Online Edition: December 2007     Vol. XXI, No. 4

sponsored by Peace Life Center, Public invited

  • MODESTO PEACE LIFE CENTER VIGILS: Monthly peace vigils are held THE FIRST FRIDAY of the month at McHenry Ave. and J St., (Five points), 4:30-5:30 pm (NOTE TIME CHANGE). call the Center for info: 529-5750.

  • Click here for peace action schedule around the area.

  • PEACE LIFE CENTER WILL BE OPEN WEDNESDAYS, Noon to 3 pm. Come by for coffee or tea and just to chat or look at our book and magazine collection. Bring your own bag lunch; there may be films some days. 720 13th St. Call us 529-5750, we'll get back to you with info on vigils and other activities.

Click Here to download the 2008 Peace Essay Flyer

Connections needs help!

Stanislaus Connections, the peace and justice newspaper of the Modesto Peace Life Center, needs volunteers able to help edit, write, or help put up the paper each month. We meet two times per month. If you are interested in helping with our progressive paper, contact us.

Email Jim Costello, or call 537-7818. Or call Myrtle Osner, 522-4967,

The Modesto Peace Life Center
invites you to

the Annual Holiday Party and Song Circle

December 14


Peace & Justice

Around the Center: 

Living Lightly

Recipes from Connections

A Gathering of Voices--Tom Broderick

Out and About


Masthead and Back Issues

Opinion and Letters to Connections

Interesting Web sites

Holiday Party to merge with Song Circle, Dec. 14

Good food, good people, and good singing make for a memorable respite amid holiday busyness and pressures. If you’re up for that, or nowadays “down” for it, then don’t miss the festive “Sing Your Heart Out!” Holiday Party at the home of Alice and Dan Onorato, 1532 Vernon Ave. in Modesto on Friday, December 14, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Yes, it’s a potluck, so bring one of your favorite dishes and a beverage to share. Breathe deep the dining room’s tempting aromas. Envision the alluring potluck delights. Fancy the artistic presentazione. Then indulge.

Rousing spirits into merriment, the Song Circle guru, Ken Schroeder, will pass out song books, piano and guitars will attune, and the party will break out in song—traditional holiday tunes, folk melodies, children’s favorites, and movement standouts from the Labor, Civil Rights, and Peace Movements. Songs old and new, in English, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, from all traditions and tastes. You name it, we sing it!

You down? See you Friday, December 14.

ACTION: Start planning your dish to share and the songs you’d like to sing. Each morning gurgle three times, to get your voice in singing sweet shape. Info., call 526-5436.

John McCutcheon returns in concert Jan. 22


Six-time Grammy nominated folk musician John McCutcheon returns to Modesto on Tuesday, January 22 in a benefit concert for the Modesto Peace Life Center. John has entertained, moved and inspired us with songs and stories in his annual shows since 2002. In his concerts something magical happens between performer and audience as he sings about love, hope, peace and justice.

John’s new CD is This Fire: Politics, Love and Other Small Miracles. Here is what he says about the new recording:

“People who have sat in little dark rooms with me for 35 years worth of concerts now go on a piece of that same ride. When we gather 'round that fire there’s no telling what stories might be told. Songs of love and politics, courage and forgiveness, parody and pathos, somehow they are not unrelated.

“When I gathered the songs for this collection they captured a small piece of time in a long life of trying hard to pay attention. They seemed to remind me of some small truths I’ve learned. If hard times can’t have humor we won’t survive them. If old love doesn’t have some memory of youthful passion it, too, will fade. And the many stories of ordinary people responding to ugliness with beauty continue to fascinate and thrill me.

“Politics, love and other small miracles…all fueled by this same fire.”

The concert will be held at the Modesto Church of the Brethren, 2301 Woodland Ave, Modesto at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $23 at the door. Groups of 10 or more are $15 per person. Youth 17 and under are $5. Tickets are available at the Church of the Brethren, 523-1438 and at Anderson Custom Framing and Gallery, 1323 J St., 579-9913.

Sponsorships are available from $40 - $500 and come with tickets, special seating and a post-concert reception. Call Keith, 572-1307.

The greatest anti-war song ever written


John McCutcheon’s song Christmas in the Trenches, about a Christmas pause in the slaughter of World War I, has been called the greatest anti-war song ever written. Inspired by a back-stage conversation with an old woman in Birmingham, AL, this song tells a story that is not only true, but well-known throughout Europe. John has sung it in each of his concerts here and has written a children’s book of the same title.  Read the lyrics here.

