Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Humanity and Security: Can There Be a Balance?

How should the United States and other countries react to the current refugee crisis?  As we read and watch stories of families, women and children in particular, fleeing the violence, death, and hunger in Syria, we see an obvious and evident need to provide meaningful humanitarian service to include a place of refuge.  Yet, in light of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the possibility of terrorists making it into the the US on the coattails of refugees, it makes the safety and security of the homeland a legitimate concern.

How do we provide needed humanitarian relief while ensuring the safety and security of our homes and families?  Does our own security outweigh the plight of all of those refugees who now have only their lives to lose?  Do we freely open our borders to 10,000, to 100,000, or to more without question?  Do we shut our borders and allow none of those from Syria into our country?

I believe we can retain our humanity and help without being reckless with our security, but it will take caution, patience, and understanding.  We need to observe closely what has happened in Paris.  Did those terrorists truly come into Europe with the Syrian refugees?  If so, how did they do it?  Can we prevent something similar from happening here?

We need our government to explain to us in sufficient detail, while maintaining necessary operational security, how they will vet refugees coming into the United States.  Where are they coming from before they enter the US?  What is the vetting process and demographic parameters?  What will we do to keep track of refugees once they enter the country?  Our government should provide us a review of the success and failures of previous refugee relocation programs.

We need to think about and discuss how we can best help any refugees who will be relocated into the US.  Where do we place them?  What assistance do we provide?  Is it good to provide them employment opportunities or should they not be allowed to work in order to protect jobs for Americans?  How long do we allow them to stay?  How long have we allowed other refugees to stay?  What is the cost of bringing them in and how will we pay for the program?

We need to avoid making judgements based solely on race, ethnicity, and religion.  Refusing help and engaging in hateful dialogue will only make such problems worse and more widespread.  I believe we will be playing into the terrorists hands if we engage in such behavior.  Too many people in this country and throughout the world don't understand the methodology of terrorists.  Violence and fear are not the aim of the thoughtful and resourceful terrorist.  Rather the terror and violence are aimed at eliciting certain responses from various groups.  One common response that terrorists seek is an increase in hate and decrease in trust.  Much of the dialogue we are seeing today is playing into that desired response.

But again, at the same time, we cannot label caution as ill-aimed hate and fear.  

A wise response has room for humanity and patience, but it requires a good degree of transparency.  Let's develop a well-thought out assistance and relocation plan and take the time to do it right.  Let's set aside the hateful dialogue.  Let's demand that our government provide us answers and explanations for what will happen without simply lecturing us.  

Our biggest challenge is and will be the unwillingness of Americans to set aside political agendas, hate, fear, and uncertainty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Coat, the Russians, and the CIA

After almost five years in Henderson, Nevada my blood has thinned to dangerous levels.  Temperatures in the fifties tonight forced me to don a heavy coat to watch the Green Valley High School Marching Band.  It was almost embarrassing, but with everyone else wearing coats I didn’t stand out.  The coat, a heavy black wool one, I wore tonight is one of my all-time favorites.  Since I bought it about a year before we left Colorado Springs to move to Henderson, it still feels like a new coat.  I wore it for a winter in Colorado Springs and now just rare occasions when visiting Utah and Idaho or when coolish weather hits southern Nevada. 

Anyway, tonight as I put the coat on, I felt some crinkly paper in the interior pocket.  Curious about what receipt or candy wrapper I may have had in there, I unzipped it and pulled it out—a newspaper clipping from the English version of The St. Petersburg Times dated Friday, February 19, 2010.  I pulled it from a paper during my last visit to Russia.  The article that drew my interest is titled “Dispersing the CIA Myth”, by Yevgeny Bazhanov, at the time a vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.  (He is now the president of the Diplomatic Academy.)  Looking back through the haze of Maidan in Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, I find the article intriguing.

So, for everyone’s reading pleasure, here is the article:

It has become customary in recent decades to blame the United States for every catastrophe afflicting the planet — from tsunamis to revolutions. Before the United States, it was the Jews who were blamed for the world’s problems. In medieval Europe, for example, Jews were said to have spread the plague — and, ironically, the accusations were most virulent in those regions where Jewish people didn’t even live.

