC and begin an investigation of the connection between US military training and human rights abuses in Latin America. In November, I will return to the gates of that notorious institution to once again say “Close the SOA!”

Thoughts on Obama and the Zimmerman Acquital

Myopic Outrage At A Clear Injustice: In the Aftermath of the Zimmerman Verdict by Steve Clemens. 7/15/13
[Disclaimer: As a white male it is virtually impossible for me to fully understand and appreciate the burden of being a black male in this society. Even though I’ve been arrested and in jail and prison, lived in the inner city and rural South, I can only approximate what that experience is because I was always a phone call away from “connections” to the world of privilege and (somewhat limited) power – unlike Travyon Martin and others like him.]
It was a Facebook posting by a friend of mine, quoting President Obama after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the slaying of a young black man in Sanford, Florida that got me riled up.
"The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin." - President Obama
Somehow listening to one of the most egregious law-breakers in the history of the Presidency (a "kill list", refusal to prosecute under the Convention Against Torture Treaty, blatant disregard of eavesdropping restrictions, continued operation of GITMO and hundreds of CIA black sites, .... – the list could go on ad nauseum) say we are a "nation of laws" makes me ill. To add "a jury has spoken" without referencing the inherent racism of our present judicial system that so clearly favors the wealthy and powerful makes his statement inane. Coming from a former Constitutional law professor, it seems clear that power has corrupted and absolute power has corrupted absolutely. So forgive me if I can't appreciate words from this man, however honorable his intent might have been.
Reflection, while necessary is not to be confused with restitution or reparations. Calm reflection? How about heated and angry reflection if we can truly understand that Trayvon could have been our son or daughter? I suspect that the President could draw on his own background; even while basking in the privilege of Harvard I’m sure the color of his skin and texture of his hair led some of his classmates (and maybe a few of his professors) to respond to him differently than the white majority. I know my own white privilege and well-educated male status has both protected and perverted my understanding of the realities of the Trayvons and others who are routinely profiled – and worse – threatened and attacked. If the jury verdict can’t even approach justice for the life of a 17-year-old, it will be a much longer time before restitution will ever be considered in that courtroom.
Yet, standing in the crowd gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center this evening I was uncomfortable with the chanting: “What do we Want”? “Justice!” is the reply elicited. “When do we want It”? “Now!” is the response. But when the chant leader asks the crowd, “Who do we want it for”?, the crowd is encouraged to shout out “Trayvon” and/or “Terrence” (referring to Terrence Franklin, the young black man recently shot five times in the head and twice in the black by two Minneapolis police officers who have yet to be charged while the police “investigate” themselves.) I want to respond instead with “Everybody”. Justice for Travyon and Terrence? Yes! But also for many, many others.
The verdict in Florida was not a shock for someone who has lived in the Deep South for 16 years before moving to Minnesota - especially since I’ve been reading Glenn Greenwald’s excellent-but-disturbing book, And Justice For Some. The double standards and outright hypocrisy of our judicial system and the fawning defense of it by the corporate media have most often led to one standard for the elites and another standard for the rest of us. And that is for most of us in the 99%, both blacks and whites, and peoples of other hues as well. When coupled with the deep embedded racism within all American institutions (remembering the absurd voting rights decision of the Supreme Court less than a month ago), there is little “justice” one can expect in court.
Maybe in sensing the grief and pain of Travyon’s (and Terrence’s) parents, our Commander-in-Chief might also “reflect” on the parents of the children and youngsters blown to kingdom-come by the drones which have become the beloved instrument of choice for the former law professor who seems to wish to forgo even the formalities of a day in court for the accused if they are Arabic-speaking Muslims.
Yes, the President is right that this verdict could very well enflame racial tensions and hatreds. Asking Americans to reflect rather than just react is probably the right course of action. Yet despite having an African-American Attorney General and a biracial President, the past five years haven’t seen the gross racial disparities in our prison system change and the egregious corruption, unpunished, of Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail banks that disproportionally victimized the poor and people of color. When is the venting of outrage appropriate?
As the elites see more and more evidence that the empire is collapsing around us, they are rightly concerned that many of us will rise up and demand a change; a change many were conned into believing would come with a vote for this biracial President. Hope for change flared once again with the Occupy movement. Will this Zimmerman verdict spark a demand for deeper change? Not likely unless many of the 99% realize that most of us are Travyon Martin in this story. The “Stand Your Ground” laws and the property laws weren’t promulgated for your benefit or defense but rather to keep on-track this economic system which demands winners and losers, rewards greed, and keeps us divided. No wonder Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day called it a “filthy, rotten system.”
I know if feels insensitive to my black friends to say this but George Zimmerman is also a victim in this tragedy. Yes, a perpetrator can also be a victim, even if to a lesser degree. If we are left to fight over the scraps that fall from the abundantly-laden tables of the elites, there will be a lot of pushing and shoving in the competition to grab what is left or discarded.
Greenwald’s penultimate paragraph of And Justice For Some helps sum it up: “ At some point, serious social unrest is the inevitable result when a population is forced to suffer mass joblessness and deprivations of every kind while it sees a tiny sliver of elites enjoying gilded prosperity; when ordinary people are threatened with imprisonment for petty offenses while they see elites illegally spying, invading, torturing, and plundering with near total impunity. Such a two-tiered setup is simple unsustainable.” [It is no accident that whistle-blower Edward Snowden sought out Greenwald with the revelations and details of massive eaves-dropping by our government on its own citizens and most of the rest of the world as well.]
Who knows how President Obama really feels about the verdict? Unless there is a radical reordering of present policies, who cares? He is more likely interested in maintaining a status quo that ensures his elite position than raising questions which might lead to more than calm [and necessarily shallow] reflection.