ARUN GANDHI to speak at MLK event

Gandhi. The name evokes one of history’s most extraordinary leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, esteemed throughout the world for his integrity, courage, and steadfast commitment to end British colonial power over India through nonviolence.

Noted peace advocate and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi will be the keynote speaker at our Fourteenth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration on Saturday, February 2, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. at the Mary Stuart Rogers Student Learning Center on Modesto Junior College’s West Campus. Mark your calendars! More information will be in the January issue of Connections.


Each year for the last thirteen years, a committee of community groups, the Modesto Peace Life Center, Modesto Junior College, California State University, Stanislaus, and the City of Modesto, California has offered the community a successful, inspiring Martin Luther King Commemoration to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and his vision.

So that our event can be open to all, we do not charge the public to attend. We depend solely on a small city contribution and donations of money or services from caring groups and individuals in the community like you. We need your support.

ACTION: Please help us provide the community with this important remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Make your check payable to the “Modesto Peace Life Center-MLK,” c/o Jim Costello, 1849 Richard Way, Ceres, CA 95307. The Modesto Peace Life Center is a 501 c3 non-profit organization. Our tax ID # is 94-2800825. For more information, email

Citizen diplomacy in a complex, violence oriented world


When 25 mostly Modestans were planning a peace and friendship visit to the Soviet Union in 1985, we were forewarned by a history professor at a nearby university that our visit would change nothing in the entrenched Soviet system. So, an adventure in futility.

Ignoring his discouraging words, this citizen diplomacy group arrived, uninvited, in Khmelnitskiy, Ukraine in April 1985. Our bus was met by the hotel manager who was friendly, but surely perplexed about the arrival of the first group of Americans ever to visit their city. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the KGB had instructed their mayor to be out of town when we came. He did leave, but convinced the KGB it was in their interest to meet the Americans – which he did the following morning. He was told not to shake hands with the Americans. He did. We lucked out that a courageous man, Ivan Bukal, was their mayor.

Twenty-five Modestans sat around a table with him and several aides. He heard Modestans introduce themselves and speak of their desire to live in peace with people of the Soviet Union. I’m convinced that at that gathering, Mayor Bukal discerned that we were not CIA come to spy on them, but some sort of ambassadors of goodwill.

At a farewell dinner, he proposed a toast in which he said the Earth is like a small ball, and people on this small planet must learn to live together in peace. At that dinner our invitation was: “We hope that someday you might visit us in Modesto, California.” His reply, “Perhaps, someday when things are better between our countries.”

When we left Khmelnitskiy that chilly April day in 1985, we knew we had opened a door into a new era, but couldn’t have imagined the ramifications of citizen diplomacy.

Two years later, after numerous letter exchanges, in April 1987, Mayor Bukal, Dr. Georgi Bogach, and teacher/translator Yuri Korobko arrived in Modesto for a precedent setting visit from communist Soviet Union.

There was apprehension on their part, for they, like us, were going in to “enemy” territory. In Moscow, prior to their flight, the KGB tried to scare them out of coming. “We almost didn’t come, but we bought a bottle of Vodka, went to our hotel room, drank it and decided to come!”

Modestans were mostly curious, some cautious and a few belligerents, but citizen diplomacy worked from their direction as well. Now the door was opened both ways. They made many friends in just a few days. The friendship that developed between our mayor, Peggy Mensinger and Mayor Bukal was “a thing of beauty.”

In August of 1987, Mayor Mensinger led a group of twenty-three Modestans to Khmelnitskiy where she and Mayor Bukal signed documents making us official Sister Cities.

This past September, seven Modesto representatives journeyed to Khmelnitskiy to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our relationship. Two weeks later, seven representatives from Khmelnitskiy came to Modesto to honor 20 years since the ’87 ceremony.

In those twenty-two years since our first visit, there have been numerous visits in both directions: farmers, city officials, teachers, students, law officers, food service persons, business persons, architects, artists and others.

With the free flow of ideas, values and technologies, dramatic changes have taken place in the former Soviet Union. Ukraine in 1985 was, perhaps, in many ways, like the U.S. in the 1920’s and 1930’s. One thing they did have was an appreciation and sophistication in artistic forms and their education system.

Ukraine has awakened to the 21st century. Examples: In ’85 and ’87 restaurants were either well-hidden or very few. Today they are all over the place with many levels of dining. In ’85 there were few cars and of older vintage. Today one sees BMW’s, Volvo’s, Mercedes, Chevrolets, some Fords, Russian cars, Opels – you get the picture. In Kiev (capital) and Khmelnitskiy there were traffic tie-ups making one think of San Francisco or Modesto. (Not sure this is a plus, but it is change.)