Governments have often blamed foreign elements for instigating revolutions. Opponents of the 1789 French Revolution considered it the fruit of an English and Lutheran plot, and Russian authorities considered the Decembrists to be French agents. Bolshevik leaders were thought to be agents of the German military, and Adolf Hitler viewed the Bolsheviks as part of a global Jewish plot. The capitalist West invariably implicated Moscow in national liberation movements of the 20th century, and the Kremlin was convinced that every right-wing dictator was a puppet of Uncle Sam.

But the truth is that all of these political upheavals were the result of internal forces. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Russians thought that it was caused by the Central Intelligence Agency. No doubt, Washington did concoct various schemes during the Cold War to weaken the Soviet Union and possibly hasten its collapse — for example, drawing Moscow into an arms race by launching the “Star Wars” program and conspiring with Saudi Arabia to precipitate the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s.

But accusations that the CIA alone caused the Soviet Union to collapse are ridiculous. Why do Russians seemingly hold the CIA in such high regard? It can’t even uncover the simplest intelligence, much less cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. Take, for example, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shah Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, a close ally of the United States, had been ruling the country, and various individuals operating as U.S. agents filled his inner circle. Nonetheless, the Islamic revolution, which had been brewing for years, came as a complete surprise to the shah and his cohorts. Then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter summarily fired the CIA chief and decided to conduct a thorough housecleaning at the agency.  

Nor did anybody in the CIA expect that the collapse of the Soviet Union would occur as soon as it did. After it happened, the U.S. Congress ordered an investigation to determine why the intelligence service did not predict the Soviet collapse, much less organize it.

The key reasons for the Soviet collapse had little to do with the United States. The reasons were internal, of course — not least among them were the perestroika reforms introduced in 1987 under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who understood that the economy had no chance of surviving without at least a modicum of democratization and economic liberalization. But those democratic reforms ultimately caused the already weak Soviet foundation to collapse. The political kettle had been boiling for years, and as soon as Gorbachev opened the lid even a tad, the country experienced a violent overflow of opposition to Soviet rule in the Baltic states and an outbreak of interethnic fighting in the Caucasus. The political explosions sharply exacerbated the country’s acute economic woes.

Things did not go well for the former Soviet republics either after they gained independence. People expected conditions to improve, but instead they witnessed the emergence of oligarchic “bandit capitalism,” which resulted in a huge gap between the few rich and the many poor. The great disappointment, disillusionment and chaos in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union paved the way for new “color revolutions” in three former Soviet republics. The West may have funded some of the opposition forces, but it is ridiculous to claim that it caused these revolutions.

The Feb. 7 Ukrainian presidential election proved that the hyped-up claims of Western subversion in its color revolution was patently false. Conservative groups in Russia love to claim that the Orange Revolution was designed in Washington and that Yushchenko’s victory allowed the United States to control Ukraine and dictate Kiev’s “anti-Russian” policy. But when Yushchenko received only 5 percent of the vote in an election declared democratic by all international monitoring groups, this was a crushing defeat not only to Yushchenko, but also to the fearmongers in Russia who claimed that Washington had completely orchestrated the Orange Revolution. On the contrary, thanks to the democratic Orange Revolution, Ukrainians were able to remove an unpopular, pro-Western president through free elections.

Yevgeny Bazhanov is vice chancellor of research and international relations at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.

(The article was also in The Moscow Times; see link above.)

Also, for an exciting recap of my last trip to Russia, please check out this post:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Master

Today the master woke me from a sleep, well deserved and peaceful.  
“Opportunity is slipping by,” said he, “with each tick of the clock.”
I cleansed, dressed, and groomed; my meal did not make me full.
“Quickly to the shop,” demanded the master, “It’s time to shape rock.”

A lump of material in hand, the master insists I give it meaning.
Upon the shelves sit forms and figures, successes and failures bygone,
My present task a thing new, a challenge perhaps beyond my doing.
“A skill tried, a talent gained. a basic step to progress won.”

