Monday, March 31, 2008

True Or False

True or False. Which Republican president had the greatest impact on conditions involving the Cold War? If you answered Reagan you're wrong. The correct answer is Bush, the second one. We are back in the Cold War. It is my prediction that history will be unkind to He who would be King. As I read about the upcoming Bush-Putin meeting in Romania, it dawned on me that one of Bush's major legacies will be the fact that his policies, or lack of same, have served to revive the Cold War. For Bush, once famously quoted as having “looked [Putin] in the eye…and got a sense of his soul,” and found him “trustworthy,” the current status of mother Russia has occurred as a result of his administration's incompetency and less than fortuitous planning. When Putin and He who would be King were new to their jobs, Russians could expect free elections and a free press and Americans could expect strong relations with Russia and Europe. When they meet, it will be a grim reminder that Bush fell asleep at the switch while our most formidable opponent in the quest for a world of nations based upon democratic principles continues to re-establish its hegemony.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

One Step Removed

Another title for this writing might be "How can a black person trust white people, ever?" What follows are my thoughts about the statement by Obama's pastor that the U.S. government has deliberately infected blacks with AIDS. The genesis for this contention by Reverend Wright is the Tuskegee experiment. In that experiment the federal researchers refused to treat a group of black men who already had syphilis, long after a cure had been found. Instead, these men were treated like laboratory animals as researchers studied the course of the untreated disease over decades. While it is true that the government did not literally infect black men with syphilis, it is appropriate to suggest that a medical doctor who takes the Hippocratic oath, in effect, does deliberately kill black people if that doctor deliberately withholds a known cure from this group of men under the guise of advancing the state of knowledge about the disease.

People are now outraged about Rev. Wright's invocation of the Tuskegee experiment as the basis for his statement about AIDS. Commentators see it as an unfair connection, not because the experiment was morally wrong, but because it is being cited as a study whereby the U.S. deliberately caused syphilis in the Tuskegee men. In the Huffington Post, the following conclusion appears: "To invoke the Tuskegee experiment to suggest that the government invented AIDS to kill black people, as Rev. Wright did... that dishonors the truth. There is no excuse for it. It must stop." I see this as a distinction without a difference. It is the net result that counts. A man dying from syphilis after forty or more years of the deliberate withholding of treatment dies from a disease that is "caused" by the people who withheld treatment.

The point is this; It is not far fetched to suggest that a disease now raging through the inner city black communities has been caused by federal authorities when the conditions for this epidemic are similar in kind to the immoral neglect of the Tuskegee men. Whether acquired by infected needles or sexual activity, the disease is running rampant. It is not a stretch to suggest that the inability of uninsured inner city blacks to get proper treatment for AIDS is exactly analogous to Tuskegee. To white people reading this, ask yourself one question; If an epidemic occurred in your suburban community among people of your skin color, would you not blame federal authorities if they withheld proper treatment for you or your loved ones for "causing" this situation to exist. I suspect I know the answer. As a quantum leap, I also think it would be unfair to decide who the next president of the United States will be on a gigantic distortion of the import and meaning of a spiritual counselor who invokes such claims in a manner comparable to the parables of Jesus.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

“Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002”

The title of this blog entry is the name given by Congress to the bill it passed allowing He who would be King to start the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton continues to offend the intelligence of voters by insisting that she voted for this resolution, but did not understand that she was voting to authorize the conduct of a war in Iraq. Duh! She also claims that she was fooled by the prewar intelligence that didn’t dupe nearly half her Democratic Senate colleagues, including Bob Graham, Teddy Kennedy and Carl Levin. It is perfectly clear that she voted as she did at the time because her mind and thoughts were on her future presidential campaign and her perceived need to appear strong. Remember that the Republican tendency at the time was to label anyone who was against war in Iraq was anti-American. No stand taken on principle, just a vote based on what would appear at the time, probably based on polling, would play best in Peoria (or Des Moines) down the line.

During a speech at George Washing University on March 17, 2008 she regaled her audience with an example of her experience in foreign affairs. The backdrop was that she appeared in Bosnia in 1996 that was purportedly too dangerous for Bill Clinton to appear, so he sent his wife and daughter. Clinton claimed in this speech that "I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base." As we have seen repeatedly that last few days, this statement was patently false. During the primary campaign in Texas she made similar repeated claims as she went on to claim a victory in that State. Caught bold faced in the lie, she now admits that her statement was incorrect, but there was sniper fire in the area, kind of like flying into Detroit Metropolitan airport on a Friday evening.