In ’85 there were only state stores with little to buy and little choice. There was some private enterprise which was black market and illegal. In 2007, private enterprise is the engine that drives the economy resulting in six supermarkets in Khmelnitskiy (not up to a Safeway or Save Mart, but on the way.) They have some very fashionable clothing stores with professional displays, world famous cosmetics, electronic products including cell phones, and about all you would see in stores in mid-town USA. They are not yet a Vintage Faire Mall, but progress is remarkable.

Unfortunately, the benefits of their emerging economy favor the “haves” over the “have-nots”. While there is a slowly emerging middle class, a majority of people with whom I spoke thought the rich were getting richer and the poor were not sharing in the gains.

When Ukraine split from the Soviet Union in 1991, unbelievable things happened. Ukraine voted to be nuclear missile free. (We did not know on our initial visits that Khmelnitskiy was encircled with missiles, the key missile site in that region of the Soviet Union; hence, the KGB suspicion regarding our visit.) The U.S. provided the money and Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco to dismantle the missiles, and today Ukraine is missile free!

Perhaps the fundamental change is that Ukraine has a democratic form of government, basically the British model. Traveling companion Cameron McCune and I were in Kiev (capital) on national election day, September 30th. We were able to visit a polling place and actually watched people cast their ballots. We talked with poll workers and took pictures. Who would have imagined in ’85 that…?

Modesto was just one of many American cities to “invade” the Soviet Union in those dangerous Cold War days. Has it made a difference? Assuredly, and not just in Ukraine. Modesto and other American cities’ perspectives have changed also as hostilities have abated. Lives are enriched by friendships across national boundaries and the knowledge that the human family has common interests and dreams.

This twenty-two year process is in the spirit, energies and values of Peace/Life Center. It is heartening to have validation that the tools of peacemakers can and do make a difference.



Mayor Mensinger and Bukal sign Sister City Documents in 1987.



Mayor Bukal in September 2007 at the Friendship Tree in Khmelnitskiy after 20 years (Note the divide and single trunk.)


Outstanding women nominations sought

The Stanislaus County Commission for Women is seeking nominations for its twenty-ninth annual awards event.

If you know an outstanding woman in this county, please submit nomination papers postmarked no later than December 21, 2007 to qualify. Obtain them at all Stanislaus County Libraries, or through the mail by contacting Belinda Rolicheck at 209-988-6674, or email the Commission at

Consider nominating women who have made a meaningful contribution to the quality of life for all women and children. Some possibilities are:

This honor is limited to residents of Stanislaus County, living or deceased. Categories include: Women of History, Living Pioneers, and Young Women (under 21). A list of previous honorees is available from the sponsors. (A copy is also available at the Peace Center or by calling Myrtle Osner, 522-4967.)

The Stanislaus County Commission for Women is an independent, non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting an awareness of issues that concern women.

For more information, contact Belinda Rolicheck, President, 209-988-6674.

December: the Native American Calendar and the Moon


What we perceive as months is based on the Gregorian calendar which became the most widely used calendar in the world after 1582, as an updated version of the Julian calendar, which served as an updated version of the Roman calendar in 46 B.C., which served as a modification of, or possibly a coexistent occurrence of, the Native American calendar.

The latter of these two explanations seems more believable, especially since the Julian, Roman, and Gregorian calendars were developed across the world from Native Americans, and in a time lacking any form of communication with these Native Americans, let alone even knowledge of their existence. Regardless, the focus here is the Sioux Indians and their tribal celebration of the “Popping Trees Moon,” or the “Moon of Popping Trees,” or what we understand as December and how our months are linked to the movements of the moon.

Moon of Popping Trees reflects the month of the year when daylight slowly returns. The moon passes between the earth and the sun every 29 1/2 days before a new moon appears in the night sky. The divinity or spirituality of the moon has been believed to be linked to the unconscious and our feminine side. The moon, a female symbol, has been worshipped by Native Americans as a powerful force. Further, Native Americans have closely affiliated these phases of the moon with the cycles of crops and seasons and the basic rhythms of life which are ultimately defined by the female monthly cycle which controls human fertility.

In Memoriam: Dr. John W. Gofman


John W, Gofman, M.D, Ph.D., died on August 15 at his home in San Francisco at the age of 88.

A radiation specialist in nuclear physics and chemistry as well as a physician, Dr. Gofman was professor emeritus of medical physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr, Gofman established a biomedical research division at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to examine the impact of radiation on health in the 1960s. It was this effort that propelled him to signal the dangers of nuclear radiation and to oppose the development of nuclear power plants. He authored the book, Radiation & Human Health in 1981.

