Time to Fight Rising Inequality

John Ashton - Souvid DattaInequality is plaguing the United States and other countries around the world. Most notably, the UK is also experiencing steep inequality. The President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, John Ashton notes that inequality and poverty is the predominant health concern for youth in the UK. Although, Ashton’s job is to monitor and promote health in the country, he sees fighting poverty as preventative medicine. When he was asked what the largest health concern is for the UK he said, “One is the growing inequalities in people’s position, income and control over their lives over the last 20 or 30 years. Lots of people are living miserable, short lives, with a lot more ill-health than people in the more advantaged parts of the country.” He went on to explain the distribution of wealth and poverty in the UK stating, “Being a northerner, I’m aware that a lot of people in the more advantaged parts of the south-east have no awareness at all of what people on the west coast of Cumbria or in parts of north Liverpool or east Manchester where nobody’s worked for two or three generations, they can’t put food on the table and the children can’t take part in school trips, so those children are growing up as second-class citizen relative to other young people.”

In this way, he points out that a child born to poverty is almost locked into that system with less opportunity for advancement and they are almost surely bound to repeat the process. This is particularly a problem because the quality of life and life expectancy varies drastically from rich to poor. Ashton was also trained as a psychiatrist before entering public health and he is also very concerned with the high rate of mental illness that goes along with poverty. He notes, “the condition of adult males is of increasing concern because suicide has been going up in working-age men, especially the under-40s. There’s something in the dramatically changed position of men in society vis-à-vis women and vis-à-vis the labour market that’s affecting men’s self-esteem and self-confidence as a result of this dislocation…” He is also very concerned about young people growing up in an environment where they cannot get jobs and contribute positively to society. There is no easy fix, but Ashton notes that a four day work week may open up positions and allow more leisure time for men and women in the UK to enjoy spending time with their family and building positive relationships.

Ann Yasuhara, the Legacy of the Social Justice Advocate

yasuhara1Ann Yasuhara died last week at the age of 82 in her home in Princeton. She was a Quaker, a computer scientist, and a fierce social justice advocate. She loved to garden, listen to music, engage with art and contribute to her community. In 1972, Yasuhara joined the faculty at Rutgers in the computer science department. Ileana Streinu took Yasuhara’s classes and said “it was an exquisite topic, beautiful mathematic that Ann was conveying to generation of graduate students. In a department with only a few women on the faculty, she was a model to look up to. With grace and generosity, she touched my life and the lives of many students like me.” Yasuhara also touched many lives through her peace and justice activities. She resisted war and violence whenever she could, always following the peaceful resistance methods of the Quakers. Her many positive contributions to this world include organizing training groups for inner city children, serving on the committees for the Society of Friends in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and working on nonviolent direct action protests with the Earth Quaker Action Team to stop mountaintop coal mining. Documentary film maker and member of the Princeton Friends Meeting, Janet Gardner said of Yasuhara, “Ann was a leader in the Quaker faith and an inspiration to all of us. She set the bar very high and gave us confidence to fight for a better world.” Yasuhara made the world better for her students, for the environment, and for her local community. In Princeton, Yasuhara started Silent Prayers for Peace that organized vigils each week. She also founded the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Not in Our Town, an interracial, interfaith social action group for racial justice. She started a discussion on race at the Princeton Public Library where thought provoking community discussions were held on the differences that define us. Yasuhara will be keenly missed, but the good she put into our world will live on.

‘The Neurobiology of the Gods’

51ZUBm5q4NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_What does neurobiology, symbolic imagery and the writings of Jung all have in common? They are all featured and linked together in the book The Neurobiology of the Gods (2012) by Erik Goodwyn. The text takes CG Jung’s writing and applies the concepts to modern neuroscience. The result is an explanation for why human’s create symbolic imagery and could potentially be helpful for anyone trying to understand that kind of human experience, like analytical psychologists, traumatologists, or even evolutionary psychologists. Goodwyn says of the book that the primary focus “is in symbolic imagery- how the brain constructs it, interacts with it, and imbues it with numinous significance (in the case of gods).” In the work, Goodwyn also goes back and looks at the origins of when humans began using symbolic imagery in the evolutionary process.