Anything to Celebrate on the Fourth of July?

Red, White, and Black: Imagining “Independence Day” as an Anti-colonialist Event by Steve Clemens. July 4, 2013
My morning started this “Independence Day” listening to Amy Goodman and her Democracy Now! program recount the heroism of Daniel Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel, and the Unitarian publishing house, Beacon Press, in “blowing the whistle” and releasing the Pentagon Papers in an attempt to end the war on Vietnam by our government – comparing their acts of courage and conscience to that of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden today. Later, I spent an hour reading from What Does Justice Look Like? by Dakota author and historian Waziyatawin and then watched the film “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson in breaking the color barrier in professional sports in the United States. It got me thinking about why the July 4th holiday has always been a bittersweet experience for me ever since I became politically aware.
The origins of the myth surrounding the national holiday proclaims the heroic struggles against the colonial domination of the British Empire by individuals and groups willing to risk life and limb to be out from under that system they felt was oppressing them. Throughout the struggle of white colonists in the North American continent, the Indigenous Peoples were cast aside or embraced as allies depending on who the “enemy” was considered to be at that time. Blacks were imported for economic and political reasons and again were considered mere after-thoughts by those declaring their “independence” from King George and his army of Red Coats.
What if, in declaring the end of cooperation with the British colonizers, our “Founding Fathers” [sic] sought interdependence and an end to domination instead of replacing one dominating system with another? What if we saw the Iroquois Confederation or the Delaware/Lenape Nation as peoples to emulate instead of conquering? The Africans who survived the Middle Passage and then sold on the auction block had little to celebrate on July 4, 1776 and given the hostility of the present Supreme Court, not a whole lot more today as their numbers disproportionally fill our jails and prisons. What if the fever of independence from colonialism was allowed to spread among them as well as the whites?
Well, even among the whites, the independence was rather restricted to property-holders and males as far as voting power, even if the benefits of white privilege spilled over to those whites without property and votes.
So does one celebrate the very-limited myth of this holiday with hope and determination to broaden its application - or does one refrain from the public hoopla to deeply reflect on the pressing needs to reclaim a spirit of true anti-colonialism and recommit to continue to nonviolently struggle to resist projects of domination?
The local corporate newspaper (helpfully) reminds us that the anticipated fireworks over the Mississippi River tonight might cause distress to many of our recent military veterans who returned from their deployments with PTSD. The article failed to note that our visiting guests from Minneapolis’ Sister City, Najaf, Iraq, might also have the same reactions - having been on the receiving end of “Shock and Awe” and other such “fireworks” that were designed to continue our latest adventure into domination.
Not watching the fireworks, not flying the Stars and Stripes, not standing for the National Anthem as it is played at virtually every sporting event and many other public events doesn’t seem to me to be enough. If I want to derail the continued colonizing of peoples within and without our national boundaries, merely being silent or sitting is still too complicit. Waziyatawin argues that we need to decolonize our minds by “tearing down the fort” both physically and metaphorically, referring to Fort Snelling, the symbol par-excellence of the domination and genocide of the Dakota people in the land we still call Minnesota, if we want to embrace justice and truth-telling on this day in our nation’s mythical story.   
As with our celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. on his holiday, “Independence Day” needs to be less of a “day off” and become rather a day of recommitment. This time, however, with a broader inclusiveness and a determination to end the project of colonization and domination of others.  

Our Military-back Exceptionalism

Our Military-backed Exceptionalism. By Steve Clemens. May 5, 2013

One would be hard-pressed not to see the enormous fetishizing of the U.S. Military since the attacks of 9/11/01. Whether it is at professional sports events, airports, political rallies, or even at local restaurants, it seems almost impossible to avoid signs, speeches, discounts for, symbols, or outright worship of those now labeled “heroes” – the backbone of our national identity – our warriors.