Exhaustion, tedium, excitements, distractions beset, entice, and mount.
Perchance it is enough, I consider, this small creation mostly fashioned.
Yet the master drives me, “Halfway, partway does not, can not count.”
“The best, the most, must be given for effort as worthy to be deemed.”
The piece now complete, but not in harmony with my plan designed.
“Oh, it is well.  You gave the day your full measure, the best was done.”
Experience past employed, knowledge and skill new is obtained.
“You know now what you lack; lasting failures there need be none.”

At end of day, on my knees thanks, glory and honor given to my King
Firm is my commitment, deep and solid is my resolve for the morrow.
I, I am the master answerable for the effort and desire that I bring.
My own reason essential, my will vital; As master, those I cannot borrow.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mass Shootings in America: Solution Out of Sync with National Culture

Another mass shooting under our belts here in America.  Somehow it happened in a gun free zone, where the only one armed was the shooter.  I've listened as the news has lauded how quickly the police department responded and saved more people from being shot.  I applaud the efforts and actions of law enforcement, but the eight minutes it took them to respond was sufficient for the shooter to kill several people and wound others.

In terms of gun control laws, unless you're in favor of banning all vehicles on the road, I'm not really going to listen to your arguments to restrict access to guns.  Vehicles kill more people than guns, and that's mostly by accident.  Get rid of the bigger threat first and then I might listen to you about the guns.  (Kind of feel the same way about those opposed to vaccinations.)

Instead let's look at some other likely causes of violence wherein a firearm is the weapon of choice.  First, mental health problems tend to be a leading factor in mass shootings in the US.  What has changed in our country in terms of mental health that leads to and allows for such public violence?  What did we do in the past that worked that we aren't doing now?  Second, the disintegration of the traditional family unit and strong neighborhoods where everyone was interested in raising responsible and well balanced children.  The destruction of the family and a cancerous sense of entitlement free of responsibility, I think, prevent people from developing into responsible citizens.  In connection with this trend, I think that more parents are hesitant to provide the help needed to children that are suffering from personality issues and mental health problems.  There seems to be a fear of reaching out for additional help, maybe because that help isn't proving effective.

Because of the second amendment, and because places like Detroit and Chicago that have strict gun laws lead the nation in gun related murders, it is unlikely that the government will succeed in removing all guns from the hands of all citizens.

Do we have the courage, or even the capability, of addressing the other issues that contribute to such events? If we don't, they will continue to happen.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Improving our Dialogue in Social Media

Social media, in all of its forms, has provided us with an amazing method for communicating with family, friends, colleagues, and perfect strangers.  Personally, I think it is an effective way to keep up with my parents and siblings, who live in different states.  We are able to provide updates and photos.  On short notice we can ask about a favorite recipe or for a needed fix-it tip.  I also enjoy using social media to track reputable news sources in order to stay current on the local, national, and world happenings. 

Different social media platforms also allow strangers connected by issues and interests to carry on a dialogue.  I enjoy the opportunity to learn from those that share my opinions, values, and beliefs; and I value the opportunity to discuss topics with those that have different perspectives, beliefs, and values than I do. 

As a forum, the Internet makes people comfortable behaving in ways that most probably wouldn’t in polite, personal company.  I’ve reached the point where I avoid the comments on the most innocuous of Internet articles.  Some people seem to have a need to be negative in the case of any level of disagreement.  Some want to argue with others on every issue.  Anger and an overwhelming desire to be right drive many people in their online dialogues.  Sadly, they fail to realize that, (or don’t care), that anger-based arguments are ineffective.  Belittling and belligerent language doesn’t change minds or hearts; rather it tends to push those with other ideas to entrench themselves further.

Social media is an amazing platform for freedom of speech, but many individuals seem to lose their minds whenever someone states an idea, belief, or principle that doesn’t match up with their own.  People will argue for the right to speak their minds, but would refuse others the same right in case of any disagreement.  It’s seems, almost, that with the advent of the internet people finally began to realize that there are multiple, competing ideas and beliefs in the world—and even more shocking, we have learned that some of our very own family members, friends, and colleagues have ideas different from ours.  Being offended shouldn’t be our default, or even reasoned, reaction to most dissimilar ideas.