On the subject of NAFTA, Clinton claims "I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning." Very recently, she allowed the release of her records of activities while she served as first lady. Those records reveal that she was a hardy supporter of NAFTA. She was the featured speaker at a closed-door session where 120 women opinion leaders were strongly advised how to pressure their congressional representatives to approve the bill. ABC News reports that "her remarks were totally pro-NAFTA" and that "there was no equivocation for her support for NAFTA at the time."

These are not minor political gaffes that can be corrected by spinning or parsing. They are examples demonstrating the nature of the person who would like to become the next president of the United States. These examples represent a clear pattern of a person who is willing to say whatever she thinks the people listening to her want to hear no matter whether it is true or not. It is a common adage that a politician can "smell a vote a mile away," but actually the converse is true in this instant situation. It is the politician that smells and the smell has a garbage-like stink.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thinking the Unthinkable

Pat Robertson blamed fellow Americans for the big attack. It was their fault, he said: the civil libertarians, the gays, the feminists brought this mass murder upon themselves. Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's pastor, in essence said the same thing. He added a few touches which have fed our natural lust for misdirection the past few days; "Our chickens have come home to roost" and "God damn America." It takes no genius whatsoever and about two or three seconds to conclude that these men are not really far apart on their literally black and white conclusions about the reasons for 9/11. Each man arrived at the same conclusion from a decidedly different perspective that some inherent fault in the way our country was doing business was the trigger that resulted in the WTC disaster. Might there just be a kernel of truth in these seemingly wild accusations? Ever since that fateful day, I have been thinking the unthinkable myself. While I have confided my thoughts to a few select friends I have kept largely silent on the notion that introspection about the way we do things here in the U.S. may be in order. .

I now break that silence to talk about Eli Lilly in this context. In 1984, Lilly was indicted and prosecuted for its outrageous conduct in producing and selling a new arthritis product, Oraflex, that was marketed in the United States for a brief eleven weeks while nearly four thousand (not a misprint, 4000) elderly Americans died. The Oraflex victims died slow and painful deaths over weeks because of combined liver and kidney failure. Drug companies in America are regulated by the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, passed in 1938 after more than 200 children died when one of Lilly's brethren put windshield washer solvent into a sulfa preparation so that kids could drink the preparation. The requirements of the Act include reporting known adverse events promptly to the FDA and issuing labeling that is not "false or misleading in any particular." Labeling includes all forms of advertising. BEFORE Oraflex was FDA-approved for mass marketing in the U.S. more than four hundred citizens of the British Isles taking Oraflex had already died. a fact which was known to Lilly. Lilly's own researcher in the United Kingdom had forewarned Lilly that the reason for these deaths in the elderly was that persons over 65 years of age took about 2 1/2 times longer to metabolize the drug than the 30 year old prison inmates on which the drug was tested in pre-marketing studies in the U. S. Lilly deliberately withheld all this information from the FDA and promoted the drug for the treatment of arthritis (guess which age range of users has the greatest incidence of arthritis) as a wonder drug, to be taken once a day. Once the drug was released in the U.S., old people began to drop like flies. Lilly's plan (although it claimed that it didn't realize it was supposed to report the UK deaths) was to reveal the British Isle deaths on a piece meal basis, a few at a time. The drug was on the market for only eleven weeks because of the obvious toxicity causing the deaths of American elderly. More than four thousand deaths occurred from the drug, about a third more than the WTC disaster. In subsequent civil litigation, I took the deposition of Ian Snedden, the medical director of Lilly at the time. Lilly had relieved him of his duties at the parent company and made him the CEO of a subsidiary, Dista Corp., in London to put him beyond the reach of subpoenas. When a federal court finally ordered him to appear for a deposition, he pleaded the fifth amendment on 466 out of 468 questions.

