Truth Be Told

I am currently writing a book about the Doctrine of Discovery along with Dr. Soong-Chan Rah. There is a crowdfunding campaign to support the writing process with reward levels that includes SIGNED COPIES of the book once it is released! Click here for more information.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Native Perspective on War, Terrorism and the MOAB Bomb

MOAB - Mother of All Bombs -
blast in Afghanistan. 
Friday morning the hosts of Fox and Friends celebrated Thursday's dropping of the MOAB bomb by the United States military against ISIS in Afghanistan. This was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever detonated in combat, and they aired the video of the explosion to the song by Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." One of the hosts commented that the video is in black and white, "But that is what freedom looks like. That’s the red, white and blue." Geraldo Rivera then added that one of his favorite things in the 16 years he's been on FOX News is watching bombs drop on bad guys.

Last week, after the US launched a barrage of missiles against Syria in retaliation for chemical weapons Assad utilized against civilians, Brian Williams, speaking on MSNBC said he was tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen, "I am guided by the beauty of our weapons." Brian went on to describe the missile launch scene as "beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments."

Terrorism is evil and needs to be confronted. But when we go beyond confronting terrorism to blatantly celebrating the deaths of terrorists, and praising the beauty of our weapons that destroyed them, we are blurring the lines of humanity. And once those lines are crossed, and we dehumanize our enemy, it is a short and slippery slope to becoming the very thing we claim to be fighting against. Soon, we begin looking for prominent religious leaders and institutions to provide theological cover for our violence, and justification for our actions.

As a follower of Jesus, a tribal man who was brutally executed by a state working in conjunction with its religious leaders...

As a Navajo man, whose ancestors endured acts of genocide and forced removal by a United States government that was armed with a Doctrine of Discovery, and therefore believed it had a manifest destiny to ethnically cleanse and rule these lands from sea to shining sea...

And, as the grandson of indigenous grandparents, who were taken from their homes and educated in boarding schools run by a government and churches that believed it was their civic and religious duty to "kill the Indian to save the man"...

I humbly offer some words of caution.

May we not celebrate war.
May we not glorify violence.
May we not dehumanize our enemies.

For if we could refuse to dehumanize our enemies, it would make the terribleness of war all the more real. And maybe, just maybe, cause us to engage in it less often.

Mark Charles

YouTube video of Fox and Friends:

YouTube of Brian Williams on MSNBC:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why Neil Gorsuch and Originalism does not bode well for Equality in America

In the United States, the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. And it is a deeply held belief that the United States Constitution is synonymous with justice.  That is why before sitting on the court, Supreme Court Justices are required to take two oaths. The first, taken by all Federal Employees, is an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  The second, the Judicial Oath taken only by Justices of the Supreme Court, is an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

To secure the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court, Senate Republican Majority leader Mitch McConnell enacted what has been referred to as the “Nuclear Option.” What this means is the Senate rules were permanently changed so Supreme Court nominees can be confirmed with a straight majority vote instead of a 2/3 majority. This rule change is a break for the Senate which historically is known for being a more deliberative body that generally places some value on consensus building. Implementing the Nuclear Option allowed Republicans in the Senate to confirm Judge Gorsuch with a simple majority vote of 54 to 45 instead of the previous threshold of 60.

While much attention has been given to the conservative slant that Judge Gorsuch would bring to the Supreme Court, I would like to raise a different concern that has not received as much attention.

Judge Gorsuch embraces an interpretative understanding of the Constitution known as "originalism." This is the theory that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the meaning of words and phrases as they were understood in the times they were written.  According to a story in the LA Times, Justice Scalia "was the foremost champion of this approach. Often frustrated inside the court, he traveled the country, scoffing at liberals who believed in a 'living' Constitution that changes with the times."

While I am not fully on the side of a "living" Constitution, I have deep concerns with the tenants of "originalism."

In an essay titled "The Originalists Perspective" (The Heritage Guide to the Constitution), David Forte, a professor of Law and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, identifies several components that an Originalist would look for in their effort to ascertain the original meaning of the Constitution. A few of the components identified in the article are:
  • The words in the context of the political philosophy shared by the Founding generation, or by the particular interlocutors at the Convention.
  • Historical, religious, and philosophical authority put forward by the Framers.
  • The words in the context of the revolutionary struggle.
  • The subsequent historical practice by the Founding generation to exemplify the understood meaning (e.g., the actions of President Washington, the First Congress, and Chief Justice Marshall).
  • Early judicial interpretations.
Allow me to address each of these components.

