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H2O Man

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Member since: Mon Dec 29, 2003, 07:49 PM
Number of posts: 51,852

Journal Archives

War & the Constitution

C-SPAN 2 is replaying a 9-16 debate on the role of war, Congress, the president, and the Constitution now (6 pm/est). It looks to be well worth watching, although the two panelists -- John Yoo and Bruce Fein -- may represent a limited scope in viewpoints.

Is anyone else watching this? Or watched it before?

H2O Man

The War Machine

In reading discussions on DU:GD in the past few days, it is evident that -- as in the rest of the country -- there is a divide between those who support President Obama’s actions versus Isis, and those who are opposed to the “newest” war. Although I am generally opposed to the current march to war, I recognize that many of the Obama supporters make valid, important points. One area where I disagree is where a friend noted his belief that it is incorrect to compare the current conflict to the Bush-Cheney attack on Iraq, and/or the Vietnam War.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from the Persian Sufi poet Jalal-ad-din Rumi: “This world and yonder world are incessantly giving birth: every cause is a mother, its effect the child. When the effect is born, it too becomes a cause and gives birth to wonderous effects. These causes are generation on generation, but it needs a very well lighted eye to see the links in their chain.”

President Obama is without question a highly intelligent human being. The combination of his intellect, and his promise to effect change within our system of government, created great excitement in 2008. In particular, I believed his stance on the Bush-Cheney policy of military aggression was essential for getting the United States on a positive track.

Now, however, as he pursues a path that was perhaps forced upon him, in the sense that the dynamics in the Middle East include problems that are a direct result of Bush-Cheney, it seems fair to ask if, rather than him changing the system, has the system changed him?

The United States is neither the source of all good, or all bad, in the world today. Our role truly has been a mixed bag of very good and very bad. I believe that it is fair to say that more of that good has resulted from the actions of the Democratic Party, and more bad from the republicans. Yet, in a very real sense, those at the top of both parties have acted as advocates for corporate interests. It would be impossible, for example, to have a firm grasp of American policy in the Middle East, without recognizing and taking into account the influence of oil.

Likewise, there are benefits to understanding “systems.” When a person is placed within a system, either willingly or unwillingly, where he/she finds many things that are highly offensive, unless that person can simply drop out, they tend to follow a general path. First, they observe the system; then they begin to evaluate it for its strengths and weaknesses. They attempt to identify those regions within the system that are comfortable to them. They look for areas to stand their ground, and also areas where they are willing to compromise. In time, they become acclimated to the system, and begin to accept the limitations on their ability to change it. In time, they come to accept the system, including both its positive and negative features. Eventually, they become comfortable enough to accept the system for what it is, and become part of it.

It would be foolish to think that Obama could serve two terms as president, and not become part of the very system that, as a candidate, he promised to change. Yet, it would be equally foolish to believe that, because he is president, that our system’s approach in the current conflict will be significantly different than that of Bush-Cheney. The chances of this “new” war policy, as it unfolds over the coming years, having a different outcome seem rather small. Indeed, even the promise that there will be no American boots on the ground is a lie: special forces are there already, in the role of “advisors” -- exactly as we had “advisors” in Vietnam during the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.

Judging by the polls I’ve seen reported on the news, the majority of Americans support the President’s decision to bomb Isis in Iraq and Syria -- even though they do not think the outcome will be successful. Perhaps this is the result of the system’s conditioning, for few in the House and Senate are challenging the administration. Indeed, even the media is portraying the new war as our nation’s only viable option.

5 Questions (re: "good" democrats)

One of the things that I find most interesting on this forum is the discussion of what makes a person a “good democrat” -- including opinions on party loyalty. I do not believe that there are rigid rules that define the answer. Indeed, the differences of opinion, and even the different value systems that individuals may have, makes the Democratic Party far more interesting than the republican party.

