Point of View Columns

What on Earth?

Whether writing a column or voicing an opinion, it’s always a good idea to be correct on the facts. So let’s survey some recent facts. Earlier in the month of April, President Obama convened a global summit on the very critical issue of nuclear proliferation with a goal of developing strategies to contain and eliminate such proliferation. News reports indicate that 47 heads of state came from around the world to attend this momentous event. The last time 47 heads of state came to the United States at the request of the President of the United States was after World War II when President Harry S Truman convened a conference at which the consensus for the establishment of the United Nations was established.

          Clearly the subject of nuclear proliferation is one that affects us all. At the risk of stating the obvious, nuclear proliferation threatens the entire planet, present and future. Obviously, the heads of state from 47 countries thought that the issue was important enough to accept an invitation from President Obama to listen, discuss, exchange points of view and to determine at the very least, the outlines of a plan of action. And we should be clear, President Obama was not only the host, he was the putative chairman of a key global summit, first among equals if you will.

          What is not so very obvious is the rational process of the Masters of the Universe, better known as the beneficiaries of titanic paychecks and gargantuan federal taxpayer bailouts. We do know that they are motivated by profit although when they are not very profitable they saw the absolute logic of the American citizenry propping up their gadget driven business models. We do know that they are supposed to represent the best and the brightest that American schools and investment firms and law firms have to offer. And we do know that they are so much the best and so much the brightest that they almost managed to collapse the financial system for much of the industrialized world spreading a great penumbra of pain and misery and displacement and unemployment and hopelessness across wide swaths of the population of this country and of many, many countries throughout the world.

          But there is no need to speak poorly of the benighted best and brightest. They are the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to giving us reasons to be critical of Wall Street and the forces that motivate the men and women who created this morass called the financial crisis. Even at this point in time there is very little energy behind critiques of a financial services system that provides fewer and fewer financings for business expansion and new jobs. There is very little criticism of a financial system that derives profits from “products” that seem a lot like the computer games that bright teenagers play. The difference is, of course, that these teenagers don’t ruin the economies of the countries where they reside.

          What is noteworthy, however, is that when President Obama spoke at Cooper Union on April 22nd, less than two miles from Wall Street, very few representatives from the Wall Street community were present. The best and the brightest of the best and the brightest, the chieftains of the rapacious clans that roam over the financial countryside, just couldn’t find time to attend. To be accurate, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs did have the good sense to show up, but unlike the 47 heads of state that flew from all over the world at the invitation of President Obama to discuss a critical issue, most of the Wall Street titans just couldn’t be bothered.

          Perhaps they were in their counting houses counting up their money. Or, more likely, they were meeting with their lobbyists to be sure that they were clear on their mission to gut, eviscerate and otherwise kill the financial regulatory legislation that has been proposed by the Administration. Not that the legislation is that radical, but it is clear that the best and the brightest feel that, as proper Masters of the Universe, any control, oversight, supervision or inquiry into their loft affairs offends the laws of nature and must be stopped at any cost.

          And, when it comes to cost, money is no object for these best and brightest. Aided and abetted by the right wing of the right wing Supreme Court cabal of Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia, corporations now have the save rights to freedom of speech that individuals were granted when the Constitution was first written. The notion that Madison and Jefferson and Adams and Franklin envisioned Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase as individuals with rights that needed to be established and protected would be a pitiful joke if not for the pitiful joke of a Supreme Court decision authored by the referenced cabal.

          And, because money is no object for these best and brightest, do not be surprised at the torrents of dollars that will flow to the opponents of financial regulation. And, if the law passes, do not be surprised at the largesse that will flow to candidates who wish to repeal the legislation (throwing healthcare into the bargain too, unless I miss my guess).

          So we now understand why the best and the brightest of the best and the brightest had no time to listen to the President of the United States talk about their industry. They were simply too busy.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

A Walk in the Park

My son, now thirteen, has been a participant in Harlem Little Leagu

My son, now thirteen, has been a participant in Harlem Little League for seven years. By the way, Harlem Little League is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that are constantly and consistently dedicated to making life opportunities available to young people. It is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that merit and warrant our support if our tomorrows are truly to be better than our todays. But I digress.