Goodwyn looks at the neurobiological aspects of symbolic imagery using the framework of Jung’s ideas like collective unconscious, archetypes and dreams, as well as with the work of neuroscientists like Jaak Panksepp, Antonio Damasio, and Joseph Le Doux. Rather than discounting the work of either philosophy or modern science he uses both to compliment and support each other. Goodwyn concludes that symbolic imagery is how humans decide to make sense of experiences or concepts that they cannot understand. He states that symbolic imagery, meaning any “internally derived sensory impression” and images are really just ways that we guide ourselves mentally so that we have meaningful lives that we understand. Goodwyn writes, “the dream scientists Hall and Nordby, in analyzing some 50,000 dreams from subjects all over the world, found repetitive universal themes that included conspecific aggression and status striving, predatory animals, flying, falling, being pursued, landscapes, sex, misfortune, marriage and children, being socially scrutinized, traveling, swimming, watching fires and being confined underground. These elements they called ‘universal constants of the human psyche’…this data has held up remarkably well over time…Furthermore, when viewed cross-culturally, dreams ‘are more similar than they are different around the world’ … suggesting a common source of stock concerns that are resistant to cultural variation.” So our dreams are similar throughout culture and symbolic imagery remains an entirely human phenomenon. We need images and metaphors to understand what we go through emotionally and to help explain anything that does not make sense scientifically.

Yuri Kochiyama Passes Away

yurirally_vert-0c62c75e3b7214127057d0907da968c5be2c83b9-s3-c85Yuri Kochiyama was an amazing woman who stood up for the civil rights of Asian Americans, and others of color in California. Kochiyama was born in 1921 as a first generation Japanese immigrant living in San Pedro, CA just outside of Los Angeles. She was among those Asian Americans who were rounded up during WWII and put in camps by the U.S. government. 100,000 Japanese American families had their property stolen, their liberty taken away, and were moved into these camps. Kochiyama and her family were sent to a camp in Arkansas. This traumatic experience had a huge impact on Kochiyama and started her on her life-long quest for equal rights for those in marginalized and minority communities.

Kochiyama understood how the situation she went through was similar to that of African Americans in the segregated Jim Crow south. She and her husband Bill began to work towards equal rights, using the Civil Rights Movement as their context for fighting for all men and women of color in the United States. The activities that she organized and her prominence as a Civil Rights leader led to her acquaintance and friendship with Malcolm X. She was in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 when he was assassinated. While everyone else ducked for cover after the shots started she ran to Malcolm X and cradled the Civil Rights leader as he died in her arms.

Later in life she used her position and activism experience to help others in a variety of social justice issues. She spoke about the rights of political prisoners, nuclear disarmament, Puerto Rican independence, and reparations for those, like her, who were Japanese American internees. She dedicated her life to uniting many in marginalized communities and was a model for other activists. The president of Advancing Justice- LA, Stewart Kwoh, said of Kochiyama, “We honor her memory by continuing to fight for justice for all marginalized communities and standing up for everyone whose rights have been infringed upon, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

Affordable Care Act Enrollment Reaches Target

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, ended on March 31. This date has been a nerve wracking one for those who created the new law, but despite the many setbacks with the rollout, Obamacare has exceeded the seven million-person target.

President Obama made the happy announcement from the White House Rose Garden, that 7.1 million people now have health coverage under the law. He also took the opportunity to tell Republicans it was time to stop trying to appeal it. The law has had the fiercest opposition from Speaker John Boehner who said, again, on Monday that he would like to appeal the Affordable Care Act Law.