The words in the context of the political philosophy shared by the Founding generation, or by the particular interlocutors at the Convention.
Historical, religious, and philosophical authority put forward by the Framers.

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V wrote the following words in the Papal Bull Dum Diversas.
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit”
This Papal Bull, along with others written between 1452 and 1493 collectively became known as the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery is essentially the Church in Europe saying to the Nations of Europe, wherever you go, whatever lands you find not ruled by white Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the lands are yours for the taking.

This is literally the doctrine that allowed European nations to colonize the continent of Africa and enslave the African people. Because they did not consider black Africans to be fully human. It is also this Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Columbus, who was lost at sea, to land in a "New World" that was already inhabited by millions and claim to have "discovered" it.

Common sense tells us that you cannot discover lands already inhabited. That process is known as stealing, conquering or colonizing. Because, to this day, the United States of America refers to what Columbus did as "discovery", the implicit racial bias of our country is revealed; Indigenous Peoples of North America, black people from Africa, and generally, people of color are not fully human.

Steve Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute and author of the book Pagans in the Promised Land, discusses the Doctrine of Discovery through what he terms a framework of dominance.
The papal bull Romanus Pontifex, issued in 1455, serves as a starting point to understand the Doctrine of Discovery, specifically, the historic efforts by Christian monarchies and States of Europe in the fifteenth and later centuries to assume and exert rights of conquest and dominance over non-Christian indigenous peoples in order to take over and profit from their lands and territories. The overall purpose of these efforts was to accumulate wealth by engaging in unlimited resource extraction, particularly mining, within the traditional territories of indigenous nations and peoples. The text of Romanus Pontifex is illustrative of the doctrine or right of discovery. Centuries of destruction and ethnocide resulted from the application of the Doctrine of Discovery and framework of dominance to indigenous peoples and to their lands, territories and resources.
The Doctrine of Discovery created a world view that put white, European, Christian males at the center and reduced everything else in the natural world to mere resources for their exploitation and profit.

The words in the context of the revolutionary struggle.

In the Proclamation of 1763, King George drew a line down the Appalachian Mountains and essentially told colonies that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian lands west of the Appalachia’s. That right now belonged solely to the Crown. This proclamation upset the colonists, they wanted access to those lands, so a few years later they wrote a letter of protest. In their letter they accused the King of "raising the conditions of new appropriations of land." They went on in their letter to declare that "he [King George] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages..."

They signed their letter on July 4, 1776.

Photo by Kris J Eden
Literally 30 lines below the term "All men are created equal, the Declaration of Independence refers to the indigenous people of Turtle Island as "merciless Indian savages."  This makes it very clear that the only reason the Founding Fathers used the inclusive term "all men" is because they had a worldview informed by the Doctrine of Discovery that gave them a very narrow definition of who is actually human.

This worldview was utilized again, 11 years later, when the Founding Fathers wrote another document which they began with the words "We the People..."

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States begins with very inclusive language. Language which is quoted frequently by both citizens and politicians as proof that the US a nation of laws and equality. However, very seldom do people read Article I Section II, a mere four sentences later in the document. Article I Section II defines who is represented within this Union, in other words, who the Constitution was written to protect.
Article I Section II
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons...”
When reading this section, it is important to note that women are never mentioned. Indigenous people are explicitly excluded. And all other persons (I.e. Black slaves) were counted as three fifths. This reduced those included in "We the people" primarily to white, land-owning men.  It is helpful to stop and ponder this.

The Constitution of the United States was originally written to protect the interests of white, land-owning men.

We act surprised that in 2017, women earn 70 cents to the dollar. This should not surprise us. The original intent of the Constitution is working.

We act astonished that our prisons are filled with people of color. This should not astonish us. The original intent of the Constitution is working.

We act incensed that in 2010 the United States Supreme Court sided with Citizens United and ruled that corporations now have the same rights to political free speech as individuals. Allowing the creation of super-PACS and unlimited contributions to political candidates. This should not surprise us.  The original intent of the Constitution is accomplishing exactly what it was setup to accomplish. It is protecting the interests of white, land-owning men.