          As I watched my son and his teammates play in Central Park last weekend I was struck by the grandeur and awesome concept that is Central Park. And I realized that, if not for the foresight and vision of Frederick Law Olmstead and many, many others in 1859, I would have been standing in a warren of concrete condominium canyons instead of in a verdant field of grass encircled by small forests with the sky so close that touching it almost made sense. There are probably still developers and builders who cast a longing glance at the Great Lawn and Strawberry Fields and wonder, what if…….

          There is no doubt that, in 1859, there was more than a little opposition to the establishment of a huge, permanent park in the middle of Manhattan, by then America’s largest and most vibrant and fastest growing city. There were those who were prepared to let the free market determine the best usage of the land that became Central Park, putting the public interest and a vision of the future in permanent second and third place, respectively.

          I thought about the public education system in the United States. I considered the fact that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education through the twelfth grade was not a universally admired concept in the latter half of the 19th century. There were many who felt that the free market should determine who would or could get an education. The needs of industry for child labor were favored over any notion of the public interest and any vision of a future with educated and literate Americans.

          I don’t think that there is any doubt that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education transformed this country. The millions of educated and literate Americans that helped to create the United States that became a global juggernaut in the 20th century were the driving force behind that progression. And I wondered if it would be possible to institute free, compulsory and universal public education in this country in these days and times.

          I also thought about the national parks system in the United States, a system that encompasses the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Park and so many more major and minor miracles of nature. And I recalled that at the time the parks system was established, with the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, there were cries of opposition from private interests – mining interests, logging interests, developers and the like. Confiscating private land for public use was anathema to the American way, the argument went. The public interest and the vision of the future would and should be determined by the free market. And I wondered if it would even be possible institute a national parks system in the United States in these days and times.

          I also thought about the fact that, as successful as he was in establishing a national parks system, a system that is now a global jewel, Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely unsuccessful in establishing a universal health care system for Americans. He was able to protect the canyons and forests and valleys of America, but not the health of Americans. And I realized that the American mindset that can be so generous can also be selfish, instead of selfless.

          It is why we saw so much rancor attached to the recent health care bill debate. It is why we see the continued rancor and debate over a bill that would help keep men, women and children healthy. This dichotomy in the American character is not pretty and is not admired by the rest of the world.

          A new biography on the life and times of Alexis de Tocqueville was released recently. As one of the first socio-political observers of the new United States of America, he made several astute observations that turned out to be eerily accurate prognostications. One was that slavery and the issue of race would be a continuing problem for Americans until it was resolved. And we live with that prediction to this very day.

          He also mentioned that the American psychology, point of view if you will, was very much directed towards self-aggrandizement and profitability – the “what’s in it for me” approach. The search for new frontiers and new inventions and new industries has always been fueled by a distinctly American search for profit – a search for personal profit. The generosity of this country is legendary and well-deserved. The preoccupation with self and self-worth is also part of a well-deserved reputation. And this dichotomy has very real consequences.

We now see President Obama excoriated for wanting to provide the same protection for the health of Americans that Danes and Poles and Japanese take for granted at birth. We live in a country born of change. It is clearly time that we change some more.

.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

e for seven years. By the way, Harlem Little League is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that are constantly and consistently dedicated to making life opportunities available to young people. It is just one of many great unsung community-based organizations that merit and warrant our support if our tomorrows are truly to be better than our todays. But I digress.

          As I watched my son and his teammates play in Central Park last weekend I was struck by the grandeur and awesome concept that is Central Park. And I realized that, if not for the foresight and vision of Frederick Law Olmstead and many, many others in 1859, I would have been standing in a warren of concrete condominium canyons instead of in a verdant field of grass encircled by small forests with the sky so close that touching it almost made sense. There are probably still developers and builders who cast a longing glance at the Great Lawn and Strawberry Fields and wonder, what if…….

          There is no doubt that, in 1859, there was more than a little opposition to the establishment of a huge, permanent park in the middle of Manhattan, by then America’s largest and most vibrant and fastest growing city. There were those who were prepared to let the free market determine the best usage of the land that became Central Park, putting the public interest and a vision of the future in permanent second and third place, respectively.