What happened next requires a comparison. When 18 crazy guys from Saudi Arabia took over four airplanes which resulted in 2900 deaths, the federal government started two wars; one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, both of which are still raging today. When Lilly marketed a drug that killed more than 4000 people, the same federal government allowed it to plead guilty to 25 misdemeanor counts and pay a $25,000 fine; one thousand dollars for each of the 25 laws it broke in killing these people! The federal judge in Indianapolis, Lilly's home town, (guess who he probably plays golf with on the weekends) reduced the 25 charges from felonies to misdemeanors and praised Lilly at the sentencing while not commenting on the deaths. I was present at the sentencing. I thought I was at a banquet honoring Lilly for its civic commitment and leadership. I wanted to puke. The federal prosecutor resigned in disgust and protest. Maybe, just maybe, it is this self-righteous sense of 'we are perfect. We can do no wrong' that needs to be critically examined at all levels of our society. Maybe, just maybe, we ought to think about what these men of God say as they express the rage and frustration of our citizenry at double standards.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Historical Event

I thought about naming this blog entry "Why I write this blog" because one of my major reasons is that I write this so my grand children, and their children, will know something about me. A major void in my life is that I know just about nothing about my grand fathers. I have absolutely no idea about who they were in terms of how they felt, thought or conducted their daily affairs of life. What occurred yesterday in America is just one of those events of major import that deserves the imprint of the old man in telling my future generations "I was there, and I felt the enormity and the impact of what was said at that moment in time. May you forever live your lives with the principles set forth by Barack Obama as part of your souls and spirit." I take the liberty of setting forth his speech in its entirety on the premise that it is required reading for any American from this day forward. Here goes:


March 18, 2008
Barack Obama’s Speech on Race
The following is the text as prepared for delivery of Senator Barack Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia, as provided by his presidential campaign.

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so na├»ve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Response to Era of Hell in a Hand Basket

A friend of mine, John Kolbas, wrote a response to my blog "Era of Hell in a Hand Basket" which merits printing. You will find his opinions thoughtful and informative.

John writes:

Accountability is an issue today, but it has always been an issue. Some always stand up when it is necessary or when called to do. Some seldom stand up when necessary or when called to do so and some never stand up when necessary or when called to do so.

As relates to attorneys, our laws are written by attorneys, our laws for the most part are voted on by attorneys, our laws are interpreted by judges who almost always are attorneys. Although many attorneys speak of justice, their desire to make a living (certainly an acceptable goal) and support the efforts of their colleagues in making a living have guided them to be sure that the law follows the path of deep pockets. In the laws they write, pass and rule on personal accountability takes a back seat to blame being put on others for all that is wrong in the world. Perhaps no profession has done more to convince the public that it is someone else’s fault than the legal profession. Personal accountability suffers when the masses are bombarded on a daily basis with messages attempting to convince them that everything is someone else’s fault.

Do those who suffer at the hands of another deserve justice? Of course they do; but bad outcomes are not always malpractice, coffee is normally hot, and parents need to teach their children how to use a step ladder and keep their heads out of plastic bags.

If the legal profession wants to again elevate itself to where it once stood in society, it will need to return to its roots of counseling, mentoring and advocating. The most visible in the profession are the ambulance chasers and those who attempt to convince everyone that corporations are at fault for all that is wrong in the world. Until the profession reins in these members by working towards laws and a justice system, that assure justice, not simply a path to deep pockets, the profession will continue to remain near the bottom of the respect ladder.

Personal accountability will increase when society enacts laws and adjudicates those laws holding individuals and corporations responsible for their actions in a manner not guided by who can pay, but by who is actually and justly responsible.

The Era of Hell in a Hand Basket

I feel like a dinosaur. Actually I am a dinosaur, a relic from the era of accountability. Accountability was a period in the history of the United States when all dinosaurs shared the same principles, number one of which was accountability. Accountability in its era was the life blood of personal and commercial transactions. For several milllennia prior to its emergence, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was the fundamental morality of transactions and, as such, put the burden on the buyer in any given transaction to sort out deception, deceit, trickery, fakery and other tricks of the trade favored by sellers ( psst, hey buddy, want to buy a bridge?).

