The Wise Ones Know

The wise ones know that our bodies

are mere flowers on the margins of hotspots.

Always grasping for unknown suns,

it is has been said once before that

we can not find our way by the stars alone.

All Flags Must Come Down

Please do not misinterpret what I am about to say. I believe that the Confederate flag is disgraceful. It represents a corrupted heritage that is fundamentally rooted in chauvinism, bigotry, segregation, and militarism. I believe that it should be torn down from every monument, hallway, rooftop, and courthouse in our nation. The sooner the better.

But why not take down the United States flag as well? After-all, the two atomic bombs that eviscerated Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not dropped in the name of the Confederate flag. Nor were the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Afghanistan, and Iraq, fought to preserve the national security of the “Stars and Bars.”

Over the past decade, hundreds of presidentially authorized drone strikes have illegally and immorally murdered innocent civilians in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. These hellfire missiles are delivered with the seal of our nation’s most revered and reproduced logo.

In my opinion, all flags are dishonorable because they instigate some of the most destructive passions known to the human condition, including tribalism, religious intolerance, crude forms of patriotism, jingoism, xenophobia, and even genocide. Nearly every week, there is a mosque, schoolhouse, public building, or some other inviolable space that is pulverized by remote control missiles launched from thousands of miles away in the United States. Serving under the banner of the American flag, countless American civilians, politicians, commanders and soldiers are responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocent women and children. These too are brown and black people who had their lives cut short. These too are victims of racial and political violence. These too are hate crimes. Yet these Charleston’s will not be reported on CNN or written about in USA Today.

Let me clear. It is not my intention to be disrespectful of military personnel and veterans. I have the utmost respect for them as human beings. In fact, military service runs deep through the bloodline of my immediate and extended family. More importantly, I try to perceive and accept them as unique children of God with certain inalienable rights. I have no authority to judge anyone.

But that being said, there is a significant difference between judgment and respect. Just because I can honor every soldier as an inheritor of God’s grace, does not mean I respect soldiers because they simply pledged an oath, don a uniform, or brandish a licensed firearm. If a solider blindly follows orders because they are afraid to speak out, I have no respect for that; and when soldiers act as if they have my permission to needlessly waste the lives of civilians because they are “duty bound,” I have no respect for that either.

Let me also be clear that I am not calling for a universal human flag to replace the many flags now in existence. I do not wish to see the United Nations emblem on every municipal building and public uniform from Chicago to Cairo. On the contrary, what we need to move towards is a flagless world. No more oaths and no more pledges of allegiance. To paraphrase Gandhi, “the only tyrant in this world that we should truly obey is that still small voice within.”

Moreover, I do not think that demonizing a single obnoxious flag is what we want to focus our moral attention on right now. In some ways, this storyline is a manufactured diversion engineered by opportunist politicians and greedy advertisers. Notice the subtle ways that this story has seized the nation’s focus even more than the heroic actions of family members who forgave the assailant.

If we really care about stopping these massacres in the future, we should be seeking ways to take responsibility for the violence that we all participate in and perpetuate through our devotion to nationalism, endless warfare, cultural and racial superiority, specism, and every form of hateful egoism. This process of honest introspection is far less comfortable than passively watching pundits debate flag controversies on television, but it will go a long way towards making each and everyone of us accountable for the degree of hostility that exists in our own minds.

On a more profound level than racial vengeance, it was the prospect of a “purer” nationhood- one fought for and defended through homicidal violence- that motivated Dylan Roof to carry out his evil mission. He was willing to kill and die for his concept of a new Rhodesia. Yet how many readers are willing to kill, or let someone else kill, for their concept of America?  I suspect quite a few.

George C. Payne
Founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International
Visiting Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at
Finger Lakes Community College

Single Payer Heathcare is a Duty

Does our current health care system work as well as the systems of other industrialized nations?

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the United States has the most expensive health care system in the world yet consistently underperforms when compared to nations such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, France and Japan. For example, the life expectancy rate in the United States is 78 years old, which is nearly four years lower than the average life span of an Italian.