Now maybe you are thinking, "Wait. Didn't we correct that?"

Well, Congress tried. About 90 years later they passed the 13th Amendment. The popular belief is that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. But anyone who has read the entire amendment knows that is not the case.
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
"...except as a punishment for crime..."

As it turns out, the 13th Amendment never abolished slavery, it merely redefined it and codified it under our criminal justice system.  This makes the incarceration rates in the United States even more troubling. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States incarcerates people at a rate of 693 per 100,000. That is by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with second place falling to Turkmenistan (583 per 100,000). And the US rate is more than 5 times higher than most other countries.

And the numbers get even worse when broken out by race/ethnicity.
  • Blacks.....................2,306 per 100,000
  • Hispanics...................831 per 100,000
  • American Indians......895 per 100,000
Of course, at 450 per 100,000, whites in the United States are incarcerated at rates much lower than the national average.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, never abolished slavery. It merely redefined and codified it. To this day, slavery is alive, well, and legal in the prison system of the United States of America, under the judication of the Judicial branch of our government.

Just a few years later, the US Congress also passed the 14th Amendment. This amendment was written specifically to address the shortcomings of Article I Section 2 of the Constitution.
Section I
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The Amendment starts out well. Beginning with the inclusive language "all persons", it extends the rights of citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States, under the jurisdiction of the government. However, Section II of this amendment is not nearly as inclusive.
Section II
"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state."
Indigenous peoples were still explicitly excluded. Women were again left out. And, for a second time, those convicted of crimes were also excluded. When paired with the 13th Amendment, the 14th Amendment had very little impact on the long-term prospects of freedom and equality for anyone not white, land-owning and male. True, it granted conditional rights of citizenship to former male slaves, but it still left marginalized and disenfranchised huge segments of the population. Women didn't get the right to vote until 1920 with Women's Suffrage. Natives didn't become citizens until 1924 and in some states, like Arizona and New Mexico, we didn't get the right to vote until 1948. And one must not forget, Jim Crow laws were still written after the 14th Amendment. Indian boarding schools were established after the 14th Amendment. Internment camps, segregation, Indian removal, lynching, mass incarceration of people of color; all these, and more, took place after the 14th Amendment. And in 1970 the 14th Amendment was used in Roe v. Wade, which concluded unborn babies are not human and therefore they can be aborted.

What this demonstrates is that at the heart of our Constitution, and in the world view of the original framers, there is not a comprehensive value for life or equality. There is a practice of marginalization and dehumanization. And the value tends towards exploitation of the marginalized and profit for the dominant. Since its origins, the Constitution of the United States has been an extremely racist and sexist document that assumes the white, land-owning male has the authority to determine who is and who is not human.

This of course, has major implications for the judicial branch of our government, especially for those who have an Originalist method of interpreting the Constitution.

The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are documents born out of the revolutionary and colonial periods of America. It is because they originated from the world view of Doctrine of Discovery, that the framers used such inclusive language as; All men, We the People, All Persons and Whole number of Persons.  They used inclusive language because their worldview gave them an extremely narrow definition of humanity.

The subsequent historical practice by the Founding generation to exemplify the understood meaning (e.g., the actions of President Washington, the First Congress, and Chief Justice Marshall).
Early judicial interpretations.

In 1823 two men or European descent were litigating over a single piece of land. One obtained the land from a native tribe, the other obtained the same land through the US government. They wanted to know who owned it. The case, Johnson v. M'Intosh went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court had to determine the principal for land titles.  The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, ruled that:
As they [European colonizing nations] were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle, which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.
The court went on to reference the Doctrine of Discovery as a legal instrument and concluded that American Indians only had the right of occupancy to the land, while Europeans had the right of discovery to the land, and therefore the true title to it.

This case, along with a few other during the Marshall Court era created the legal precedent for land titles.