People cling to the rights granted by the First Amendment in support of their one-sided dialogue, but have no problem when others are quieted.  Confusion also seems to drive claims to the protection of the First Amendment.  Many seem to think that the First Amendment gives them the right to say anything they want with absolutely no consequences.  In their mind, those who agree with them should be able to say anything, no matter how potentially offensive, in any setting without consequence.  Yet, they would never consider it acceptable to allow someone that disagrees with them to come into their homes, their places of worship, their businesses and spout offensive ideas.  Of course, we have the right, in this great country, to say what we want and to share our ideas, but there will be consequences of saying things at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or to the wrong people.  I can lose my mind on my boss at work; tell him what I think of his poor management.  It’s unlikely I will be prosecuted, but I probably will lose my job or opportunities for promotion.

Another result of social media and Internet is the decaying value of news on the internet.  Opinions are now represented as facts, and facts as absolute truth.  Multiple news sources, of questionable integrity and reliability have arisen, many with competing viewpoints and agendas on all sides of different issues and political persuasions.  Even “reputable” news outlets are becoming looser with their reporting, giving into the need to scoop stories and internal agendas in exchange for accuracy and importance.

Hopefully this blog post doesn’t fall into the categories that I describe above.  My goal is to call all of us, especially me, to a higher standard of dialogue.  More often than I would like, I find myself feeling offended by what others have written or shared on social media.  I’ve had to work hard to be careful about my reactions and what I write.  It’s important for me to avoid strident and aggressive language.  I think I can do that while still expressing myself, and formulating arguments in support of my ideas and values.  If I can’t do so without getting angry or engendering anger, then I may not have a very good argument. Today I’m careful about engaging on controversial topics and I’m very careful about who with I engage.  I’m not shy about sharing items in support of my values and beliefs, but I’m careful about how I do it—careful, but of course not perfect.

As I struggle with the climate on social media and my response to it, I fall back to the ideas shared by Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I think he teaches a better way, a higher way, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ without being offensive to those who might not share his beliefs.  He said the following:

 “Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another.  While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions.  This is especially true when we disagree.  The Savior taught us to love even our enemies…there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught.  I invite each one of individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior.  It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable.  Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements.  If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstance, we become more like Christ.”

I also hold to the concept taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said:

“We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

Meaningful dialogue can only take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Celebrating Fair Time

August in Utah and Idaho is a time for county fairs.  Unfortunately I missed one of my favorites last week, the Duchesne County Fair.  As part of the fair this year, Duchesne County celebrated 100 year anniversary of its founding.  This included a song written and performed by Charley Jenkins honoring Duchesne County.  I won’t lie; I may have felt a bit emotional as he talked about each of the county’s high school mascots.  Here’s a link to the video:

It’s interesting to note that while our family moved there in 1979, a Van Wagoner played a significant role in the creation of Duchesne County.  In 1913, William L. Van Wagoner of Wasatch County, a member of the state legislature, sponsored an amendment to the state constitution authorizing the creation of new counties.  The amendment was introduced specifically to allow for the creation of Duchesne County.

While I didn’t make it to the Duchesne County Fair this year, I did make it to the Oneida County Fair in Malad, Idaho.  My oldest son showed a pig this year as part of the 4-H program.  In the past we’ve watched him and my two older daughters show and sell lambs and pigs.  Before that I watched as my wife’s brothers and sister showed and sold lambs, pigs, and steers at the fair.  For over 30 years my father-in-law, as the University of Idaho County Extension Agent, he ran the county 4-H program—needless to say the fair is a deeply ingrained part of life for my wife’s family.

This year we arrived on Wednesday night, the day before the pig show.  My wife and I slept outside under the stars, as we like to do, just in time to see the amazing Perseids meteor shower.  Living in the Vegas Valley we don’t get to see many stars in the night sky.  In the span of the twenty minutes I managed to keep my eyes open, I counted over a dozen meteors streaking across the Milky Way.

My son had a good year showing his pig.  He and this year’s pig were much more prepared than he was last year.  He came in number three for showmanship in his class.  Unfortunately, his pig barely made weight so he got a red ribbon for quality—a source of embarrassment for his grandfather.  The auction is tomorrow.  We’ll see if he can match the $900 plus he made from his pig last year.