Is an American life less valuable that the life of an Italian? Americans actually live shorter life spans than people in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

The statistics are telling in other important categories. The American infant mortality rate doubles that of Japan. In fact, Slovenia and Cypress have lower rates than the United States. When looking at preventative deaths per 100,000 residents we find that the US rate of 96 nearly doubles France’s 55. All the while, the American government spends $7,337 per citizen, which is more than double the amount Germany and the UK spend combined.

Mohandas Gandhi once said: “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.”

Our political leaders believe that Americans deserve a health care system that is effective, cost-affordable, and progressive. These same leaders also purport to believe that our nation can meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Why then are they unable to deliver a health care system that ranks higher than 37th in the world? It can’t be because single payer health coverage is economically unviable.

The Physicians for a National Health Program have demonstrated that our country will save 350 billion dollars annually in preventive savings alone. (Never mind the tremendous savings in administrative overhead associated with the private insurance companies.)

As stewards of the future we have a moral obligation to create a system that will leave our grandchildren’s grandchildren not only a biosphere but also a biology that allows them to thrive. We have a social contract not only with our government and fellow citizens living today but also a social contract with the inhabitants living on our planet many years from now.IMG_20150131_140813617_HDR

Housing is a Human Right

What is a home? Is a home a congenial environment where one feels most relaxed, and at peace? Is a home that familiar space, which does not belong to anyone else?

Or, like salmon returning to spawn, is the concept of “home” best understood as our true place of origin?

Perhaps, more than bricks, shingles and concrete, a home is made out of the people, and experiences, we are willing to sacrifice, and even die for.

Joe Woods has lived in his home at 394 Webster Avenue for 25 years. He has raised his kids in this home. This is where he barbecues, prays, and sleeps.

And, according to Take Back the Land Rochester, when the country’s financial crisis left his wife, Glenda, unemployed in 2009, reducing the family’s income, the Woods came together to support each other, and to make good on all of their debts.

But although they, like many families, have fought their way back from the financial brink, MidFirst Bank has refused to accept their payments on the house. And, rather then negotiate, they foreclosed.

So, today Joe Woods is a “home defender.” He is willing, along with several of his fellow activists, to go to jail in order to stay in his home.

Yet, why should Joe Woods have to go to jail? The bank couldn’t care less about who lives in this house. They just want to write it off as a tax deduction, peddle it off to another bank, or sit on it until some better deal comes along. In fact, MidFirst has been only one, in a long line of banks (including Columbia Banking, Countrywide, Aurora and MERS), to purchase the Woods ‘mortgage.


Furthermore, the city of Rochester couldn’t care less about who lives in this house. They just want the bank off their chest. It also seems that most Rochesterians couldn’t care less about who lives in this house.

Many view these eviction watches as someone else’s money problem, something that has nothing to do with them. There is even a population in our wider community that may view these home defense campaigns as morally, and politically, misguided.

However, although few others genuinely care about the fate of this house; Joe Woods cares. And, quite frankly, it is his legal right to stay where he is.

Joe Woods knows every single American has been guaranteed the right to have adequate housing.

This right has not only been implied in principle by the U.S. Constitution, but was signed into law by the United Sates, in 1948, when our leaders approved Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a founding UN document that unambiguously states: “Every one has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, involving food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

The worst thing people can do when faced with the specter of foreclosure is relinquish their prerogative to remain in their home.

Joe Woods knows this.

In other words, he is not moving, because he knows MidFirst Bank does not own his property. He knows the city of Rochester does not own it. Nor does the United States Government, or even the United Nations!

Joe Woods owns his home.

I believe Joe Woods is a hero. It takes tremendous courage to stand up for human rights. By remaining in his rightful home, Woods is not only defending his own personal achievements; the memories and aspirations of his extended family; the dignity and sovereignty of his neighborhood; and the social mission of his fellow activists with Take Back the Land; he is also standing up for the right to decent housing for people all over the planet.

Now that is courage in action!