It was bothering me for several days after a recent trip to the local Hardees restaurant chain. The friendly clerk took my order and then asked me if I’d like to “donate a dollar to support our troops”? On the counter was the details of the promotion: “Stars for Heroes” where in exchange for my $1 donation to “support military veterans and their families” I would receive $10 worth of coupons for discounts at the restaurant and they’d place my name on a paper star recognizing my support and gift which would be placed among the hundreds of other stars already on display along the windows facing the parking lot. I declined; but I debated with myself as to whether I should tell the young clerk why. She was enthused about the program because that franchise was in competition with other franchises around the state or region according to the conversation I overheard among the staff. Who was I to rain on their parade?

And still we sit and wonder how someone like the Tsarnaev brothers or others could get “radicalized” and be (allegedly) led to commit such heinous acts as the Boston Marathon bombing?

Several weeks ago I heard a senior high-ranking Pakistani Police Officer (and Humphrey School Fellow scholar), Mubarek Zeb lead a presentation about U.S. drone attacks on the remote tribal areas of his country. He explained the cultural honor codes of the Pashtun tribes and how those traditions going back thousands of years made them honor-bound to seek revenge for the death or injury to tribal members or those granted hospitality and asylum in their homes. He told us that for every person killed or seriously injured by drone attacks, between three and ten tribal members were committed to lifetimes of retaliation and revenge.   

Several years ago an Iraq War Veteran, Tyler Boudreau, travelled through Minneapolis while biking across the nation in his attempt to heal from the trauma of war. In his excellent book, Packing Inferno, as well as his talk at Mayday Bookstore, this former military officer decried the use of the term “hero” stating that it hindered the healing of (psychologically) wounded vets who knew the reality of war and knew that the acts of killing and occupation were mostly far from heroic and often bordered on cringe-worthy if not outright criminal. Karl Marlantes, author of the equally-excellent What It Is Like To Go To War, also cautions his audience to understand the cost to the human psyche in sending others to kill in our name or for policies decided by politicians determined to use (and abuse) the power entrusted to their office.

We continue to cheapen the true sacrifice forced on military veterans with gimmicks which cost us little (“it’s only a buck!”) and promise us a return on our investment (you’ll “support or troops!” and get coupons worth a whole lot more!). At the restaurant I had brought along the latest book I’ve been reading, James Cone’s now classic, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. As I thought more about the clerk’s request for the modest “donation”, I flashed on how those on the receiving end of the lynching rope, the Dakota survivors of the genocide of our “Indian Wars”, my Iraqi friends who were traumatized by US military checkpoints just a few years ago, or my Afghan friends who continue to fear drones and helicopters when they go to the mountains to fetch fresh water or firewood would respond to the uniformed protectors of American Empire now labeled “heroes”.

When Jesus encountered Roman occupying soldiers as he was growing up in occupied Galilee, did he see them as “heroes” – those who ending up lynching him for the benefit of those engorging themselves on the spoils of war and domination? How did Spartacus and other slaves view the legions sent to put down their rebellion? I’m sure members of the Roman elite were grateful for their military who allowed them to continue in “the lifestyle to which [they’ve] come to be accustomed to”. We continue to be so blinded by the disease of American exceptionalism that we fail to think about how much of the rest of the world views us.

American exceptionalism rides on the back of American Empire and White Supremacy. James Cone reminds us that until or unless we renounce the latter, our “Christianity” will continue to “re-crucify” the one we claim to follow as millions of young black men waste away in our prisons. The 150th anniversary of the Dakota War reminds Minnesotans that conveniently “forgotten” (if never learned) history continues to create victims and unhealthy dependencies today. Our visitors from Iraq are genuinely perplexed about our wall-to-wall obsession with the latest news about the actions, capture or killing, and the impending trial of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers while ignoring the on-going terror-laden bombings happening weekly, if not daily, in their own country. A country where such “suicide attacks” were unheard of prior to our military invasion ten years ago.

I find myself tired in this post 9-11 soup of fear and chaos of feeling I must always do battle with our “mainstream” culture for its jingoistic “patriotism” and desire to continue on with “the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed to”. That lifestyle which is enforced and protected by young people enticed to put on the uniform and grab a gun. As long as those guns are pointed at others (and on our behalf), we can wallow in the notion that “God has blessed us” and we deserve to be exceptional from the rest of humanity. We don’t look at the crosses, the lynching trees, the dangling nooses, the closed prison doors, and the persistent humming of the drones overhead. I’m getting a better sense of how racial, sexual, and religious minorities must feel here in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

Excuse me, but in choosing to follow one executed by the powers of political, religious, and military empire, I must continue to find creative ways to dissent – and then stand side-by-side with those marginalized in the process. 

