The Celtic Cross was first introduced to our world almost 1,600 years ago by Saint Patrick, who was attempting to convert the pagan people of Ireland to Christianity. Some of these pagans worshiped the sun, so it is said that Patrick combined the Christian Cross with the circular pattern of the sun as a way to associate light and life with the Christian Cross in the minds of his converts.
Another story has Patrick marking the pagan symbol of the moon goddess (a circle) with a cross, and blessing the stone, making the first Celtic Cross. Other explanations of the origin of the Celtic Cross abound. Some believe it was a phallic symbol that was turned into a cross to hide its true meaning, others that the cross in the circle is a Druid symbol appropriated by Christians.
Whatever the truth of its original intent, the Celtic Cross remains one of our most delightful artistic designs. The Celtic Cross offered by From War to Peace features the beautiful design work of Petr Vodicka, a wonderful Polish artist, and is cast from the magical material Peace Bronze. Peace Bronze is an alloy created with copper we have recycled from disarmed nuclear weapon systems, and is used exclusively to create celebrations of peace.
Today, the Celtic Cross has become a symbol of Irish national pride, and simple love of God and each other.
Our little company exists for a simple and singular reason: to remind us all that everything and everyone on our planet is precious, and that nothing and no one is irredeemable.
To that end we take the ugliest things ever created in our world - nuclear weapons meant to kill and destroy us - and transform them, through the magic of disarmament and recycling, into simple, elegant celebrations of peace.
This is the From War to Peace mantra:
Turning weapons meant to destroy us
Into art meant to restore us,
Swords into plowshares,
Bombs into beauty,
Hate into love, &
War into Peace
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, here's a great opportunity to save money while announcing your passion for the important people in your life. Each of these pieces is lovingly hand-crafted from Peace Bronze, the magical alloy created from disarmed and recycled weapons of war. Each is suffused with beauty, transformation and peace, and makes a wonderful gift.
From War to Peace dedicates 20+ percent of all profits to peace and social justice organizations around our world, in the hopes of helping create a more loving and sustainable planet.
An estimated 65 million Americans have criminal records, meaning that they have been arrested at least once and possibly convicted of a crime. That represents more than one out of every five Americans.
We pride ourselves on being a "law and order" society, and we have the highest incarceration rate of any nation on earth to prove it.
While the United States represents just over 4% of the world's population, we house around 22% of the world's prisoners.
At the end of 2010, there were 2,266,800 people in U.S. prisons and jails. And an additional 5 million folks are on what's called Community Supervision, meaning that they are on either parole or probation.
Amazing, really: well over 7 million Americans - right now - are either in jail, in prison, on parole or probation.
Homeboy Industries helps young gang members recreate their lives with honor
The young, the male, the Black and the Latino are disproportionately incarcerated. Of men in their late 20s almost 9% of all Blacks and 4% of all Latinos are behind bars in our America. It’s little surprise that young minority men who represent our nation's highest levels of unemployment are so often found in our jails or prisons, folks with too little purpose and too much time on their hands.
My late wife, Sandra Gardebring Ogren, spent many years as a Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Often, while at home of an evening, she could be found reading copious legal briefs for cases before the court. On many occasions I heard her exclaim, "Damn, it's another B in B case!"
"B in B" was court slang for "Black in Blaine," Blaine being a St. Paul suburb notorious for pulling over black motorists under the thinnest possible pretext for the sin of having driven through their fair city.
Sandra and her colleagues on the Court routinely threw out those convictions resulting from Black in Blaine arrests, but by then huge damage had already been done as folks were dragged through the court system, their lives upset and their venial sins magnified. I'm afraid that same damage is still being done to Americans of color in too many communities across our nation.
I thought about this question a lot in recent months, as case after case of police killings of unarmed black men filled the news. And I was particularly disturbed when I saw a video of a little boy, just 12 years old, shot to death by the police for proudly displaying his new BB Gun. When I was a boy having a BB Gun was just about the greatest thing any fella could have. Hell, I still have a BB pistol I play with occasionally.
An old friend of mine, Joe Quinn, was a District Court Judge back in Minnesota. We had lunch one day after Joe had been on the bench for several years. "The most frustrating thing about my job" he explained, "is that most of the defendants in my courtroom are really there for the crime of being poor."
If you're poor it often comes down to something like this: you are pulled over while driving your car because one of your brake lights is out, and found to be driving without proof of insurance. You haven't fixed the taillight and don't have insurance because you have a lousy job that doesn't pay worth a damn, and can't afford it.
As a result of your offense you lose your Driver's License and are subject to fines you can’t afford to pay. You still have to get to your low paying job somehow, and are subsequently pulled over and arrested, this time for driving without a license and failure to pay the court-ordered fines. More fines are added on, and now you are looking at jail time as well.