Thursday afternoon we had to bring in the flock of ewes so that twenty of them could go to the rodeo for the mutton busting.  Anyone who has ever tried to herd sheep, know that they can be contrary.  In the end I managed to get all thirty of them to follow me while shaking a bucket with just a few cups of grain.  I felt like a political candidate from the Democrat Party—a large group following based on the hope and promise of something insufficient to provide any relief and that actually ended up with them in servitude—but I digress.

For a number of deep-seated reasons, I always get emotional at the beginning of a rodeo, when Old Glory comes streaming into the arena on horseback.  I feel a deep sense of love for my country and the power of the small, close-knit communities that make this country great.  To properly celebrate the event, we bought hamburgers and fries right there on the rodeo grounds.  It’s hard to beat the taste of fair burgers.


Two things made the night memorable.  First, was the Calcutta auction as part of the stock saddle event.  In the Calcutta auction, the person who bids on and wins the winning rider wins 60% of the funds raised through the bidding process.  The person who wins the second place rider wins 40% of the pot.  A number of the riders were well known for their skills or were local riders.  As a result, they each managed to bring in anywhere from $60 to $120.  One rider, Anthony Brown, was receiving no bids—he was an unknown commodity.  In an act of confidence, he placed a $25 bid on himself.  Nobody tried to outbid him and he won the marker for his ride, a chance at the pot that totaled just over $600.

Anthony Brown came out as the fifth rider and scored 84 points, a score that would not be beat.  Mr. Brown paid $25 in the winning bid on himself when nobody else believed in him.  He walked away with an additional $400 in his pocket because of his belief in his abilities.  There is a powerful lesson in that.

Second, at the end of the rodeo we found we had an interesting companion with us as a spectator.  I took his picture (below).  He looked back at me just as intently as I looked at him.

Next month my father-in-law will be the Grand Marshall for the Eastern Idaho State Fair.  Here’s to many more fairs and many more rodeos and the celebration of a wonderful way of life. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Politics - 2015

We've had a number of politically significant events this summer from Supreme Court decisions to exponential growth of GOP presidential contenders to confusion about ISIS/ISIL.  As I read the news, nobody hears as I shout my opinions.  (Of course, I usually just shout internally, giving myself a headache.)  Here's a brain dump on a few issues.

First, the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag in South Carolina.  My mind cannot comprehend the hatred that would lead someone to commit such an evil act that led the nation to a discussion of the Confederate Battle Flag. My heart cannot plumb the depths of the sorrow and heartache experienced by the family and loved ones of those killed.  The fact that the Battle Flag flew on the grounds of South Carolina's capitol building had little to no affect on those shootings.  Yet, the flag is a reminder of an unsavory past.  While for some its symbolism may capture the sacrifices of southerners committed in an attempt to maintain a way of life and state sovereignty, to many it is a reminder of slavery, rebellion, and Jim Crow laws.  When you add the fact that the Battle Flag was added to the grounds of the state capitol as a protest against civil rights, sort of a flag raising for those in support of segregation and racism, it becomes more understandable of why people would question its location.

The debate regarding the state flying the flag was timely and appropriate.  The decision in South Carolina to remove the flag from the capitol grounds was, in my opinion, the right one.  The Confederate Battle Flag was not outlawed.  Individual citizens may continue to fly and display it.  Other groups and organizations may continue to display it.  The state government simply elected not to display it, in essence removing government support for a complex symbol that brings pain to many.

(On the issue of state sovereignty and state rights, I'm of the opinion that the southern states have done more to strengthen the Federal government than anything any liberal state has done.  How?  First, by committing rebellion and giving cause for the Federal government to enforce its will and existence by force.  Second, by the introduction, promulgation, and defense of despicable Jim Crow laws.  We would have been better off if the South had figured out how to get rid of slavery on its own and how to introduce and practice fair treatment under the law.  Their unwillingness and inability to do so resulted in the Federal government doing it for them.  This has had a negative impact on the federal-state relationship for other states on many different issues.)

Second, what a big summer for the Supreme Court!  Without getting into depth on my opinions, I just want to mention one name--Chief Justice John Roberts.  Reading his opinions on the same-sex marriage case and on the Obamacare case, I really have a hard time believing that the same person wrote the same things.  Is multiple personality disorder sufficient cause for impeachment from the Supreme Court?  It seems the man will say whatever to justify what he wants to do with no thought for the Constitution, the meaning of words, or the proper role of the Supreme Court.  I bet his wife hates making his dinner--one day he loves potatoes au gratin and the next day he doesn't.