This precedent, and the Doctrine of Discovery, was referenced by the Supreme Court in 1954.
II. Indian Title. -- (a) The nature of aboriginal Indian interest in land and the various rights as between the Indians and the United States dependent on such interest are far from novel as concerns our Indian inhabitants. It is well settled that, in all the States of the Union, the tribes who inhabited the lands of the States held claim to such lands after the coming of the white man, under what is sometimes termed original Indian title or permission from the whites to occupy. That description means mere possession not specifically recognized as ownership by Congress. After conquest, they were permitted to occupy portions of territory over which they had previously exercised "sovereignty," as we use that term. This is not a property right, but amounts to a right of occupancy which the sovereign grants and protects against intrusion by third parties, but which right of occupancy may be terminated and such lands fully disposed of by the sovereign itself without any legally enforceable obligation to compensate the Indians.
This position of the Indian has long been rationalized by the legal theory that discovery and conquest gave the conquerors sovereignty over and ownership of the lands thus obtained. 1 Wheaton's International Law, c. V. The great case of Johnson v. McIntosh, 8 Wheat. 543, denied the power of an Indian tribe to pass their right of occupancy to another. It confirmed the practice of two hundred years of American history "that discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or by conquest." 8 Wheat. at 21 U. S. 587.

Again in 1985 - City of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation
[Federal Common Law]
By the time of the Revolutionary War, several well-defined principles had been established governing the nature of a tribe's interest in its property and how those interests could be conveyed. It was accepted that Indian nations held "aboriginal title" to lands they had inhabited from time immemorial. The "doctrine of discovery" provided, however, that discovering nations held fee title to these lands, subject to the Indians' right of occupancy and use. As a consequence, no one could purchase Indian land or otherwise terminate aboriginal title without the consent of the sovereign.
(Footnote 1) Under the ìdoctrine of discovery,î County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y., 470 U. S. 226, 234 (1985) (Oneida II), fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.
Not only did the 1823 Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Marshall, and subsequent Supreme Court judicial interpretations, perpetuate the dehumanizing worldview of the Doctrine of Discovery, but they transformed the Doctrine of Discovery into a modern day legal instrument that has become the bedrock of the legal principal for land titles in the United States.

This is important because it means that the United States of America has a Constitution which not only was originally written with the understanding that American Indians and black people were not citizens, but we were actually considered to be sub-human.

We the People v. All the People

In his final state of the Union, when talking about our nation’s need for a new politics, President Obama quoted the Constitution.  He said, "We the People.' Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people."

Now that sounds beautiful, and I am sure there are many Americans who believe it. The problem is, we have never decided as a nation that We the People means All the People. Our founding fathers did not believe it. The Civil war and the 13th and 14th Amendments did not get us there. The Civil rights movement got us closer, but not all the way. Electing a Black President did not get us there, and I am certain President Trump will not get us there.

The original intent of our founding documents was to protect, benefit and profit white, land-owning men. And this was accomplished through the exploitation of women, black people from Africa and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.

As Americans, we tend to think that our country struggles with racism despite our founding documents. But I would argue that the United States of America is systemically racist because of our founding documents. The problem is our founding fathers embraced the dehumanizing world view of the Doctrine of Discovery and then implied it, embedded it, and wrote it into the foundations of our country.

In the United States, the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. And it is a deeply held belief that the United States Constitution is synonymous with justice.  That is why, on Monday April 10, 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch, like the 100 Supreme Court Justices before him, took two oaths. The first was an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  The second, the Judicial Oath, taken only by Justices of the Supreme Court, was an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

Unfortunately, on occasion, these oaths are mutually exclusive. And those who interpret the Constitution as originalists will, from time to time, be forced to choose which oath to keep. The founding fathers, the Constitution, and Supreme Court legal precedents have made it quite clear; when push comes to shove, when land titles or the economic/military security of our nation is at stake, We the People does not mean All the People.

Mark Charles

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

No Comment from the Trump White House regarding Native Nations March on DC

"The White House referred a request for comment to the Interior Department. That department referred the inquiry to the Corps, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday."

This quote is from a story by the Associated Press after they attempted to get a comment from the Trump White House regarding the "Native Nations March on DC" which is scheduled for this week. This quote also highlights the exact reason why this march is happening in the first place.

The US Government, and now President Trump, have a long history of marginalizing the voices and concerns of Native tribes and peoples, and that is no more apparent than in the approval process of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over the past year, initiated by young people from the Standing Rock Sioux, hundreds of Native tribes and thousands of people have stood in solidarity and engaged in prayer, ceremony and intentional peaceful resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

These protests have been largely ignored by President Trump, who had the audacity last month, when asked about his administrations approval of the pipeline, to say, "As you know I approved two pipelines that were stuck in limbo forever. I don’t even think it was controversial. You know I approved them, I haven't even heard, I haven't had one call from anybody saying, "Oh that was a terrible thing you did" I haven’t had one call."