Yesterday, I read Tavis Smiley’s new book, “Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Year.” King was, of course, a registered republican up until the 1960 presidential election. The democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, reached out to Mrs. King while Martin was incarcerated -- the situation posed a serious risk to King’s safety -- and by doing so, won the support of King and his father. The support of black citizens would give Kennedy the margin of victory in an extremely close contest.

King would go on to have a close, though sometimes tense, working relationship with LBJ when Johnson became president. Despite FBI Director Hoover’s obsessive warning that King was a “communist” and “sexual pervert,” LBJ would maintain close contact with the civil rights leader, and invite him to the White House several times. Even as King began to connect issues of race with poverty, President Johnson considered him to be a reliable supporter. And King recognized Johnson’s civil rights legislation as historic, and LBJ’s dream of a “Great Society” promising.

Yet, in 1967 -- against the advice of the majority of his associates -- King had connected the war in Vietnam with racism and unjust economic policies. LBJ began to ignore King. No more phone calls, much less invitations to the White House. In time, the president would come to side with Hoover; hence King, now considered a threat to national security, was monitored by military intelligence.

Thus, in January of 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., would call his first press conference of the year. In it, Dr. King expressed several beliefs that many advisors thought were “risky.” Among them were the following:

-- he attacked the US Department of Justice for indicting Benjamin Spock and William Sloane Coffin for actively assisting young men in opposing the draft;

-- he expressed support for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s run against LBJ in the democratic primaries; and

-- he criticized Senator Robert Kennedy for not opposing the war as frequently or loudly as King believed he should.

Thus, my questions to other forum members are: Was King a “good” democrat? Should he have opposed the democrat president publicly? Was he wrong in wanting a choice in the primaries, other than the sitting president? Was he wrong to criticize the Justice Department? And was he wrong for attempting to pressure Senator Kennedy to speak out forcefully against the war in Vietnam?

Thank you,
H2O Man

"Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power"

Last month, the University Press of Kansas published “Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power,” by Malcolm Byrnes. The 448-page book documents, among other things, the central role that Ronald Reagan played in the illegal activities his administration engaged in, on opposite sides of the globe. More, it shows that Vice President George Bush was an active participant in these crimes.

I believe that the book -- based on over 15 years of research, and containing numerous, never before published documents -- is essential reading. This is not because Reagan and Bush were criminals who damaged our constitutional democracy, for we already knew that. Rather, it is a “must read” because our nation’s current policies in the Middle East are a direct consequence of the crimes of the Reagan administration.

This includes the shady role of international weapons merchants, and intelligence officers from several of the countries that are “in the news” today. Thus, while some of the faces may have changed, the agencies and governments involved then, are involved now. Also, some of those involved in the congressional investigation of the Iran-Contra scandals would continue to subvert the Constitution, and keep the United States involved in the never-ending wars in the Middle East -- Dick Cheney being perhaps the most significant.

Indeed, that congressional investigation is among the most cowardly betrayals of the Constitution in our nation’s history. As I noted in an essay here last week, one of Congress’s primary responsibilities is to inform the public. The Senate’s Watergate investigation remains the best example of this educational function in recent history. Indeed, the Senate Committee’s final report includes a good bit of information on this requirement. Congress’s later investigations into the intelligence community’s gross abuses of power, though flawed, were also good examples.

A decade later, those selected for the congressional investigation were primarily motivated to protect the presidency of Ronald Reagan. They also failed to pursue VP Bush’s major role in the criminal activities. Hence, the Congress’s oversight responsibilities, which were a key part of uncovering the wide range of crimes known collectively as “Watergate,” were severely damaged by the events of Iran-Contra. While Dick Cheney played the central role in that, the fact is that democrats went along willingly -- even though the issues involved were as much a reason to impeach, as anything that Nixon did.

That failure resulted in the failure of Congress to take action relating to the Plame Scandal, which should definitely have resulted in VP Cheney’s being impeached. Nor did they ever address the purposeful lies of the Bush administration, that resulted in the invasion of Iraq.