The era of Accountability was a short era. It extended from the late 1950s to approximately the end of the 20th century. All the conditions were right and this era flourished for awhile under the notion that people and corporations (treated as citizens by our system of laws) would be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. Then the Ruse virus appeared. Somewhere, it has not been determined yet, deep in the board room of a yet unknown corporation someone coughed and out came the exclamation "We do not like being held accountable." Others became similarly afflicted. "It is acceptable for us if others are held accountable but, we too do not like being held accountable for our wrongdoings." And so it began. Little by little, this virus spread. Then, a variant of the Ruse virus evolved. "Someone else, not us, must be blamed." The cries of the infected became "Since we do not want to be held accountable for our actions, we must place the blame on those who seek to hold us responsible." Those infected looked around and saw the lawyers. One of those infected had a smattering of knowledge about Shakespeare and thought he remembered something the Bard had written. "First, let's blame all the lawyers." A chant began. "Let's blame all the lawyers, let's blame all the lawyers." The Ruse virus had infected the mainstream of public thought and perception.

The earth's crust has shifted, the temperatures at the surface have changed, the Ruse infection has taken hold and, other than a small group or two of people who have an apparent resistance to this virus, the dinosaurs, the evolutionary process is complete. No one wants to be held accountable. No one is being held accountable. The end of the era is nearing completion. A Bear Stearns executive chokes out a gasp "It is not our fault. It is probably the lawyers who did this to us." Wall Street chimes in, "It is not our fault. It is not our fault."

We are entering the era of "Hell in a Handbasket."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Abject Reality of Life in America

I'm the swing vote. Think about it. I am white, from the Midwest, a citizen of one of the critical states (Michigan) in the presidential contest in November. I am economically conservative. I don't think government should spend money it does not have. I don't think citizens of our country should expect handouts or special favors from our government unless, for one reason or another, citizens are unable to take care of themselves. The same reasoning applies to business and industries like farming, the pharmaceutical industry, the automobile industry, banking and Wall Street. Note that I said "unable" to care for themselves and not "unwilling' to do so.

When it comes to individual rights and responsibilities I am liberal. I think citizens of our country should be free from warrantless searches and wiretaps conducted on the mere whim of same nameless and faceless law enforcement officer. I respect our Constitution and I think people should be free to say what they want, practice their own religion (or non-religion) the way they want, carry guns, have the right to remain silent, and have the right to civil trial by jury when someone injures or otherwise damages me. I also believe that it is the obligation of the citizenry to be held accountable for conduct that harms others. If I drive an automobile through a red light and injure someone, I deserve to be held accountable for that damage. I think the same standard should apply to major corporations and industries. I do think that the entire United States does practice de facto segregation against large segments of our society including poor and undereducated blacks and Hispanics in large cities. The terrible damage currently being inflicted on the Obama campaign by the revelations of statements made at church services by his minister is an example of racism in its meannest and ugliest form. Why, for example, wasn't Gerry Falwell's nutty statement that the World Trade Center damage was caused by gays in the U.S. attached to Bush during the 2004 elections?

At this moment I am deeply ashamed of Hillary Clinton for not coming out strongly and rejecting utterly this insidious campaign against Obama to convict him of guilt by association. I have the same feelings about McCain. Someone has to stand up and denounce this outrageous charge. This is an abject lesson about the reality of life in America. The goofy things said by Obama's minister notwithstanding, a wonderful young man and citizen of our society is being destroyed before our very eyes by 'wink and nod' politics designed to appeal to the generally concealed bigotry of white people like me. We white folk, if we are so inclined, have the perfect excuse now to not have to vote for this black guy. When we walk into the voting booth and pull the curtain, the intent is that we will carry the picture in our minds of the minister waving his arms and saying the crazy things that offend us. I am the swing vote. the same can be said for hundreds of thousands of other like me. Unless we recognize that we have been placed in this position by design and consciously reject the attempt, we are going to take an active role in the lynching of Obama as well as the destruction of another American ideal.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Big Questions

Nothing in what follows here should be construed, directly or indirectly, as condoning the conduct of Governor Spitzer in breaking several laws culminating in his resignation as governor of New York. However, several legal minds have raised the issue about the politics, not to mention the timing, of fingering a highly placed Democrat in the sordid mess. From newspaper accounts, it was the Department of Justice that disseminated the damaging information that brought Spitzer down. A highly placed DOJ official provided the identity of Client 9 and insisted on anonymity because it is a federal crime to make such disclosures. A recent study demonstrated unequivocally that the Department of Justice under He Who Would Be King has invesitaged allegations of official misconduct of Democrats 5.6 times more frequently than fellow Republicans. In assessing whether or not this undertaking was politically motivated I have a couple of simple question that needs to be asked; Who are clients one through eight? Why haven't we heard one word about them?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Cream Puff for Poppa