He concluded his remarks by adding, "And I think everyone’s going to be happy in the end. Okay?"

(See article “The Real Reason President Trump has not received any Phone Calls regarding Dakota Access Pipeline”)

The organizers of the protest, Native Nations Rise Planning Committee, has published a (growing) list of demands they are bringing to the US Government and President Trump:

#TakeTheMeeting // President Trump must meet with tribal leaders to hear why it’s critical that the US government respect tribal rights. This administration must work with us.

#ConsentNotConsultation // Tribal interests cannot continue to be marginalized in favor of the interests of corporations and other governments. Consultation is not enough– we must require consent.

#NativeNationsRise // The Standing Rock movement is bigger than one tribe. It has evolved into a powerful global phenomenon highlighting the necessity to respect Indigenous Nations and their right to protect their homelands, environment and future generations. We are asking our Native relatives from across Turtle Island to rise with us.

Activities will take place throughout the week beginning on Tuesday, March 7 with the construction of a symbolic camp and the lighting of a ceremonial fire on the NW grounds of the Washington Monument, in front of the White House. This camp will be the center of activity Tuesday through Thursday (overnight camping and non-permitted lodges will not be allowed).

Daily Schedule (Tues – Thurs):
10 AM Water Blessing
11 AM – 1 PM - Cultural Workshops
4–7 PM – Presentations / Speakers / Panels

On Friday, March 10 at 10 AM EST the protest, which is expected to draw thousands, will culminate with a march from the Army Corp of Engineers office at 443 G St. NW, DC, and cover a 2-mile route to the White House. At 12 PM a rally will be held at Lafayette Square.

Our elders, who led the resistance at Standing Rock, are very wise. When confronting companies driven by greed, and a government oblivious to their concerns, they modeled that the best resistance begins with prayer, ceremony and standing in solidarity.

And for the past nine months, that has happened.

Now it is time for the next step, acknowledgement and dialogue. I love that listed in the demands above, the goal is not merely lobbying or consultation which implies a differential in the power dynamic, but the goal is consensus, which requires relationship, agreement and even harmony.

I look forward to joining the protests this week. I look forward to marching from the Army Corps of Engineers offices to the White House. And I look forward to modeling for President Trump that life is so much more than negotiations and business transactions. Life is lived to its fullest when there is relationship and dialogue which hopefully leads to agreement and even harmony.

But that relationship cannot begin if the people (and their protests) are ignored and even the requests for comment are referred elsewhere.

Mark Charles

If you would like to learn more about this event, you can visit the following websites:


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Real Reason President Trump has not received any Phone Calls regarding Dakota Access Pipeline

I normally check my Twitter feed every morning to catch up on the latest news, opinions and events that happened throughout the night. This morning I saw a tweet by ABC News embedded with a video of President Trump responding to questions regarding the US Army Corps of Engineers announcement that they intended to approve the final easement and allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River less than a mile above the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
“As you know I approved two pipelines that were stuck in limbo forever. I don’t even think it was controversial. You know I approved them, I haven't even heard, I haven't had one call from anybody saying, "Oh that was a terrible thing you did" I haven’t had one call. Usually, if I do something it's like bedlam. Right? I haven’t had one call from anybody. And you know, a lot of jobs, in the Keystone case we have potentially 32,000 jobs. Almost immediately. And then as you know I did the Dakota pipeline. And nobody called up to complain. Because it was unfair. Years of getting approvals. Nobody showed up to fight it. This company spends a tremendous, hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars and then all of a sudden people show up to fight it. That's not fair to our companies. And I think everyone’s going to be happy in the end. Okay?” (ABC News)
I heard President Trumps comments and was astounded. Was he really talking about the Dakota Access Pipeline? This is the pipeline that has brought about one of the largest gathering of Native peoples in the history of the United States. Tens of thousands of people, from hundreds of tribes have stood in solidarity for months against the building of this pipeline. I did not know how many of us have actually CALLED Donald Trump's White House, but no halfway informed leader could legitimately say they have not heard voices of opposition. Especially the President of the United States.