Dr. Gofman was instrumental in the effort to oppose the Modesto Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District and P. G. & E.’s plan to build a nuclear energy plant north of Waterford in Eastern Stanislaus County.

Dr. Gofman was an awesome, enthralling speaker. Brought by the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee to the April, 1975 Modesto Irrigation District meeting convened to consider the plant, he slowly, methodically, clearly and stunningly demolished the reasons for building the nuclear plant, and demonstrated why nuclear power is dangerous. The man who was supposed to speak for the project failed to show, so an unprepared PR person from P.G.&E. was pressed into service. The poor guy did not have a chance.

Dr. Gofman paid a price for his opposition to nuclear power. A San Francisco Chronicle obituary reflected:

“Dr. Gofman believed that the inevitable escape of significant amounts of radioactive material would poison future generations for thousands of years and that the expansion of nuclear material in commerce would lead to terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons.

“His outspoken opposition to nuclear power projects and to nuclear safety standards he deemed insufficient led to continued decreases in funding for his work at Livermore and ultimately to his departure from the lab, along with his long-time colleague, Arthur Tamplin.”

The citizens of Stanislaus County owe Dr. Gofman a great debt of gratitude. May this hero of the nuclear age rest in peace.

In Memoriam: Betty Stewart


On October 18, 2007 Betty Stewart passed away.

In 1988, after a trip to Nicaragua, Betty worked to establish an official sister city relationship between Merced, CA and Somoto, Nicaragua. Betty has been the President of the Merced-Somoto Sister City Committee since 1988. As a lifelong teacher, she took pleasure in working with teachers and students in Somoto, using puppets both to teach and spread the Sister Cities’ message of creating change through solidarity. Betty took great pride in the Merced Somoto group’s scholarship program and worked hard to raise funds to support it through many craft fairs and garage sales.

Over the years, Betty led numerous delegations to Somoto to cooperate on projects including a baseball stadium, bringing school supplies, and purchase of a bus for the soccer team. Betty always joked that she was “President for Life” of the Merced-Somoto Sister City Committee. The passion that she had for the people of Somoto and the work of her Sister City group will continue in the many people on the Committee committed to building a better world through this collaboration, friendship and goodwill.

On the Road


I often allude to the wealth Leslie and I are surrounded by here in Doha. Most Qataris live lives of luxury and are fussed over by maids and other servants. Even when Qatari families travel, there always seems to be maids in tow holding the babies and riding herd on the rambunctious tykes. We are also the recipients of much tending. We're in posh new digs. Now and every morning as we drive through the fortified gate of our compound, we are greeted by the 6 a.m. shift of South Asian workers in blue jumpsuits getting off their rattletrap bus ready to water our lawns, sweep our sidewalks, and perform maintenance tasks in our flats. These are pretty much faceless and nameless figures who make sure our lives run smoothly and that we are spared the pain of tidying up our environment. I'll exchange pleasantries with some of the workers who drop by to adjust our air conditioner or check our smoke detectors, but I don't really get to know much about the circumstances of their lives. Cabbies tell me they are paid about fifty cents an hour, and grocery store clerks take home every week what I spend in their checkout lanes each Friday. A recent article on the Al-Jazeera English website reported on the plight of these workers in the Gulf. Without further commentary, I' send it along. (Note: the accident that crushed the life out of four workers happened on our campus.)

Working for nothing

Migrant workers are the building blocks of the Gulf's construction boom. Migrant workers flock to the Gulf lured by a better life. But, in a three-month investigation, Al Jazeera found that many labourers are missing out on the wealth generated by the region's construction boom. The Gulf countries are enjoying an economic boom. Construction projects, buoyed by oil-rich investors, were worth $200bn in 2006 alone. The pace of development has meant that luxury lifestyles are becoming the norm rather than an aspiration for local populations and resident Western expatriate communities.

This success has been built by a vast army of migrant workers numbering about 10 million in the Gulf. Most of these labourers come from Asia, primarily India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. On arrival, their passports are taken by their employer. On the construction sites they risk injury and even death as they work in temperatures that sometimes touch 50C [122F].

At the end of the day, many return to crowded, cramped and unhygienic accommodation in vast camps usually on the outskirts of the cities. For all this work the average wage is between $5 and $7 a day. But back in their home countries the dream of striking it rich in the Gulf holds a powerful appeal for young Asian men looking to better their circumstances and that of their families.

"Many of these workers are illiterate and very naďve," Hadi Gahemi, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, says.


"It's their first time to leave the village. They do not understand the contract they are signing. It's only when they are on the ground working that they realise the kind of financial imbalance they are working with."