Third, I'm throwing my hat in the ring for the GOP presidential nomination.  I think we all should since it seems everyone is.  We're looking at a potential His Excellency, President Bush the Third or the Return of the High President Clinton.  I think there a couple of potentially good choices on the GOP side and some terrible ones (Trump, Christie, Cruz, and Paul).  And just to understand how far left the Democrat Party has now shifted, the best alternative they have to Hillary Clinton so far is a Socialist.

Fourth, it now appears that President Obama's primary national security advisors believe that our greatest threats are Russia (chuckle at Mitt Romney) and ISIS/ISIL (good thing they're just the JV).  But, we have managed to give Iran a pathway to nuclear armament. 

I'm sure there's more, but for now I'm out of wit.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bridging the Gap: Law Enforcement and Community Relations

Today parts of our country seem ready to come apart along racial and social seams.  The causes and solutions of the larger program are beyond my scope of understanding and problem solving.  Racial issues, while not what they once were in this country, linger.  Racial tension has morphed into an institutional problem that is difficult to trace to any one source, making any one solution unlikely.  Answers can’t be found in political ideologies.  Both parties have tried to fix the problem.  Both have failed.  Both parties have those who sincerely want to create the conditions for a positive change.  Both parties have those who will use race as a stepping stone to greater power and influence.  Ideological fixes have exacerbated or mutated the problem into something more complex. 

One key societal interaction continues to impact communities at large, often leading to violence and calls for more violence.  The intersection of members of the black community and law enforcement, specifically in areas with poor economic performance and a large number of minorities.  Such areas are potential tinderboxes.  In places were the interactions, perceived or real, are bad enough, any tragedy can lead to greater tragedy.

While I don’t think we have the knowledge, wisdom, or capacity to address the root causes of the overall crisis, I do think we can alleviate some serious symptoms.  Perhaps by taking some first steps in addressing this symptom, we can develop the ability to see more clearly, understand more clearly and make other meaningful changes aimed at the root causes.

Two key elements are at the center of troubled relationships between law enforcement and the affected black community and individuals—trust and communication.  Without one it’s very difficult to have the other.  At some point both sides, all sides, involved in the relationship need to agree to begin doing one or the other—trusting or communicating.  It would be best if they could do both at the same time, but baby steps may be required.

I propose the following steps be taken by law enforcement and municipal leaders and respected leaders in the black community in cities where there is a recognizable problem.

First, there should be a sit down meeting of law enforcement/municipal leaders and a variety of leaders from the black community.  Each person in attendance should express their goals for the community and their perception of the problems in terms of racial interaction with law enforcement.  This session should be a listening session that is moderated by a third-party.  I believe that they would find some common ground in terms of desires for a safe and more prosperous community.  I also believe that, if the various parties listen, some understanding of other perspectives will begin to have an impact.  The very act of being able to speak clearly to the other side can be beneficial.  I suggest that the conversations take place privately, behind closed doors without the media present.  A report of this initial conversation can be released to the public after it takes place.  This may not be viable, but it may help reduce the likelihood of participants grandstanding to score political or public relations points with their constituencies.

Second, all parties should agree to an in depth look at the situation.  A third-party should be hired to do the following:

-       Conduct community polling among all ethnicities regarding the perception of law enforcement-community relations and the role of race in those interactions.

-       Conduct a polling of all law enforcement officers in the agency and their perception of community relations and the role of race in those relations.

-       Conduct a review of conviction rates and sentencing statistics broken down by crime and race.

-       Conduct a review of the law enforcement agency’s policies and history of race-based complaints.  The goal would be to present findings that show which complaints are founded and which is not.

-       Conduct a review of public statements made by law enforcement/municipal leaders and black community leaders.  The goal would be to identify statements that were helpful and which were needlessly inflammatory or harmful.