But I thought, OK. I'll do it his way. So I looked up the Contact the White House web page and found the comments phone number. I composed a re-tweet of the video with a comment imploring people to call the White House Comment line at 202-456-1111. If Donald Trump wanted to hear from us via phone calls, so be it.

I clicked Tweet and then immediately picked up my phone to call the White House, voice my complaint and protest President Trump's support and approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.


Male voice: "Thank you for calling the White House Comments line."

Female Voice: "Thank you for calling the White House Comment line. The comment line is currently closed..."

Closed??? Are you kidding me??? President Trump has ignored months of protest by hundreds of tribes and thousands of people and goes out of his way to state that he has not received ONE phone call of complaint regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. He concludes that the lack of phone calls is proof that Dakota Access Pipeline is not controversial, companies are being treated unfairly, and everyone is going to be happy in the end with his decision to approve the pipeline. And his White House public comments phone line is CLOSED!

I hung up the phone and deleted my tweet.

Our elders leading the resistance at Standing Rock are very wise. When confronting companies driven by greed, they have modeled that the best resistance begins with prayer, ceremony and standing in solidarity.  I would apply this same model to confronting a narcissistic President who is surrounded by billionaires and insulated by alternate facts. Donald Trump has intentionally chosen not to hear our protests, but Creator will definitely hear our prayers.

Resist in beauty my relatives. 

Water is life.
You cannot drink oil.

Mark Charles

UPDATE: Feb. 13, 2016 @ 4 PM EST: I received a comment today that someone was finally able to get through to the White House Comment line and register their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. So I tried calling and, after waiting on hold for nearly 8 minutes, was able to get through and voice my opposition. I have no idea how long the line is open for or how consistent it is. But apparently it is occasionally open.  :-)
The number to call is 202-456-1111.

Resist in beauty my relatives.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Decoding America's Greatness

Great is a word many politicians use to describe our country. In his 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to "Make America Great Again." Hillary Clinton responded by telling her supporters that America has always been great. And Cory Booker, an African American senator from New Jersey, in his endorsement of Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, acknowledged that in our foundations, Natives are referred to as savages, women are never mentioned and black Americans only counted as 3/5th of a person. But he concluded that section of his speech by saying, "But those facts and other ugly parts of our history don't detract from our nation's greatness."

So what is their definition of great?  Apparently, it is a definition that both Democrats and Republicans agree existed throughout our history. And it seems this "greatness" is not affected by our racism, sexism or bigotry. And somehow, the greatness of our founding documents, which explicitly contain the offensive and exclusive language, is not impacted either.

So how is America’s greatness defined?

The Oxford Dictionary defines great as "of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above average."  And Merriam-Webster defines great as "chief or preeminent over others."  Both dictionaries define great in relation or comparison to something or someone else.

So, comparatively, where is the United States of America great? At what do we excel above all others?

Perhaps our greatness is found in our democracy? In July 2016, Paul Ryan claimed that the United States was the oldest constitutional democracy in the world. Is that where our greatness lies?  Since the end of the most recent election, the Electoral College, a constitutionally-mandated component of our democracy, has come under renewed scrutiny.

The framers of our constitution faced a challenge; the land encompassing their proposed Union was large and communication was poor. They did not have much confidence that the average citizen could be properly educated on the issues and candidates to make an informed vote. So they proposed that the President be elected through an electoral college. The argument was that a few informed electors could represent the vote of the people in their states as well as act as a safeguard against poor choices based on inadequate information (Time – The Troubling Reason the Electoral College Exists). The framers of the Constitution also argued over how representation in the states should be counted. The south, where 40% of the population was enslaved, wanted to include slaves in the total count (Smithsonian – The Electoral College has been divisive since day one). This seemed unfair to the more densely populated north, some of whom did not want to count slaves at all, as they were treated as property (Michael Karlman – The Framers Coup). This disagreement ultimately resulted in the racist compromise which counted black slaves as 3/5th human, and was written into Article I Section II of the United States Constitution.

Our nation’s continued reliance on an archaic system that is rooted in racism, sexism and economic privilege has resulted in 2 of our last 3 "democratically-elected” Presidents actually being losers of the national popular vote, with our current President-elect, Donald Trump, losing by a whopping 2.86 million votes. That is correct, 2.86 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. Yet, because of the way democracy within our Constitutional Republic is expressed, Donald Trump won the election. By any meaningful comparison, our modern-day reliance on the antiquated electoral college cannot seriously be considered an example of great democracy.