There is zero chance of a future administration (I am purposely not speaking about President Obama at this time) operating in the manner defined by the Constitution, when neither house of Congress fulfills its duties. This isn’t to imply that pre-Nixon, everything was working wonderfully. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s book, “The Imperial Presidency,” documents the history of the executive office’s abuse of powers, always relating to “war powers.” However, events from the post-Nixon era do show a definite failure on the part of Congress to honor the oath of office, and to honor the Constitution.

Public Education

“The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function.”
-- Woodrow Wilson; Congressional Government

On Thursday evening, during the executive session of our school board’s meeting, the superintendent posed a question: What is the primary purpose of our school district? It’s an interesting question, and the various responses tend to highlight what each board member’s reasons for serving in that often thankless position.

The superintendent stated his belief that the primary purpose of the public school is to afford individual students with the opportunity for upward economic mobility. And, while I do not agree with him on that, I think it is an interesting position. More, while he has experienced some difficulty in adjusting from his “big city” roots, to the small town environment that defines our district, that goal can translate well to both large and small schools.

I believe that the primary purpose of public education is to produce informed, responsible citizens. Such individuals are likely to be able to identify the pathways to upward social and economic mobility. Indeed, they are more likely to create and maintain such opportunities for everyone in their community.

My thoughts on this are, in large part, influenced by those of a now-obscure US Senator who is the first to advocate for government funding of public education. That senator, Daniel Dickinson, spent his childhood and youth in the town where I now live. In fact, the gentleman who would become his father-in-law lived in my house; built shortly after the Revolutionary War, the building served as a stage coach station, a post office, and housed his doctor’s office.

I have a couple of the old mill stones from the “cloth and carding” factory -- located at a water falls on this property -- where Daniel worked as a teenager. And I did the research and writing to get a church he helped to build on the state and national historic registers. Hidden in the attic of that old church were “community records” dating back to the late 1700s, including a wealth of information on the Dickinson family.

In his early adulthood, Daniel was a school teacher, as was his wife. The two were instrumental in having the first local “university” built; now long gone, I have a few photographs from the 1800s of the simple college, which sat on church property. Dickinson then began to study law.He became a lawyer, and then entered politics; he served as a state and federal senator, and as a state and federal attorney. That his passion remained public education is evident from the writings -- both by and about him -- that I have collected.

Daniel Dickinson’s public education certainly allowed him access to upward social and economic mobility. The son of a local farmer went on to be a US Senator at the time of our nation’s Civil War. Indeed, he was considered as a possible contender for the presidency after Lincoln was killed. Yet, he maintained his interest in the little one- and two-room schools in the rural areas, because he understood that democracy required an educated, informed population.

The current “war on teachers” (especially the war on teachers’ unions) is actually a war on democracy. It’s not just because public education is, by definition, a form of socialism: it is indeed a collective investment in the future. At its roots, it is a war on an informed public. It is an attempt to keep the public uneducated, mis-educated, and dis-educated. One need look no further than the attempts to “teach” the Christian creation mythology, along with or rather than evolution, for proof of that.

Interestingly, public school teachers are not the only group that is paid with tax dollars to teach and inform the public. Those of us old enough to remember the Ervin Committee’s Senate Watergate Report learned this (hopefully in school). That committee’s hearings were the very definition of educational and informative: it provided lessons in both the “how” and “why” the misdeeds of the Nixon administration posed a significant threat to our constitutional democracy. Indeed, we learned that two important US Supreme Court decisions had been based upon the responsibilities of Congress to inform the public.

When we consider Congress today -- both the House and Senate -- we find very few elected representatives who take that obligation to inform the public seriously. Rather, we are being victimized by politicians who blur the truth with misinformation, disinformation, and crude lies. They look at exploit the public’s ignorance, and capitalize on their lack of preparation to serve as an informed public. Prove it, you say? How else can one explain the republican party’s even considering Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush as possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election?