Third, all parties will attend another meeting where the results of the third-party review are discussed.  This meeting once again will focus on listening.  Attendees should be open so that they can develop a more clear, unbiased picture of reality and the steps that will be necessary to find common ground and to begin a serious dialogue.  Not everyone will agree with all of the findings.  That is not necessary to begin the dialogue.  The goal is to identify gaps in perception relative to a more objective look at the big picture.

Fourth, a series of interactive meetings will take place.  The parties will discuss each of the major findings.  Attendees initially will focus their remarks on what they can do to improve the situation relative to the findings.  As each attendee offers up ways they and their constituents can improve the situation desires and perceptions will move toward common ground.  Productive dialogue has the potential to allow for concessions on issues that are meaningful but not restricted by principled beliefs or values.  Law and order can be maintained while recognizing and protecting the rights and concerns of the black community.  This concept is central to the dialogue.  Law enforcement and municipal leaders must not be asked to sacrifice law and order in exchange for anarchy.  The black community can demand and receive fair and transparent treatment.

Fifth, a robust community-policing program must be put into action.  The program must be developed by and specifically for the members of the community and the law enforcement agency.  Among many possibilities, a community-policing program should consist of at least some of the following:

-       Law enforcement and municipal leaders should attend community events and arrange for moments of meaningful dialogue.  Community and cultural understanding must be deepened.  They must come to understand the challenges facing community members and the impact they might have on law, order and potential interactions. 

-       Community leaders and members should participate in appropriate law enforcement activities to understand the perspective of law enforcement.  They should go on ride-a-longs.  They should participate in various training events to include use of force training.

-       A board of review should be put in place with members from law enforcement and the community.  The board will review community complaints and questionable issues of use of force.  Recommendations and findings by the board should demand serious consideration.  The reasoning for actions and decisions of law enforcement agencies should be explained clearly to the board and open for discussion

What can we hope to gain by all of this?  Trust through dialogue and transparency.  Law enforcement leaders need to be able to trust that when a community leader comes to them with a concern or a complaint, that it is something credible.  Community leaders need to know that they will receive the information that the information they receive from law enforcement leaders is timely and credible while accepting the fact that at times legal concerns may delay the release of that information.  With this type of trust, law enforcement agencies and community members will begin to work from the foundation of shared goals and understanding.  The lives and rights of community members and those of law enforcement officers will be placed on equal ground by all of those involved.  Police officers will monitor themselves to make sure they are behaving properly.  Community members will monitor themselves to make sure that their members are behaving properly.  Both sides will address actions and reactions to poor and improper behavior civilly and legally.  The law will be enforced and crime punished more fairly.  Communities will be safer for everyone.

To reiterate, these steps will address a symptom only.  They do not have the power to heal some deeper issues.  They do, however, offer a start, a place of beginning.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Escape on the Lake

Quiet and gray, crispness in the air

Clouds and surface combine in one

Snowflakes fall heavily into dark water

Pulling on the oar, my breath freezes

The shore recedes, gray water surrounds

Mountains rise high above the valley floor

Snow gathers slowly on evergreen needles

Ripples run outward from the silver canoe

Horses in the pasture stamp feet

Field lays fallow, yellow stubble wetted

Fowl glide past as all shapes fade away

Isolation embraces and nature encircles

Lying back, staring up; sky is falling

Thick, wet crystals land gently on bare skin

Solitude is my blanket; silence my music

Weight and worry slip off, melting away

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Memories of the Duchesne County Fair

Who remembers watching the horses come off the side of the mountain as they would sit back on their haunches and slide down?  Usually their rider would be out in front holding onto the reins, running and sliding just in front of the horse.  Eventually they would reach the bottom and drop out of sight momentarily…then in a mad rush horse and rider would come galloping through the river and into the rodeo arena.  As a young boy I knew of a few people who rode in the Crazy Horse Race year in and year out.  It seems most of the riders were younger guys who didn’t know better yet, but there were a few experienced riders that continued to race.

At the end of every summer I looked forward to the Duchesne County Fair.  Shortly after my family moved to Duchesne my dad was put to work fixing the old wood rodeo stands, repairing seats, gates, and fences.  I loved to spend time with him as he put up new lumber and painted it as the fair approached.  My dad, Reed Van Wagoner, would go on to serve on the Fair Board for several years and as Chairman for some of that time.  His service on the Fair Board and his work as a deputy sheriff allowed me to spend a significant amount of my time around the fair as it was set up, executed, and closed up.  I remember when the Blue Fair Building was brand new.