How about our Health care?  Doesn’t America have great health care? It may be true that we have some of the top doctors in the world, but our delivery of, and access to, their services seems to be lacking. According to a report by the Common Health Fund, “In 2014 the U.S. Health System ranked last among eleven industrialized countries on measures of access, equity, quality, efficiency, and healthy lives.”  And according to an article by Hagop Kantarjian in US News and World Reports, the 2013 Institute of Medicine Report “ranks the U.S. near last among 17 high-income nations in several categories ranging from infant mortality and low birth weight to life expectancy.“ Below are several other reports and indexes which also give low rankings to health care in the United States.

Organization/Index Category USA Ranking
Common Wealth Fund Health Care
Bloomberg Health Care System Efficiency
World Health Organization Health Systems
Social Progress Index Health and Wellness

How about Education? Is not education in the United States great? Once again, we may have some of the top educational institutions in the world, but our overall educational system is extremely average or even sub-par. “The most recent PISA results, from 2012, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 35th out of 64 countries in math and 27th in science.” (Pew Research)

How about in minimizing violence and ensuring the personal safety of our citizens? Certainly, with our obsession over security, policing and the strength of our military, we must be great at keeping our citizens safe? As it turns out, that is not the case either. According to a CBS News report Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.

Well, how about freedom? Surely the United States of America is great at freedom?  President Dwight Eisenhower said “If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking... is freedom.” (WikiQuote)

This quote makes it striking that for a country which trumpets its great value for freedom, the United States leads the globe in incarceration rates. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States incarcerates people at a rate of 693 per 100,000. That is by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, with second place falling to Turkmenistan (583 per 100,000). And the US rate is more than 5 times higher than most other countries.
Prison Policy Initiative
Diego Arene-Morley, president of Brown University Students for Sensible Drug Policy said "There are more African-American men in prison, jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850," (Politifact)
  • The Census of 1850 showed that 872,924 male African-American slaves over age 15 lived in the United States at that time.* 
  • According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 526,000 African-American men serving time in state or federal correctional facilities in 2013. (That’s 37 percent of the overall 1.5 million imprisoned men.)*
  • There were 877,000 African-American men on probation in 2013, according to the bureau. And there were 280,000 African-American male parolees.*
  • In total, there were about 1.68 million African-American men under state and federal criminal justice supervision in 2013, 807,076 more than the number of African-American men who were enslaved in 1850.*
The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which "abolished" slavery, states "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

In the United States, incarceration is the new slavery. Making freedom a horrible measure of America's greatness.

So comparatively, where does our country excel?

1. Military spending.
The Peter G Peterson Foundation reported that at $596 Billion, the United States spends more on military and defense than the next seven countries combined ($567 Billion - China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, UK, India, France, Japan), and according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the United States spends nearly as much as the next 14 countries combined. (source: Washington Post)
Peter G. Peterson Foundation
There really is nothing left to say.  Without a doubt, in comparison, our military spending is great.

2. Energy and resource consumption.
Americans represent 5% of the global population but we consume between 25-30% of the earth’s resources. Based on the Global Footprint Network's report, an article by National Geographic stated "If everyone lived like the average American, the Earth's annual production of resources would be depleted by the end of March."

It is true, in comparison, the U.S. is one of the greatest at over-consuming the earth’s resources.

3. Income Inequality
Another report by Pew Research states "before accounting for taxes and transfers, the U.S. ranked 10th in income inequality. But after taking taxes and transfers into account, the U.S. had the second-highest level of inequality, behind only Chile."

I think Bernie Sanders was on to something, in comparison; the United States of America is great at income inequality.

4. Mass Incarceration of Minorities
This is another category where the United States of America excels. As stated above, at 693 per 100,000, our national incarceration rate is already 5 times higher than most countries. But those numbers get even worse when broken out by race/ethnicity (Prison Policy Initiative).

Blacks....................2,306 per 100,000
Hispanics..................831 per 100,000
American Indians.....895 per 100,000

Of course, whites in the United States are incarcerated at rates much lower than the national average (450 per 100,000).