          I thought about the public education system in the United States. I considered the fact that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education through the twelfth grade was not a universally admired concept in the latter half of the 19th century. There were many who felt that the free market should determine who would or could get an education. The needs of industry for child labor were favored over any notion of the public interest and any vision of a future with educated and literate Americans.

          I don’t think that there is any doubt that the establishment of free, compulsory and universal public education transformed this country. The millions of educated and literate Americans that helped to create the United States that became a global juggernaut in the 20th century were the driving force behind that progression. And I wondered if it would be possible to institute free, compulsory and universal public education in this country in these days and times.

          I also thought about the national parks system in the United States, a system that encompasses the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Park and so many more major and minor miracles of nature. And I recalled that at the time the parks system was established, with the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, there were cries of opposition from private interests – mining interests, logging interests, developers and the like. Confiscating private land for public use was anathema to the American way, the argument went. The public interest and the vision of the future would and should be determined by the free market. And I wondered if it would even be possible institute a national parks system in the United States in these days and times.

          I also thought about the fact that, as successful as he was in establishing a national parks system, a system that is now a global jewel, Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely unsuccessful in establishing a universal health care system for Americans. He was able to protect the canyons and forests and valleys of America, but not the health of Americans. And I realized that the American mindset that can be so generous can also be selfish, instead of selfless.

          It is why we saw so much rancor attached to the recent health care bill debate. It is why we see the continued rancor and debate over a bill that would help keep men, women and children healthy. This dichotomy in the American character is not pretty and is not admired by the rest of the world.

          A new biography on the life and times of Alexis de Tocqueville was released recently. As one of the first socio-political observers of the new United States of America, he made several astute observations that turned out to be eerily accurate prognostications. One was that slavery and the issue of race would be a continuing problem for Americans until it was resolved. And we live with that prediction to this very day.

          He also mentioned that the American psychology, point of view if you will, was very much directed towards self-aggrandizement and profitability – the “what’s in it for me” approach. The search for new frontiers and new inventions and new industries has always been fueled by a distinctly American search for profit – a search for personal profit. The generosity of this country is legendary and well-deserved. The preoccupation with self and self-worth is also part of a well-deserved reputation. And this dichotomy has very real consequences.

We now see President Obama excoriated for wanting to provide the same protection for the health of Americans that Danes and Poles and Japanese take for granted at birth. We live in a country born of change. It is clearly time that we change some more.

.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

Imagine

Imagine a time in the very near future when the provincial administrator of some region in Germany decides to declare “Nazi Heritage Day”, a day to honor the bravery and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of loyal Germans who died in the defense of the ideals of their country. Imagine further that, the reason that this doughty burger advances in support of this initiative is that the German soldiers who fought during World War II were fighting to preserve the German way of life and that “Nazi Heritage Day” in no way is meant to celebrate or glorify the barbaric slaughter of millions of men and women including the genocide committed against six million Jews.

          “Nazi Heritage Day”, in this imaginary scenario, is meant to be an economic development stimulus, encouraging tourists from all over the world to view the many battle sites and monuments that are the relics of World War II, a war initiated by the Nazi government. While one can imagine that the promoters of this tourism magnet would tastefully shy away from concentration camps and evidence of mass graves, these promoters would anticipate a bonanza from the sales of Nazi flags and paraphernalia, sales that in no way could be seen as endorsing the vile and repugnant policies of Adolph Hitler and his cohorts. And whether the mass graves or the concentration camps or the gas chambers were mentioned as regrettable or not, just wouldn’t mean “diddly” (to borrow a phrase from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour) to the geniuses who would support this campaign.

          If you have the stomach to continue on this imaginary meandering toward madness, you can imagine the outrage and disgust that would be expressed throughout the world. The outrages against humanity committed by the German people and soldiers during the Nazi regime were unspeakable, but they must be spoken lest people forget the depravity that lurks in too many human souls. And yet, of course, we do forget. We forget in Rwanda and in Bosnia and in the Sudan and in the Congo and in too many places too many times.