The title of this monograph requires an explanation. Several years ago, when Artur Rubenstein was being honored at the Kennedy Center, Itzhak Perlman played a special number in his honor. Perlman introduced it as "a chocolate eclair for Mr. Rubenstein." I was struck at the exquisite characterization. I remember that so well this morning as I write something about a very special performer, my grandson Jon. Today Jonathon will perform a piano recital. In the really old days, when I was a kid, playing in a piano recital meant taking a bath that morning, actually combing your hair, putting on Sunday clothes and then stumbling through a piece of music while wishing you were outside playing baseball. The beauty of having grandchildren in one's life is that you learn from them far more than you can ever give back, particularly about no-limits living. I often think that my grandchldren are people that have appeared during this period of time in my life as a gift, a demonstration of the spirit of life in a myriad of ways. Because Jon is in Michigan and I am in Florida, I will listen this afternoon by phone. Not as good as being there, but I will be free to shed tears of joy in the privacy of my home. So you can have an inkling about what I am writing, here is the truly awesome program that Jon will play today; I consider it a cream puff for Poppa.

Piano Concert by Jon Vredenburg

March 12, 2008

Aria (Theme from La Traviata)………………………………Giuseppe Verdi

She Loves Me…………………………………………………McCartney

Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.…….…………………………..Andrew Lloyd Webber

I Want to Hold Your Hand….………………………………..Lennon and McCartney

Linus and Lucy.....……………………………………………Vince Guaraldi

The James Bond Theme….…………………………………..Monty Norman

Over the Rainbow…………………………………………….Harold Arlen

Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead…..………………………….Harold Arlen

Baby Face…………………………………………………….Davis and Akst

Tuxedo Junction……………………………………………..Hawkins,Johnson,Dash,Feyne

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ex Post Facto

"Ex post facto" is a basic concept that law school students learn, generally in the first year. An ex post facto law is a law passed after the occurrence of an event or action which retrospectively changes the legal consequences of the event or action. Two Constitutional clauses are involved. The U.S. Constitution's Article 1 Section 9 states: 'No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed,' and Section 10 says: 'No State shall . . . pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law. . . .' By definition, the recent passage of the law to immunize the telecommunications industry's illegal and unconstitutional conduct in providing warrantless phone communication information to the federal government is illegal and unconstitutional on its face because it does violate these constitutional limitations. It will be argued that the passage of this law is really not ex post facto because the new law does not increase the penalty and consequences of the wrongdoers, but, in fact, eliminates any consequences for wrongdoers. The 'words and the intent' of the Ex Post Facto Clause encompass '[e]very law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed.' Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (1 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798) (opinion of Chase, J.).

However, there are two parties to this horrible misdeed; the ones doing the harm and the others harmed by the conduct. In this recent legislation, it is the ones who were harmed, the innocent Americans who have the constitutional right to be free from improper warrantless violations of their privacy. The new law does increase the penalty and consequences for all Americans. The steady erosion of individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution will be the historical hallmark of the presidency of He who would be King. It is truly sad to know that the Democratic Congress, so eager to pander to big business, has joined in this erosion.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Taking Time To Decide

There are a lot of worry-warts out there among the pundits who claim that the longer the Democrats take to select a presidential candidate, the worse it is for the party. I respectfully disagree. The reason for my disagreement is this; the intense battle for the nomination between Clinton and Obama is the de facto presidential election. The winner of this nomination will be the next president of the United States. John McCain, as much as I like and respect him, has a major problem. He must, of necessity, court, woo and pander to the conservative branch of his party through November to gain their votes. Example; yesterday McCain visited He who would be King at the White House whereupon the soon-to-be-departing king proclaimed that McCain would carry on with the Bush approach to the Iraqi war. In other words, the promise is clear. We would be faced with another four to eight years of exactly the approach that has tended to destroy our moral authority world wide. McCain is, thus, in the proverbial catch-22. If he endorses conservative sacred cows, he loses the middle of the road independents. If he moves to the center on issues, his seemingly natural place, he loses the support of the rabid right and every time he makes a public pronouncement in support of the values they cherish, e.g., more and more guns in households, the right of lunatics to brandish semi-automatic weapons, a few more percentage points in favor of the Democratic candidate will be gained. In short, it is my opinion that the presidential election will result in a landslide victory for the Democrats who are bolstered by the independents who recognize and understand the danger that has been created for our country by the current crop of pseudo-conservatives.