There are connections between all of the pathologies that threaten our future. Both the large and small issues overlap one another. But the most basic of these, the war on public education, threatens our ability to deal with, and perhaps resolve, all of the others.

In closing, I’d like to express my gratitude to “madfloridan,” the DUer who consistently provides this community with extremely important information about the topic of public education. What a great resource for all of us!

H2O Man

Color-Coded Warning Systems

It’s been a dozen years since the Bush-Cheney administration unveiled their infamous, color-coded “Homeland Security Advisory System,” with its five levels of “threat.” Well after the chart became the source of jokes, it would be replaced with the “National Terrorism Advisory System,” or “NTAS.” I sometimes expected the government to come out with something akin to the Weather Channel, calling for general anxiety along the East Coast; moderate fear in the Mid-West; and a drenching of paranoia in the South-West.

This isn’t to say that I dismiss all color-coded warning systems. In fact, there is one that I consider a national treasure: Code Pink. I was delighted to see the patriotic ladies of Code Pink exercising Amendment 1 -- my favorite part of the Constitution -- when Secretary of State John Kerry was addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

I’ve long had mixed feelings about Kerry. In general, I have had a good deal of respect for him. A large part of that goes back to April of 1971, when he spoke to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs about the US’s role in Vietnam. Over the years, he has been an antidote to the disease of bitterness that John McCain infects all conversations with.

Thus, it was strange to listen to Kerry on Wednesday, when he spoke. Unlike McCain, who attempted to score points by dismissing Code Pink with scorn, Kerry expressed a degree of respect for the ladies. And he noted that, years ago, he had also spoke out against a war in a similar setting. Yet, on this day, he was seeking support for a plan to clean up the mess that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had created. Surely the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq was a “mistake,” one that it would seem terribly wrong to ask anyone to die for today.

In all of the on-going discussions and debates about Iraq and Isis that I’ve seen on television, I am convinced that Code Pink has been the most honest and accurate in assessing the threat to our nation. I thank them for that.

If 6 Turned Out to be 9

Jimi Hendrix died on this date in 1970. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame calls Hendrix “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” A heck of a lot of his music has been released over the years -- far more since his death, than in his brief career -- and I think the sum total of that music shows that he was far more than an extremely talented guitarist.

As the youngest of five kids growing up in the 1960s, I was exposed to Hendrix by way of his debut album, “Are You Experienced?” But it wasn’t until after that I quit boxing -- and the disciplined life that sport demands -- that I really got hooked on him. In my teen years, I began collecting as many of his albums as possible (including some rather low-quality records that he may have played on in the background).

Some of my favorites are found on a 5 LP collection from Germany, of Hendrix playing Motown. His version of “Hang On Sloopy,” for example, is wonderful. The enjoyment he felt in performing those songs comes through. It’s in stark contrast to some of his later work, where the frustrations and pain he experienced is evident.

I have over 70 different Hendrix albums; a good number of CDs (including an outstanding 4 CD box set released a few years back, that a fellow DUer told me about); a few biographies; and a number of DVDs of his concerts.

Thirty years ago, sitting in this very room, I remember my sister-in-law telling me about meeting Jimi. Her (first) husband played in a band that opened for the Experience on a concert tour. She said that she was in the dressing room backstage before the concert, when Hendrix walked in. She stepped back, to get out of his way, and accidentally knocked over his guitar.

I had another friend who told me about joining the US Marines, eager to go defend democracy in Vietnam. By chance, he and a couple friends went to a concert to “beat up hippies” the week before they were to go to Vietnam. The concert was Woodstock. He described finding that he actually liked hippies. Someone shared some LSD with him. He figured it couldn’t be much different than whiskey (surprise, surprise!). He was tripping the morning that Jimi played the Star Spangled Banner, and he said it was then that he knew he did not want to go to Vietnam.