Trying Not To Stick My Head in the Sand

Trying Not to Stick My Head in the Sand by Steve Clemens. April 29, 2013
After walking two miles behind a “Stop Frac Sand” banner, we arrived at the Port of Winona where 18-wheel trucks were unloading their cargoes of silica frac sand on to barges in the Mississippi River to be shipped to natural gas fracking operations in Texas or other locations. A second group of friends walked over three miles to another Winona, MN site where already-mined frac sand was being washed before loaded on to the trucks that were arrive at the port. With the support of dozens of other friends, 35 of us were arrested on trespass charges as we nonviolently blocked the trucks this morning in what may have been the largest protest to date against fracking.
I traveled to Winona at the invitation of the Winona Catholic Worker, the community which was hosting the annual Midwest Catholic Worker “Faith and Resistance Retreat”. Members of this group who offer hospitality to the poor and marginalized from at least 9 nearby states gathered from Friday evening until today for a time of reflection, renewal, fellowship, and resistance. We recited a pledge to practice nonviolence before the march to the protest sites and many of us carried a letter sent to the gathering from the farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry. In it he writes:
“You have offered me the privilege of joining by letter with you and your friends in Winona in opposition to “frac sand mining,” and I am happy to accept.
I will say, first, that there is never, for any reason, a justification for doing long-term or permanent damage to the ecosphere. We did not create the world, we do not own it, and we have no right to destroy any part of it.
Second, most of our politicians and their corporate employers are measuring their work by standards of profitability and mechanical efficiency. Those standards are wrong. There is one standard that is right: the health of living creatures and the living earth.
Third, we must give our needs to eat, drink, and breathe an absolute precedence over our need for mined fuels.
I wish you well.”
Others carried a letter written by Sandra Steingraber, an upstate NY scientist and mother who is in jail for her nonviolent protest at Seneca Lake, NY. We carried a Statement of Purpose drawn up by the Catholic Workers on “Ending Fracking and Silica Sand Mining.” But mostly we carried ourselves – with our strong desires to help save our environment so it can be passed on to future generations. Our message was placing our bodies in front of the trucks to shut down the shipping of this sand used to extract more fossil fuels.
Greed, fueled by short-term profits is a major reason we are shackled with climate disruptions and the extinction of huge numbers of various species. Shared sacrifice and community are some of the tools we choose to use to claw our way back (or ahead) and this inter-generational gathering provided both challenge and hope. This weekend offered an opportunity to reflect and act with others who share a vision of a more compassionate approach to life and want to be part of a nonviolent struggle to make that an alternative path for us to pursue.
Only 35 risked arrest because each of those communities need someone who remains committed to providing hospitality for the marginalized in their home areas in case those arrested get the maximum sentence of 90 days in jail. The state “criminal trespass” charge also allows for a hefty fine as well but most Catholic Workers on principle would refuse to pay such because to do so would lessen their abilities to serve the poor.
I am not a Catholic Worker. I’m not even a Catholic but I am humbled and blessed to be welcomed into their midst. But even others are not Catholic. The relatively new “Mennonite Worker” community from Minneapolis was well represented as well as the Phillips-based “Rye House”. So those acting and living within the spirit of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, founders of the movement, are welcomed. Seasoned activists led the Sunday afternoon nonviolence training but it is always good to have a refresher every once in awhile and to provide a welcome format for the “rookies” to civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action.
The Winona police were very courteous to us even after our refusal to leave led to our arrest. When I mentioned my problems with carpal tunnel as I was being handcuffed, the arresting officer asked if I was OK with being ‘cuffed in front instead of the standard behind-the-back position. I am grateful for the kindness shown. Many of these police officers know of the possible health risks to themselves from breathing in these sand particles. They also know how “get rich quick” schemes brought about by outsiders wishing to profit from exploiting these local resources have created a multitude of conflicts within this southern Minnesota river town.
Getting arrested while working for nonviolent change – especially when joined with like-minded friends – is a privilege in our democracy at a time when corporate voices try to drown out citizen concerns. Polished advertising on our TVs try to convince us that there is “clean coal” or that exploiting oil and gas resources can make us “energy independent” or provide hundreds or thousands of jobs. All in the attempt to continue what has been called our “American way of life” – the over-consumption of finite resources in a world where many are desperate for adequate food and water. Many Americans want to stick their heads in the sand, pretending there is no need for a change of heart and a change of course.  My friends and I want to risk our own freedom in order to say “no!”
(Photos from Winona Daily News)