Thus, the Democratic primaries are, in essence, the real race for the presidency. It is good that the selection process is taking time. The more that Clinton and Obama are forced in the heat of the battle to particularize their respective positions, the more that such transparency will present the opportunity for the public to assess them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Tarnished Instrument of Truth

I play a couple of musical instruments. As a result, to my wife's consternation because of the space they occupy, I own more than a couple of instruments. Each of these instruments needs to be played and tended to on a regular basis. Those made of silver alloy tarnish easily without attention and too much unattended exposure. Because the presidential primaries occupy a substantial part of my attention span these days, it was easy for me to think about Obama's current status as a potentially fading front runner in the terms of a tarnished instrument. For sure, there was a substantial period of time during the current campaign when his halo was bright and shiny. I was not immune from the impact his rapturous phrases had on the people of America.

Last month I had my first moment of disappointment of the man and the principles he claimed. This moment (Illusion or Delusion, Feb. 16, 2008) occurred when he backed off his specific promise to accept only federal campaign funding should he become the Democrat's candidate. I wrote then " . . . this latest positioning and posturing suggests to me that the illusion I have had about the man, shared by most if not all of his enthusiastic supporters is, in fact, a delusion." Currently, there are a couple of issues that are on the table; the extent and nature of his relationship with a man on trial in Chicago for, among other charges, bribery of public officials and the revelation that one of his economic advisers was reassuring Canadian government officials quietly that Obama didn't mean what he was saying about NAFTA.

The substantive nature of these charges are not my concern. What troubles me (greatly) is the emerging conclusion that the bright and polished Obama is simply another politician who says what he thinks people want to hear. Contrast his current status with McCain, as an example. When McCain campaigned in Michigan, he stated quite emphatically that Michigan's automobile-based jobs were not coming back and that it would be necessary for Michigan workers to undergo job re-training to respond to a changing world. Nearly everybody in Michigan wanted to hear something else (just as those in Ohio apparently wanted to hear that NAFTA was responsible for its current economic crisis) and Romney's promise to get those old jobs back won the day for him. What was remarkable is that McCain refused to pander to obtain votes. Just yesterday I read that the deal for the Obama house and adjacent land was obtained from the purported briber of officials in 2005, not exactly ancient history and certainly while Obama was a member of the U.S. Senate.

The net result of all of the above is that this morning I am reassessing the candidates. If Obama is simply another politician who says one thing and does another, then his lack of experience emerges as a big negative. We are currently administered by He who would be King. We have been told enough lies by that man to demand that the current crop of candidates tell us the simple truth about where they stand and who they are. Clinton is unique in that no one expects her to do that. McCain is unique because he does. In the next few weeks Obama has got to get the polish out and remove the tarnish if he is going to stand a chance of becoming the next president of the United States. If he is real, the time factor is on his side. He needs to attend to the instrument of truth. The next concert is in a couple of weeks.

Monday, March 3, 2008

McCain Again

This comment to Frank Rich's Sunday morning Op-Ed piece On March 2, 2008 appears in the on line edititon on that date:

Last April I wrote about McCain's presidential candidacy. Not much has changed since then as Mr. Rich so adroitly describes. I said at the time that "Senator John McCain does some things I don't like. He takes a position on Iraq which, in my opinion, is doomed to failure. He sidles up to religious fundamentalists in a manner that suggests pandering on a street corner. I would expect 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney would summarize my feelings about McCain in the following manner; 'I like McCain about 80% of the time; the other 20% I can't stand him'. I have given a lot of thought about who should be the next president of the United States. In my opinion, George W. Bush (He who would be King) has been the worst president ever. His smug superiority complex has badly damaged the institutional structure of our way of life and form of government and the next president needs to be a states person of the first order of magnitude to repair the damage both at home and abroad. I sense that millions of people in the United States are precisely at the same station. We sense that a re-grip on the fundamental principles upon which this government was founded requires a first rate person who can move beyond platitudes. Is McCain that person? I don't know, but his five years at the Hanoi Hilton establishes a high bar in terms of life experiences that a 'states person to be' can bring to the table in contrast to, say for example, a four hundred dollar haircut candidate. My mind is open. I am listening." I am still listening.