I’m curious what others here remember about Jimi Hendrix?

H2O Man

Dick Cheney Unchained

Q: The American people are divided on how to respond to terrorism. How would the Great Law of Peace apply to this situation?

Chief Waterman: Democracy and freedom were born at Onondaga. That is in the Hiawatha Belt. There should be peace for everyone. Peace requires freedom and democracy.

But listen: when you say people are divided, think about this. Your military is dropping bombs and food on Afghanistan. That’s a divided approach, isn’t it? What might have happened if they brought food in before? Why isn’t it just as important to fight starvation and suffering, as it is to fight for oil and money?
-- Interview with Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman; 2002

I do not know a great deal about the group “Isis.” But from the little I do know, they are violent religious fanatics, who are willing to kill other human beings over differences of opinions. So, earlier this summer, when President Obama spoke about delivering humanitarian aid to people who were starving as they fled from Isis, I thought it was a good thing.

The part about bombing Isis from the air concerned me. I do realize that we live in an imperfect world, and that there may be times when “war” is necessary. At the same time, I know one of the primary imperfections in my lifetime has been a repeated choice for the US to go to war. It is hard to ignore how similar much of the chatter coming from politicians today is to what they were saying a decade ago.

There have been a number of recordings played on the news -- I’ve seen most of it on CNN -- of the recruiting tactics of Isis. These are appeals to emotion. Their target audience is young people, generally males, who are more prone to seek the excitement of fighting for a cause that they believe involves the opportunity to be heroic. To fight for a great cause. In a very real sense, it is similar in nature to the appeal to the emotions of young adults in the United States after 9/11, to join the crusade to fight for “freedom” in Iraq, as if Saddam posed any threat to this nation.

Time and time again, it is older men who arouse the passions of young men to fight in wars that the young men mistakenly believe are noble. Yet most wars are not for anything other than access to, and control of, resources. Last year, MSNBC had a good documentary, by Rachel Maddow, that shed light on the real reasons the Bush-Cheney administration was intent upon invading Iraq: access to Iraqi oil. Clearly, most intelligent people had figured out by 2013 that it wasn’t about yellow cake or mushroom clouds; but the kids who joined the military a decade before did so for patriotic reasons, not for Halliburton’s profit margins. Or so they thought.

Likewise, intelligent people today are questioning the actual motivations of those in Washington, DC, who are more than eager to reintroduce our military into Iraq. I think that President Obama is, overall, less inclined to push for US involvement there than republicans, and even a number of democrats. Yet, for a number of reasons, he still is pursuing a dangerous path. It seems highly unlikely that an air campaign alone will defeat Isis. “No boots on the ground” is an empty promise, when special forces and “advisors” are already active in the conflict. While Obama may appear sane in contrast to John McCain, it is delusional to think that the Muslims in that region of the world will see the effort to defeat Isis as anything other than American-led. The pretense that it is an actual coalition is foolish -- is it realistic, for example, to think that Saudi Arabia is morally outraged because of the beheading of the journalists? Really?

Earlier this week, it was reported on Rachel Maddow’s show that one of the ways that Isis is making big money is by the sale of oil. Shocking, I know. Among other things, Isis is selling oil cheap to gas stations; by cutting out the middle-men, it provides a larger profit to the owners of the gas stations. That is the type of information that Americans should have, in order to make rational decisions regarding Washington’s march to war. That’s not to say that Isis isn’t a brutal, vicious outfit. But it does suggest that they might enjoy far more “local” support than most Americans realize, which would surely translate into making any effort to defeat them that much harder.

It also raises another important question: would declaring war on Isis, and engaging in a conflict with them in Iraq and Syria make us safer? Or is the exact opposite true? Would the actions of a US-led “coalition in Iraq and Syria tend to increase the chances of violence reaching the streets of American cities?