Obama spoke clearly in the White House Rose Garden, “the law is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s working…the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.” Even though the laws website, HealthCare.gov, was wracked with problems at the outset, this law has still emerged victorious and has been a boon for millions of Americans who were previously uninsured or blocked from affordable insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

This victory for the Democrats may help them in the upcoming November congressional elections. The Democrats hope to hold their majority in the Senate and would like to maintain the seats they have in the currently Republican-majority House. The Republicans will surely point to faults in the law to boost their own campaigns and are clearly looking for ways to encourage the law to fail.

However, Obamacare exceeded the enrollment targets they had set. Additionally, there is sufficient demographic mix to fund the program with younger, healthy Americans and improvements will continue to be made as the law grows into its own. Despite setbacks, this is clearly a win for the Democratic Party and the Republicans may find it difficult to use the ACA as ammunition.

The Faith of Reverend Ellen Rasmussen

53018efa809c8.preview-620Reverend Ellen Rasmussen is a strong advocate for social justice and it comes from her strong faith in Jesus Christ. Rasmussen is the pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in La Crosse, but she did always believe in God.

Rasmussen grew up as the daughter of a Navy officer and would attend church each Sunday wherever he was stationed. When she was eight they settled in Wisconsin, but her mother couldn’t find a church that suited her. As Rasmussen went through school she was surprised by the hypocrisy of churchgoers who treated others poorly. This prompted her to doubt the existence of God.

Things began to change in 1996 when a hospital chaplain in Tennessee began ministering to her. At the time she met Rev. Jim Ellis her father had passed and her mother was hospitalized after being diagnosed with a fatal illness. Rasmussen recognized that the chaplain reached out to her because, “I was in the denial phase…I said a lot of things some would consider blasphemous.” At the same time that her mother was sick, Rasmussen was going through a divorce and still grieving for her father. Despite experiencing her lowest low, Ellis comforted her by saying, “there is this aura about you, and in a very short time you will have a conversion experience and it will be glorious.”

Rasmussen’s conversion did come, suddenly, while she was attending a convention in Dallas. All of the sudden she felt God’s love and new he was her friend “without a shadow of a doubt and with every cell of my being.” From that point, Rasmussen quickly read the Bible and other texts and began teaching Sunday school. In 2007 she received her master’s degree in divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern. She soon became a minister and quickly developed a reputation for helping the poor and disenfranchised. Rasmussen continues to uphold that reputation with actions like opening Wesley’s doors as a shelter for the homeless in brutally cold weather.

Rasmussen has a strong sense of justice and she feels so blessed to be able to help those in need in her community. Her struggle to find faith has helped her lead others who are unsure of how to love God. She admits that she “never imagined that this is what I’d be doing with my life, and now I can’t imagine not doing it.”

Deforestation and Drug Trafficking

Drug-Trafficking-Linked-to-Deforestation-in-Central-America-422866-2In Central America forests are being destroyed for the purpose of transporting Narcotics. This has been known to occur in Guatemala and Honduras where trees are cut down for landing strips and roads to move the drugs. Additionally the influx of large amounts of drug money has allowed timber traffickers, ranchers, and oil palm growers to increase their activities.

The increase in drug trafficking in Central America is due to the crackdown on trading narcotics in Mexico. Although Central American countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, have been used to smuggled cocaine and marijuana for decades, the situation in Mexico has pushed more trade into the area. Most importantly, the operations are moving into remote areas where it is necessary to clear trees.

This vast deforestation is known as the ‘narco-effect.’ In Honduras alone, as cocaine movement rises, the level of deforestation per year has quadrupled between 2007 and 2011. The problem lies with monitoring as the forests are poorly governed, conservation groups are threatened, and state prosecutors are paid off. Adding to the fear of speaking out, Honduras now has one of the world’s highest homicide rates.

Once the land is cleared some drug dealers have found it advantageous to use the land for farming. Once they start using it, the indigenous people, as well as authorities do not speak out about the right to own the land. The farms provide a great way to launder the drug money. Additionally, once the land ‘belongs’ to the drug dealers they can sell it off for corporate concerns.