For a year or two I had plans to be a bareback rider in the Little Buckaroos rodeo.  I never made it, but one year, with a brand new set of school clothes on my body, I won the greased pig contest.  Both my dad and I got in trouble when I got home that night, but I did win a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

My dad was on the Fair Board the year the old rodeo arena was replaced.  I think he was Chairman of the Fair Board that year.  It was fun to go down every day or two to check on the progress, to watch the new chutes and announcer stands put together and to watch the huge light poles go up.  

That year Charly McClain put on a concert at the fair.  Sitting up front with my parents and family friends was a cool treat.  At one point in the concert Charly McClain asked for a ten year old boy to come up to the stage.  I happened to be 10 that year, the summer before I started sixth grade.  My dad shoved me a little and told me to get up there, but I hesitated, not sure if I wanted the attention and uncertain what would happen.  Suddenly one of my dad’s friends sort of grabbed me and threw me out in front of the stage.  Pretty soon one of the stage hands had me by the shoulder leading me up on stage where the beautiful Charly McClain took me by the hand.  I was thrilled and terrified at the same time.

She told the crowd that she was going to dedicate the next song to me.  Before she started she leaned over and whispered in my ear.  In the days and weeks afterward several people asked what she whispered to me.  I told most of them it was a secret.  But, here is what she said to that ten year old:

“The music is going to be really loud.  Don’t let it scare you.  Just smile and squeeze my hand.”

As they started the song I recognized it from the radio.  My mom always listened to KNEU 1250 AM at the house and car and I had heard this song more than once.  She started to sing the song “Men”.  Here are the lyrics and a link to the video.  Looking back, it may have been a little grown up for a ten year old, but I just kept thinking that a beautiful woman is holding my hand in front of my family, all of my friends, and everyone in my hometown.

Some men treat you just like a lady
Others treat you just like a child
And they can drive you so far away
Or they can drive you wild

Some you wanna show to your mama
And some you wouldn’t show to your dad
Some wanna take you straight to the altar
And some just wanna take you to bed

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make it without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

Some men are as cold as December
Some are ‘bout as hot as July
Sometimes they fill your life with happiness
Sometimes they make you cry

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve found a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

As she finished singing the song she turned to me and leaned over to give me a kiss.  In shock I turned my face away…I think I remember hearing a few gasps in the crowd.  Then, I came to my senses and turned back.  She kissed me on the cheek leaving a beautiful mark from her dark red lipstick.  The crowd roared and my knees felt weak. 

As I left the stage, I was given an autographed picture and a Charly McClain hat.  I took that hat to school every day for the first month of school.  I remember when Mr. Lowell Caldwell, our principal, came to my desk.  He saw the hat and asked: “What was better? The hat or the kiss?”  It wasn’t even close between the two.  (I was jealous later when I found out that my mother had lunch with Charly McClain and her husband Wayne Massey at the El Cid.)

Other concerts followed through the years—Pam Tillis, Earl Thomas Connelly (who was very drunk during his concert), and others, but none were as good as the Charly McClain concert.

I loved watching the rodeos from the announcer’s stand where I could watch the cowboys with their gear preparing to ride the rough stock.  I loved watching the demolition derbies and the horse pulls.  I loved listening to the corny clown jokes.  I loved walking through the displays in the Blue Fair Building.

Two summers ago I took my family back into town and we spent some time at the fair and the rodeo.  My kids loved the parade down Main Street, even with the rain.  They loved the food from the vendors outside the rodeo grounds.  Growing up my mom always warned me not to buy food from a certain food vendor.  As we asked one of my friends for a recommendation she shared several, and then, more than 20 years later, she gave me the same advice regarding the same food vendor—“Don’t buy food from there.”

As I’ve lived all over the United States and traveled abroad, I’ve come to realize how truly special it was to grow up in a place like Duchesne.  The Duchesne County Fair was and is an amazing opportunity for family, friends, and neighbors to come together every year and celebrate the community and way of life.