The chances of the US not becoming deeply involved in yet another of these never-ending wars is narrowing every day. It is not an issue that we can wait on until 2016, in hopes of electing a new president opposed to such a war. We need to become active today. Obviously, too many of those in office in DC are avoiding having a real debate, including a vote, on the topic. Part of the reason is because of the upcoming elections. More, it is because the legislative branch refuses to accept the responsibility that the Constitution absolutely places upon them, as far as war powers. If Isis is indeed a “JV” team, then the US Senate must be competing in the pee-wee league.

I’ve just come home, after watching a high school boys soccer game. As I was watching the competition, I found myself wondering how many of these young men might be asked to don a uniform, and go to war, in the next few years. It makes me sick to think that it’s coming to this, yet again.

The Politics of Family Dysfunction

Yesterday I posted an essay titled “Family Violence,” that focused on one type of domestic violence, child abuse. Although my rants and ramblings are no longer high profile on this forum, I was pleased with the thoughtful and insightful responses. Quite a few people agreed that there are alternatives to physical violence for teaching discipline to children and youth. Here is a link to that OP/thread, for anyone who might be interested:


I thought that it might be of interest to follow that up, with an essay on “family systems.” As I noted yesterday, the family is the basic building block of the community. Thus, family systems have a significant impact upon the larger society. Although I retired from a career in social work more than a decade ago, these are among the things that I think about when I watch the news on television …..and not just with the ugly events associated with the NFL, but everything from war to the economy to Robin Williams.

As a social worker, I dealt primarily with what are inelegantly known as “dysfunctional families.” And not the average, every day, all-American dysfunctional family that manages to get by, and is able to deal with problems as they arise. Rather, I worked with families that, for a variety of reasons, became entangled in the legal system.

Before going on, I want to say that I believe it is better not to view these issues in a judgmental way. As a general rule, my focus was always to help families identify options to improve the quality of their lives. And that wasn’t a result of some Polly Anna, rose-colored glasses view of human nature. I encountered some violent individuals who deserved the prison sentences they got.

There are a number of dynamics that can cause dysfunction in a family system; some of these may be temporary, while others tend to become entrenched. It is the entrenched ones that tend to create multi-generational difficulties. Domestic violence (against spouses and/or children), addiction, poverty, and serious illnesses and death can all cause dysfunction. Family violence is, of course, in the news now, and hence is my focus today.

Years ago, a model was created that maps the general roles that children living in dysfunctional families tend to take. It is based upon a “four children family system.” A good movie, “The Breakfast Club,” illustrated those roles -- and showed both the positive and negative potentials of each of those roles. (Families, like individuals, are fluid, living entities, and so such roles are not life sentences.)

These roles tend to go in order of birth. They include:

-- The “family hero,” who tends to be a high-achieving individual, who tries to get perfect grades and to be a top athlete;

-- The “lost child,” who tends to attract relatively little attention to him- or herself;

-- The “wild child,” who creates tension at home, in school, and in the community; and

-- The “clown,” who uses humor to relieve family tensions.

A person who inhabits any one of these roles will find ways to get their needs met. There is, of course, a very real potential that the ways that, say, a teenager in a dysfunctional family gets his/her needs met will not be skills that translate well into the larger society. Hence, while I definitely believe that parents have the right to decide how to raise their children, I understand that family dynamics have consequences for the larger society.

Family dysfunction is not limited to any one economic class. However, “the system” does tend to focus more on low-income families. While the concept of “foster care” was intended to protect children and youth who were at risk of being seriously harmed, it has sadly become, far too often, a pipeline to the prison-industrial complex. On the flip side, in wealthy families, such dysfunction can produce a George W. Bush, who as an adult has the force of law to enable his personal pathology.

I mention Bush, not simply to take a jab at the man who led the effort to destabilize the Middle East, but to make another point. This is a political forum, by and large. When we think about the world of politics, and view it in the context of a high school classroom, using those four roles, we can see clearly who is getting their needs met, and who is not. Which “kids” become political and business leaders. Which kids are more or less likely to see the connection between voting, and the reality of their every day lives.