Pretty soon we have managed to turn that poor guy with the crummy job into a genuine criminal.
Over 7 million people in our jails, our prisons, or on parole and probation makes no sense, and is simply unsustainable. It is not true that Americans are somehow worse than folks everywhere else in our world.
The real American crime is a criminal justice system that routinely turns inoffensive behavior into law breaking, and decent citizens into outlaws. And the further crime is a refusal to invest adequately in programs to alleviate poverty, improve public education, and provide good and consistent job programs and job training for young Americans.
I'll let you in on a little secret: I am one of the 65 million Americans with a criminal record.
When I was a teenager and a young man I thought I was of little interest and little value. I took a variety of drugs, whatever was available, in a vain attempt to become someone else. For a number of years I was simply lost, floundering about in a desperate attempt to reinvent myself. I was arrested for drug related offenses on several occasions, and only because my loving father was a well-connected lawyer and law professor did I avoid doing time in prison.
When I was first elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 1980 I was 29 years old, and still on probation in the State of California for the crime of Marijuana cultivation. Those were the days before the Internet, thank God, and my sordid past was not common knowledge in my new home of Minnesota. And that's a good thing: I managed to help a lot of people with my work in the legislature, and found value in myself in the process.
These days I am again feeling lost in much the way I did as a young man. I've allowed unrecognized depression to curdle into anger, and I've been too often unkind to the people who love me most. I don't think I hurt people back in the day with my drug use. But hurting the people who love me is my true, and more recent crime.
It is so very hard to find someone who will share the center of your life, who knows who you really are, and who loves you anyway. If you are lucky enough to have such a person in your life, please know that he or she is a treasure beyond measure. And make sure you return the love. It might not come around more than once in a lifetime.
I won't be turning to illicit drugs for help this time, though a little Prozac might help. I need instead to get back in touch with that insight from the scripture, "I am wondrously made." And I need to realize that each of you are as well.
There are sometimes revelatory moments in our lives, often beaten into us one way or another, that allow us to reassess and move forward. Here's an aspirational prayer for us all:
I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see
When my friend Tariq Majeed first came to America over 30 years ago he noticed something striking. When he went to the U.S. Post Office he often had to wait in line, but everyone else there had to wait with him in the same line. In his country of origin - Pakistan - and in the place where he spent most of youth, Dubai, there were always two lines at the Post Office. One line often stretched out the door and up the street as folks waited, often for hours, for service.
The other line at the Post Office was really no line at all, simply a separate door, guarded by a Policeman in splendid uniform, and available only to important people. When one of those important people arrived at the Post Office the Policeman would bow, open the special door, and escort that person in for expedited service.
Tariq has always told me that the Post Office was the perfect example of what made America special - we all had to wait in the same line. I wonder if that America is still with us.
There are 157,800 kindergarten teachers in our America, and we entrust them with the hopes, dreams and nourishment of millions of our children. Do you remember your kindergarten teacher? Chances are you do.
My kindergarten teacher was named Miss Viola Butterfield. Miss Butterfield was quite wonderful, the magical guardian of the gate to that huge shiny world existing beyond the doors of my family home. She opened that gate wide, welcoming all of us into this exciting and sometimes scary new world. We got numbers, letters, amazing stories, a sense of personal responsibility, abundant joy, and huge amounts of sheer fun from Miss Butterfield.
How valuable was Miss Butterfield? As I think back over my 64 years of life she was one of a handful of people who truly helped shape the person I am today. And I know she had that same profound impact on literally thousands of kids that went through her class.
In today's America Miss Butterfield and teachers like her are tragically undervalued. How do I know that? Let's take a look through the rather crass, but oh-so-American lens of money to reach our conclusion.
A young fellow I know just finished his third year of study at American University in Washington DC. He is a business major, and dreams of someday becoming a Hedge Fund manager. And here's why:
Think of it: in America today a single Hedge Fund manager, David Tepper, is more valuable than 67,000 Miss Butterfields. Mr. Tepper's 2013 income averaged $9.6 million per day. The average wage of a Kindergarten teacher is $52,000 per year.
And here's the crazy thing: because the Hedge Fund manager's income - and that of most wealthy Americans - is considered by our government to be Capital Gains rather than Ordinary Income, it is taxed at a substantially lower rate than is the salary earned by a teacher.
That's right, our government considers money earned by working to be less worthy than money earned through investments. The rationale used by our billionaire friendly congress for this disparity is that low capital gains tax rates are a good thing because they promote investment and lead to job creation. It strikes me that a lower tax rate for the wealthy is merely a special door for important people disguised as public policy.