So once again, in comparison, the United States is great at incarcerating its people of color.

5. Military Bases on Foreign Soil
A 2015 story in Politico reported that "despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad—from giant “Little Americas” to small radar facilities. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined."

Yes. Comparatively, the US is great at building military bases on foreign soil.

The United States of America was founded on colonialism. Using a Doctrine of Discovery, European nations flocked to the New World to setup colonies for the purpose of exploiting, profiting from and subjecting the people and resources of this continent.  Stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, ethnic cleansing, Jim Crow laws, manifest destiny, Indian removal, massacres, boarding schools, segregation, internment camps, etc. The history of our nation is littered with wars, laws, attitudes and leaders deeply rooted in colonialism.

The definition of colonialism is "the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically."

Colonialism requires a strong military, both in terms of spending as well as presence. And by definition, a colonial nation will exploit and oppress people (including its own citizens) as well as disproportionately consume resources. The characteristics of colonialism are precisely where the United States of America excels. Our military spending, energy and resource consumption, income inequality, incarceration rates of people of color, and number of military bases on foreign soil, dwarfs the rest of the globe. There is little doubt about it, when politicians refer to America's historical greatness, what they mean is our colonialism.

Hillary Clinton was right. America has always been colonial.

Cory Booker was right. The bigotry and racism expressed in our founding documents has not diminished our colonialism in the least.

And Donald Trump campaigned to be the President who restores all momentum our colonialism may have lost since the Civil Rights Movement and during the 2 terms of our first Black President. Armed with a venomous Twitter account, authoritarian attitudes towards political opponents and news agencies, threats of a renewed nuclear arms race, proposals for punitive and isolating tax and trade policies, and a cabinet with a combined net worth greater than an entire third of American households, Donald Trump is intent to do whatever it takes to make America colonial again.

But what if we don't want to be colonial?

Times are changing. Millennials are now the largest voting bloc in the country. They grew up in a world more interconnected and diverse than any generation before them. They are graduating from educational institutions and moving into the work place and broader society. But they are finding long established colonial divisions in regards to race, sexual identity, religion and class that make little sense to them. They are shucking the traditional values of individualism, consumerism, exceptionalism and institutionalized religion that have long been held dear by our nation. Millennials appear less inclined to embrace characteristics of colonialism and seem to lean more towards values of pluralism.

An antidote to colonialism.
Pluralism is defined as "a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization."  Our founding documents contain veiled references to pluralism, but unfortunately, the Founding Fathers had little value for it. Their values were rooted in colonialism.

In his final State of the Union, President Obama addressed our nation's need for a new politics. He quoted the US Constitution saying, “'We the People.' Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people."

Now that sounds beautiful, and I truly believe many Americans agree with his statement. But the problem is, as a nation, we have never officially recognized that "We the people" means “all the people.” The Founding Fathers did not believe it.  The Civil War and the passing of the 13th and 14th Amendments did not result in our nation recognizing that "We the People" meant “all the people.” The 13th Amendment still condoned types of slavery, and Section II of the 14th Amendment specifically excluded natives and women. Even Abraham Lincoln did not believe “We the people” meant “all the people”, as is evidenced by his quote which is hanging in the museum at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."
Nationally, we have never agreed that "We the People" means “all the people.”

Our current President-elect Donald Trump, also does not believe it. Throughout his life and during his campaign, Donald Trump has made it very clear that "We the People" does not fully include Muslims, immigrants from the south or women.

Our founding documents may contain hints at pluralism, but unfortunately the Founding Fathers had little value for it. Pluralism is not a melting pot, it is a mosaic. The image of a melting pot is a reference to assimilation, making everything like the dominant. A mosaic requires maintaining distinctiveness, appreciating differences, and celebrating diversity.

Over the next 4 years President Trump will bombard us with his visions for restoring America’s “greatness.” It will sound attractive, but we must remember, comparatively and historically, our country’s greatness is rooted in colonialism.

We live in a world that every day, through technology, is becoming smaller and more interconnected.  And colonialism is not sustainable, nor is it good global citizenship. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Perhaps, we can stop nostalgically yearning for, and working to restore, America’s past colonial greatness, and instead focus our attention to simply making our country more humane, more democratic, more equal and more responsible citizens of our increasingly diverse, interconnected and interdependent world.

Mark Charles