Workers are forced to endure oppressive conditions. One of these young men, Thanegavel Selvakumar, was 22 when he left his native Tamil Nadu, in southern India for Dubai.

His sister told Al Jazeera about his hopes and how "he wanted to earn more to improve his life here". "He was educated here at the local college, but he thought the Gulf was his best chance to earn money," Sudha Selvakumar says.

Typically a would-be worker will approach a local agent who will then introduce them to an established recruitment company. "I don't know who the company was, but he was hired as a labourer," Sudha said. "A local agent from the nearby village recruited him. He knew somebody from outside the village, so they sent him with that person who arranged everything."

The day Thanegavel left for Dubai was the last time his family would ever see him. He committed suicide in 2005 at his labour camp.

A copy of his suicide note seen by Al Jazeera reads: "I am making this decision of my own free will. This no one's fault. The reason is money. My financial problems are too much for me, I cannot make the repayments on my loan."

Thanegavel had paid $1,200 to his agent - the equivalent of nearly two years' salary for the average Indian labourer. His family have now had to take on the loan.  "We still not have been able to repay the money that was borrowed," Sudha says. "We are having to sell the land we have to settle the loan."

Company charge

The practice of charging the worker for this cost of flights and visa is commonplace. It is also illegal. One labourer in Qatar told Al Jazeera he paid $2,500 for his visa.

"Other people here paid slightly more or a little less," he said. "Despite this my employer deducts 25 per cent from the salary we were promised." The practice may be illegal, but this does not stop the agents exploiting the hopes of those wishing to get to the Gulf. Many of the leading Asian recruitment companies have offices in the region. Posing as a potential client, Al Jazeera secretly filmed one Dubai-based agent where he admitted his company charges workers. He went on to reveal how prevalent the practice is.

"Every contractor, every subcontractor has workers who paid," he said. "We will charge the people. It's OK, they don't mind."

The agent's clients do not mind because they are saving substantial sums, while the worker has no option but to take on crippling levels of debt just to secure a job.

The chairman of the Gulf constructors association, who also heads a major construction company, rejects the suggestion his members are responsible for the practice.

"It is not my responsibility as a contracting company owner to pay dues to employment agencies in India and Pakistan or the Philippines," Ahmed Saef Belhasa says.

Thanegavel's situation leads him to make the decision to take his own life. To find out how typical his story is, Al Jazeera spoke to dozens of workers who asked for their identities to be protected. Many were disappointed by their experiences in the Gulf.

Poor facilities

"I was originally offered $220, but now I am paid only $185 as I have to pay for accommodation and food," one worker from Kerala said. "I have been receiving this salary for several months. This is not enough to support my family in India." One worker in Qatar said: "I have been working for 30 months, but have been paid for only four months. "My sponsor doesn't care. He didn't even come to see us to discuss the matter so that we could sort it out."

Thanegavel's desperate situation led him to take his life

Evidence of the pressure these men are under is slowly emerging. Although there are no publicly available figures for the number of suicides, in 2006 the Indian embassy in the UAE recorded 109 confirmed cases of suicide by Indian workers in the country. That is a 30 per cent rise on last year. But, despite tragic cases such as Thanegavel's, hundreds of young men continue to leave their villages.

The standard of their facilities and accommodation at the labour camps is a common concern for the construction workers and those seeking to protect them from abuse. "We don't have food, water, no electricity inside the accommodation. We are living a terrible life here," one worker in Qatar said.

Health and safety

As well as living conditions, the oppressive heat and long hours that labourers are forced to work is also a concern. Deaths in the workplace remain an unaddressed issue throughout the region. Early this year, at a major site in Doha, Qatar, a wall collapsed, killing four workers. Accidents of this type are frequent, but the absence of any public records makes establishing the number of injuries and fatalities at construction sites impossible. Without these records, effective independent monitoring of corporate safety records is impossible.

There are, slowly, signs of change emerging. Over the past 12 months all the Gulf countries, to varying degrees, have amended labour laws to better protect workers' rights. The issues have generated more press attention and public debate.

But critics believe this progress by the Gulf countries is insufficient. "Firstly, they could stop holding passports; secondly they could improve the conditions, the living conditions, of their worker," Gahemi says. "Thirdly they could change the process by which they recruit and ensure that no worker who comes to them has paid the upfront fee. They could do that immediately."

While those who have managed to find a way out of the camps believe that while the reality of the labourers' lives remains hidden nothing will change. One former worker said: "There are many people who have money and power; they can change these things. But if they are not shown, it will not start. If they are not aware of these things, it will not change."



Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.