The fact that there were brave and noble and courageous and admirable German soldiers (think Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”, for example) would be dismissed with a collective wave of dismay and revulsion by most of the civilized world because we know that these Nazi soldiers fought for a system that was so devoid of morality and humanity that no aspect of it could ever be “honored” without fouling all of the celebrants. And, by the way, in 2005 the German government imposed strict restrictions regarding public demonstrations celebrating Nazism, the holocausts and related offenses to civilization.

          And now we leave the world of imagination. And in the real, bizarro world in which we find ourselves, where no sense makes sense, the governor of Virginia declares “Confederate Heritage Month” and there is uproar because he neglects to mention that slavery was bad. But the fact of the matter is that there is not sufficient uproar about the fact that in the second decade of the twenty-first century this country has not evolved to the point where celebrating the Confederate States of America is not considered an abomination as a simple matter of fact.

          Have we as Americans become so divorced from history and knowledge and fact that we collectively do not realize that the CSA was formed to preserve slavery, termed by the historian C. Vann Woodward as the “peculiar institution”. It was that peculiar institution that countenanced the sale of human beings along with pigs, cotton and firewood. It was that peculiar institution that permitted child rape, beatings, hangings and immolation as the right of any “master”. It was that peculiar institution that branded, castrated and mutilated men, women and children upon a whim of the master or mistress.

          A lest we wax sentimental in referring to the brave soldiers who fought for the CSA, we clearly need to remember that Confederate soldiers were under strict orders not to take Black Union soldiers prisoner, but rather they had to be killed on the spot. So there were no black prisoners of war during the civil war. And, lest we forget another aspect of this “glorious heritage”, after the end of the Civil War it was the veterans of the Confederate army who formed the insurgent terrorist group known as the Knights of the White Magnolia and terrorized and maimed and killed black men, women and children (and Jews and Catholics too) throughout the South.

The Knights of the White Magnolia graduated to the ranks of the truly amoral and dedicated criminal terrorists like Al Qaeda, the Mafia and the Yakuza and became known as the Ku Klux Klan. And, as the Ku Klux Klan, these Confederate veterans and their benighted descendants drenched this country with the blood of lynched black men, women and children for almost a century. For some verification look at Without Sanctuary (Twin Palms Publishers) and see how these benighted sons and daughters of the Confederacy abused, degraded and debased human beings by lynching, just because they were black. Some tradition. Some heritage.

          We need to remember that the ante bellum South was not a hoop skirt-wearing, magnolia-smelling, mint julep-drinking walk in the Gone With the Wind park for black Americans. It was a time of sustained and midnight terror at noon that allowed for no comfort and no sanctuary. The happy darkies playing the banjo and eating watermelon were in fact dying of malnutrition and frostbite while working like the livestock with whom they often shared food and shelter. The rainbow of black Americans is, in a very real sense, living evidence of the depredations and insults that slave-owners visited upon their female slaves, whenever and wherever they wish. Some heritage. Some tradition.

          In Virginia, where there should be some remorse for being the site of the capital of the CSA, there is this odd, defiant unreality. There is a contention that the Civil War was a cultural clash instead of a battle to eliminate slavery from this country. In Mississippi, understandably the home of the blues, Confederate Heritage Day is celebrated on Martin Luther King Day, an unspeakable obscenity rendered all the more so for its governmental sanction and its continuing to this very day without shame and opprobrium being visited upon the government of the state that, if not the birthplace of lynching of black people, is the home of some of its most depraved aspects.

          What is most interesting, and sad, is that the outrage against this bastardized view of history is not voiced with the fervor that it deserves. Crimes against humanity should never be celebrated. Those who were complicit in crimes against humanity should never be celebrated (that would include Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee). Those who fought to preserve a system that committed crimes against humanity for over two hundred years do not deserve to be honored, except by their families, who should extend us the decency of holding those rites of celebration in private.

          The dead victims of such organized and institutionalized inhumanity, and their descendants, deserve no less.

          One last question. Armenians and Jews and the Chinese of Nanking and the Irish and the Serbians and the Rwandans and many, many more of our brothers and sisters on this planet are justifiably entitled to remember the desecration of the humanity of their forebears. The celebration of that desecration is too offensive to deserve consideration. Are African Americans entitled to no less?