Family Violence

The topic of domestic violence is “in the news” again, largely due to the actions of several football players. Some of the media reports seem to have value, and have the potential to bring about some thoughtful discussions about the damaging impact of physical violence within families. As the family is the basic building block within our communities, it is worth considering the effect that family violence has upon our culture.

Today, I’d like to focus on a specific type of domestic violence: child abuse. That’s a broad topic, of course, and includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. In different states, physical violence can be defined as falling into “neglect” and/or “abuse,” depending upon the severity of it. As I live in New York, I tend to use the terms as defined by our legal system.

For many years, I worked in a county-wide program in positions that dealt with child neglect and abuse. I investigated more cases than I care to remember; counseled parents on appropriate parenting skills; and testified in court many, many times. Later, in another county, I developed a 20-week course for cases referred by Family Court, where parents were at (high) risk for losing all parental rights. That course coordinated services and evaluations through mental health, alcohol & drug abuse services, and social services.

For the sake of this discussion, I will add some personal life experience, which may relate to my position on domestic violence. I was raised in a family where violence was extreme. And I have raised four children -- two sons and two daughters -- without violence.

I believe that the only legitimate purpose for “discipline” is to teach children self-discipline. Hence, if an adult says, “I was hit as a kid, and I turned out okay,” my response is, “Are you willing to consider that there may be a better way?” In my experience, most parents are open to considering that possibility. Those who are not run the risk of having “the system” playing an on-going role in their families’ lives.

Domestic violence of all types tends to go in cycles; some of these cycles include generations. Not all children who are subjected to physical violence grow up to be violent adults. Yet as a general rule, adults who are violent experienced violence in their childhood. I believe that adults who become violent when they are angry did not develop self-discipline. Instead, they have learned that, when angry, to strike out at someone they are confident that can beat up.

If we are serious about breaking the cycles of domestic abuse, our culture needs to consider alternatives to violence starting with childhood. Malcolm X used to say that society should fight violent crime by starting in the high chair, rather than ending with the electric chair. Indeed, there are basic parenting skills that assist a child to become a self-disciplined person.

During the industrial revolution, western culture began to discount the significance of a child’s first five years of life. By no coincidence, this is when the basic family system went from “extended” to “nuclear,” to fit the needs of the economic system. In today’s high-tech society (with more “single parent” and “blended” families than in the past, again to fit the needs of the economic system), there is a greater appreciation of early child development.

There are four basic building blocks for these formative years. These are: “loveable,” meaning the parent loves the infant; “worthwhile,” meaning the parent enjoys spending time with the toddler; “capable,” meaning the child is able to learn things and master skills; and “responsible,” meaning the parent trusts the child to do things right, including doing the right thing.

A five year old who has these building blocks has a better foundation than one who lacks one or more of them. It really is that simple. More, most of the parents who I worked with, who were sincere about wanting to be the best parent they could be, would at some point be able to identify which of these building blocks they did not have in their childhood. And this wasn’t a result of my asking them -- it was something they came to recognize on their own.

To be clear, I’m not saying that doing this results in a child who behaves perfectly. Quite the opposite: no one behaves perfectly. And it is a teenager’s job to test boundaries, experiment with life, and present challenges to their parents. The truth is that a teenager’s brain hasn’t fully developed in the region that identifies consequences. Parents can help them to learn to take the time to consciously think things through, and that does include having negative consequences for bad behaviors. But it doesn’t have to include violence -- especially when there are better ways.

I recognize that any time a person speaks like this, there will be others who say that’s unrealistic. That I do not understand human nature. That human history is filled with violence. And it’s hard to argue that there isn’t lots of violence -- way too much, in my opinion. Yet human nature has many potentials, and non-violence produces greater options. We have the ability to see that specific systems create cycles of violence, and to make the conscious effort to identify and practice alternatives to violence.
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