Now I know what a Kindergarten teacher does, and I know the extraordinary impact they can have on our lives. But what, precisely, does a Hedge Fund manager do? When I was a small boy in Miss Butterfield's class, back in the mid-1950s, there were no Hedge Fund managers in our America. How in the world did we get by without them?
Individuals wishing to invest in hedge funds must be quite rich. Since only the wealthy are allowed by law to invest in these largely unregulated investment instruments, 99% of Americans are not even permitted to participate. So what is a Hedge Fund manager's job? Simply put, they move money around for the richest people in our world to maximize their return on investments.
Hedge Fund managers don't actually make anything or provides any services that normal people need. They don't grow, serve or sell our food, teach our children, heal the sick, construct our homes or our automobiles, make our clothes, pickup our trash, build or maintain our roads, or create beauty in any way, shape or form. They simply make rich people richer, inevitably at the expense of the rest of us.
As of 2016, the 1% of America's richest individuals will own more than half of all American wealth. That leaves a bit less than half of all the available wealth for the other 99% of us to share.
More and more in our America income and wealth are divorced from traditional measures of productivity. For every Steve Jobs that makes something of true value, there are twenty David Teppers. Too often these days wealth is built using an economic model called Rent Seeking.
The classic example of rent seeking comes to us from the Middle Ages: a feudal lord puts a strong chain across the river that flows through his land, blocking all passing boats, and hires a collector to extort a fee (rent) from anyone wishing to pass along the river. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is helping nobody in any way, directly or indirectly, except himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free.
The modern equivalent of those feudal rent seekers now run our America. The bankers and Wall Street moneymen simply insert themselves in between economic transactions, and take their little piece. When their disastrous behavior led to the recent dramatic economic recession, our government told us that the rent seekers were "too big to fail," and made them whole again while the rest of us were left to suffer the consequences.
And what were those consequences: millions of Americans actually lost their homes, tens of millions lost their jobs, the middle class shrunk while the ranks of the poor grew, and typical Americans are worth substantially less today than they were just 15 years ago.
And the already rich have gotten much, much richer.
Our America is the richest nation on earth, and there is plenty enough to go around. Increasingly, though, Americans of differing economic status are waiting in separate lines. The shell game of Rent Seeking is available to the wealthy exclusively, and saps vitality from the rest of society. The application of special capital gains tax privilege and other loopholes means that the burden of taxation falls increasingly on ordinary income of the middle class. Even driving to work now often entails special Express Lanes or Toll Roads for those who can afford to buy their way into faster transit.
The American Dream is predicated on building and maintaining a substantial middle class. Henry Ford was not a good man, but he was a good Capitalist. Though a famous racist and anti-semite, he understood that good wages for his employees translated into more productive and responsible workers. In 1915, exactly 100 years ago, he introduced a daily wage of $5 for workers in his Ford Motorcar factories, literally twice the prevailing wage in America for manufacturing workers.
Within two years Ford's profits had more than doubled. He attracted better workers, and in so doing helped create the American middle class. He also understood that those well-paid workers would become the market for the very cars they produced.
There are too many Rent Seekers and too few Henry Fords in America today. Shortsighted consolidation of both income and wealth in the hands of the few guarantees an unsustainable economy and a society that betrays the American Dream. Our government needs to understand this, and needs to enact policies that benefit the many rather than enhancing and protecting the privileges of the few. Let’s get us all back in the same line.
"A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.”
So go out and brighten the corner where you are!
Much love from Paul Ogren & Ildiko Laszlo at From War to Peace
Ps. Here’s a youtube.com link to Burl Ives singing Brighten the Corner. If you don’t know the song, give it a listen - you’ll like it:
In light of the fact that President Obama is calling for funding and creating a new generation of U.S. Nuclear Weapons, it is appropriate that we examine just what a nuclear weapon would mean if it exploded over the largest city in the United States. I am not saying that such an explosion is likely - merely that it is possible. As a nation, we need to think long and hard before committing our resources to rebuilding our nuclear arsenal. This article is reprinted with the generous permission of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (http://www.thebulletin.org/).
By Steven Starr, Lynn Eden & Theodore A. Postol
Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles are believed to carry a total of approximately 1,000 strategic nuclear warheads that can hit the US less than 30 minutes after being launched. Of this total, about 700 warheads are rated at 800 kilotons; that is, each has the explosive power of 800,000 tons of TNT. What follows is a description of the consequences of the detonation of a single such warhead over midtown Manhattan, in the heart of New York City.
From War to Peace is dedicated to the elimination of all weapons of war. Through the magic of disarmament and recycling, we transform weapons of war into celebrations of peace. Join us in creating a better world.