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

Eyes Wide Shut

In writing about the firestorm of vitriol and bile and pure hate that flowed after the passage of the healthcare bill two weeks ago, I wrote that some of the crowds of opposition, the right wing of the right wing, were one noose and a flaming torch short of a lynch mob. I stand corrected.

          We are witnessing the absolute proliferation of new jack twenty first century lynch mobs, launched on the internet and talk radio and pseudo news stations across this country. And we are witnessing it with our eyes wide shut. While protestors storm the Capitol and spit and curse legislators, we are supposed to be mollified by the Republican leaders asking us whether we want to believe them or our lying eyes.

          We are witnessing a souring and a curdling of public discourse and debate that has very few historic equivalents in this country. One remembers the crowds at that high school in Little Rock and at that lunch counter in North Carolina and at all those Greyhound bus stations in Alabama and Mississippi and one wonders could we be seeing a reprise. And we watch this transformation from contention to dissension to the vilest sort of anarchical expression with our eyes wide shut.

          It is almost impossible to engage in hyperbole in describing the transformative deterioration taking place in this country. We read stories of a demented band of “Christian warriors” planning to kill police in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana in preparation for the coming of the anti-Christ. And that story is right next to poll results that show that 24% of self-identified Republicans believe, believe, that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. We read about the upcoming celebrations of Waco, Texas – Branch Davidian holocaust and the bombing of the federal office in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and wonder when did Timothy McVeigh become a martyr? And when did self-immolation by a crazed religious zealot become the cause for celebration?

          And through it all, winking and wisecracking and mangling the English language to a fare thee well, Sarah Palin continues to foment the anger, stirring the bile, egging on the susceptible and beguiling the gullible with her folksy poison. Her references to “real America” are as transparent as her misbegotten logic. How she became the determining voice of “real America” is not clear, but in her “real America” people of color do not exist, in her “real America” there is no need for universal health care for all citizens (a right that exists in every industrialized nation on this planet), in her “real America” its o.k. to carry a gun to go hear the President of the United States speak and then go to Starbucks. In her “real America” it is just fine and dandy and okey dokey to refer to “reloading” when launching political attacks and marking political targets with gun sights to provide clarity for the overly obtuse faction of her misguided followers.

          Watching Sarah Palin in Searchlight, Nevada last week, she led a hyper charged crowd that had ambitions of becoming a mob. She engaged in clichés and sound bites and rhetorical voyages that were far from fact but were logical in the fictional “real America” in which she resides. And as I watched her winking and wisecracking routine, dressed in a black leather jacket, I thought of Leni Riefenstahl and Thomas Paine.

          Media has always played a role in revolution. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense articulated the voice of the American Revolution, but the technology that drove the media allowed for his tracts to be printed and distributed and widely read. It is fair to say that the American Revolution was inextricably linked to the media of that era. Without the media there may not have been a successful American Revolution.

          Leni Riefenstahl used cinema to provide an image of the Third Reich that branded the German psyche with a glorified image of the Nazi movement. A brand that was indelible for over a decade. A brand that could not be eradicated until a most awful rain of death and destruction fell upon Germany. Again, it is fair to say that the use of media gave the Third Reich its foundation and created a reality in which madness could run free.

          And now we see Sarah Palin and the tea partiers and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the tea baggers and the right wing of the right wing hijacking the media of today to foment some sort of revolution that will restore the “real America” to its former glory. And the media of today is not just the printed word and movies, it is television and Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and e-mail and text messages and robo-calls and…………the list is literally endless. And the media is now being used without regard to fact, morality or responsibility.

          And so Congressmen are spat upon and cursed and their homes are targeted by semi-psychopathic supporters of the right wing of the right wing. We see the police being viewed as targets by militia members who love their guns more than they love your life or mine. And all the while we watch the winking and wisecracking and the seemingly guileless references to violence that are supposed to be “metaphors”. Except in the “real America”, metaphors don’t exist. And in the “real America” of Sarah Palin and the right wing of the right wing, “reload” and cross-hair targets are not symbolic. They are calls to action. And we are watching it all with our eyes wide shut.

          God bless America. And God help us all.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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