Many believe that the crackdown on drugs hasn’t done anything except drive the industry into remote areas. This puts vast amounts of forest at risk of becoming permanent farming land. Conservations have a difficult task before them to get this situation under control.

This is another instance where drugs contribute to the destruction of our world. In these deforestations, not only are drugs thus manufactured and produced, but thousands of people are displaced from their farms and forced to relocate, along with many others suffering in more unimaginable ways. The devastation has already hit us personally for many years, most recently with the high-profile and unfortunate death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who tragically died due to a heroin overdose.

Billie Jean King Part of US Diversity Diplomacy for Sochi Olympics

As it turns out, the United States diversity diplomacy representative to Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics will not be the President, the Vice-President, or the First Lady, but an athlete instead. It will be none other than the most outspoken gay athlete in American history, former international tennis champion, Billie Jean King. Being no stranger to discrimination, she didn’t think twice when being asked if she’d like to join the U.S. delegation for the Sochi Olympics.

King will help lead the delegation in the opening ceremony Feb. 7th at the Sochi Games, which have been overshadowed by Russia’s recent passage of an anti-gay law, which has garnered calls for boycotting the olympics and has exposed Russia to criticism of intolerance from human rights groups. “It took about 10 seconds,” King told The Associated Press on Wednesday about deciding to go to Sochi. “It sends a strong message that America is very diverse. We are here, and surrogates as athletes and gay athletes. We reflect part of America. Maybe we’ll be a voice for people who don’t feel they can be a voice yet.”

She’ll be joined on the delegation by two other openly gay former olympians – figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow. King stated that she’ll walk in the opening ceremony, meet with U.S. athletes, and see hockey and ice-skating during her 3-day stay at the games. The former tennis start also stated that she would like sexual orientation added to the list of protections outlined in the IOC charter.

“I’m all excited about meeting different athletes and watching them do what they do,” King told the AP in an exclusive phone interview from her home in New York. “The Olympics is foremost about the athletes coming together, and they have worked so hard for this moment to be representing their country and competing. That’s the essence of what it’s about.”

There’s the possibility of consequences if an athlete wears a rainbow pin or carries a rainbow flag in Sochi. Under Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” That eliminates the possibility of any flags flying or rainbow pins being worn, as the athletes can possibly be sent home or have their medals stripped.

President Obama has been openly critical of the Russian anti-gay law and President Putin’s “cold-war attitude” on many other issues. For the first time since 2000, the delegation will not include a President, Vice-President, former President, or First Lady.

Social Justice Loses A Hero

Nelson Mandela was a man of intense bravery.  He showed grace and humility, love and kindness, leadership and stability.  A titan of social justice left us on December 5 and with his absence we are left looking back on the life of a man who proved that your past can help you make you stronger for your future.

People around the world mourned the loss of President Mandela who died at the age of 95.  Mandela was South Africa’s first black president and after being imprisoned for 27 years he served his term from 1994 to 1999.

Throughout his life Mandela was forthright about his view on the difference between politics and war.  In his eyes war could only be destructive.  Taking life and causing pain to a nation could only hurt.  But politics seemed creative.  They gave democratic reason to solve issues, appointing individuals who would remain accountable to the problem and hit it head on.  With these beliefs Mandela shaped an oppressed South African country into a better place.

While Mandela was deeply passionate about his politics he never came off as an individual seeking personal gain but only the social justice of a country, a race, and a unified people.  However, South Africa is now a nation in conflict once again.  With Mandela no longer present to continue his vision, corrupt successors have taken his place.  Mandela’s emphasis on schooling to help build a nation has taken a back seat to political gain and it seems children will not be afforded a decent education.

These conflicts imply a rocky future for the country.  Without the promise of adequate schooling it takes away the promise of economic prosperity and thus leaves a country in mourning in a challenging position.  How will South Africa move forward without Mandela?  Only time will tell.

Test Post

Test Post