Point of View Columns

With a Child’s Heart

And now Rand Paul is the darling of the right wing of the right wing. And it will take more than a spoonful of sugar to help this paleolibertarian medicine go down the throat of the Republican Party. He is on record as questioning the legitimacy and the propriety of the Civil Right Bill, including that part of the bill that outlawed racial discrimination in “public accommodations “, including movie theaters, hotels, motels and bus stations. I wish I could tell him my story. It is a story that could be retold with a millions of versions.

          I was born in Harlem. It was during the first year of the second half of the twentieth century. There was racism in New York City, in all of its soul searing, gut-wrenching permutations, some of it pornographically overt. But I was a small child and knew nothing of such things.

          I went to Japan when I was four years old. The reason was not a complicated one. It was where my father could get a job. During the next three years I learned to speak fluent Japanese and went to a Japanese kindergarten. I also attended an international school where I met and studied with children from all over the world. I also went to an American school. I did learn that there was such a thing as racial distinctions, I learned from my parents in response to my identity inquiry that I was an American Negro and in reading copies of Ebony and Jet shipped in from the United States I learned a little about the growing civil rights struggle in the nation of my birth.

          I then lived in Puerto Rico for a couple of years, still going to American schools. Still learning bits and pieces about this thing called “civil rights”. I read in my social studies classes and in encyclopedias that there had been a thing called slavery in the United States and something called “Jim Crow”.

But when I finally moved back to the United States at t he age of nine, nothing prepared me for my first visit to the South when, riding with my parents along a highway, I saw the sides of the roads littered with garbage, neon garbage. It was garbage that glowed and winked and blinked against the darkened sky in front of the many motels that were along the highway. There was garbage that read “No Coloreds” and “For Whites Only”. It was then that I knew the pain of something called racism. In that blinking neon light I saw my father insulted, I saw my mother degraded and I felt a pain that I had never known. And my nine year old reaction was that I felt that a dagger was going through my child’s heart. It hurt that much.

          In the ensuing five years the civil rights struggle gained momentum and the blood and sacrifice and misery of so many years brought forth the glorious March on Washington which I had the privilege of attending. That was a glorious moment, but I never could forget that dagger through my heart. Perhaps because earlier in that summer of 1963 I spent the summer in Charlotte, North Carolina and sat too many times in the colored movie balcony and swam too many times in the colored swimming pool. And then, after Selma and Birmingham and Philadelphia (Mississippi) and so many other battle stations, and then the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was passed.

          That bill did a lot of things to correct what was wrong about America. But outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodations meant that no other nine year old would have to feel that particular dagger going through their heart again. And now, along comes Rand Paul.

          Carrying the ranting banner of paleolibertarianism high, the now-Republican nominee for United States Senator from Kentucky fulminates against the injustices brought about by “big government”. Would this be the “big government” that runs Medicare? That would be the same Medicare from which he has received payments as a medical doctor? Would it be the “big government” that originated the G.I. Bill so that my father and the fathers of so many of the Baby Boom generation could go to college and create what we now call the middle class? Or would it be the “big government” inspecting and the food that we eat and the drugs that we give to our children and the “big government” that controls the skies in which millions of us fly every year? I sincerely await Rand Paul’s clarification.

          But he is crystal clear about his belief that “big government” shouldn’t interfere with the right of a private business owner of a public accommodation to deny access on the basis of race. He gives a pro forma condemnation of racism but that is like saying he is against cancer but is in favor of smoking.

The reality is that without “big government” overt bigotry would certainly continue to be an unfortunate and very real part of this country’s landscape, just like that winking, blinking neon garbage that I saw as a child. Without the imposition of some basic principles of fairness and equality (found in the Constitution that Rand Paul is fond of quoting when it is convenient) there would be millions of nine year olds and adults who would have to feel the pain of exclusion and denial in their country of birth.

          Paleolibertarianism might make for an interesting theory for discussion over that second bottle of wine. But theories that give rise to daggers to the heart of a child have a place only in the world of the hypothetical. It is not the place of Rand Paul or anyone else to visit that kind of pain on the people of this United States ever again.

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.

Point of View Columns

Happiness is a Warm Assault Rifle

    I am currently working on an autobiographical collection of short stories entitled “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up”, meant as an addition to the two novels that I have already had published. The title of this collection is instructive because, as I peruse the news stories on any given day, I see stories that go so far beyond the borders of credible fiction that I am certain that my literary agent would seriously threaten to remove me from her roster of authors.

          We all know that truth is stranger than fiction, but America is becoming a stranger to the truth as the great issues of the day become the subject of something other than debate. We rarely see an exchange of ideas or the consideration of varying points of view in the public discourse. We are subject to statements of what is right and what is wrong as if most of life is susceptible to such objective judgment.

          Of course, there is such a thing as right and wrong. It is wrong to kill. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to lie. But what if a lie would save a loved one from the pain of knowing of some great wrong? What if stealing otherwise unaffordable medication would save your daughter’s life? What if you killed someone who was trying to kill you? In this set of hypothetical questions right and wrong might share the same space depending upon your perspective.

          And while the left wing of the left wing is not without fault when it comes to ignoring facts and living in fantasy worlds rife with conspiracy, counter conspiracy and prestidigitation, the right wing of the right wing has retired the Olympic medal for marathon mindlessness when it comes to guns. The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution is taken literally – every American has the right to have a gun – much as the Second Commandment. In point of fact historians and legal scholars have presented credible arguments that the 2nd Amendment refers to the establishment of state militias and never encompassed the (frankly) bizarre notion that every adult man and woman is entitled to own machine guns, rocket launchers and automatic pistols that could stop a brontosaurus as a matter of right.

          And even if the National Rifle Association’s interpretation of the Second Amendment was correct and that it did invest Americans with the right to own guns, how can it be that this right is uncontrolled? We cannot drive a car anywhere at any speed. We cannot build any kind of structure on property just because we own that property. There are rules and laws and regulations controlling how we treat our children, our spouses, our pets and our farm animals. There are regulations regarding the consumption of alcohol and the dispensing of life saving drugs. So what is so sacrosanct about guns?

          And then, of course there are facts, the bloody facts —Virginia Tech, Columbine, Waco, Ruby Ridge, University of Texas Bell Tower, the Beltway Sniper — these names convey iconic images of the random and wholesale slaughter of innocent human beings. These slaughters were perpetrated through the use of guns. Guns that are freely available at every gun “show” and on too many street corners. Need more facts?

          Nearly half the civilian gun deaths in all the developed countries in the world are in the United States. The United States ranks 4th in the world in firearm related death rates, right on the heels of Mexico. We should note in passing that the United States Department of State regularly issues travel warnings to American tourists going to Mexico. Who will provide the travel warning to Americans in America?

          As a resident of New York hardly a day goes by without my seeing a news report of a shooting death or serious injury somewhere in the five boroughs. These guns are not owned by hunters or sportsmen or gun aficionados. They are owned by people who want to kill and hurt other people. And consider the fact that New York is considered one of the safest big cities in the United States.

          And in the face of the facts and the blood and the corpses, we hear the right wing of the right wing braying the battle cry for unlimited gun ownership. Sarah Palin jokes about her wedding shower being in a shooting range while somewhere a mother is grieving over the untimely death of her son, shot by someone else’s son. Glenn Beck, channeling Savonarola, almost foams at the mouth railing against “Marxists” who would take away the holy right to own an AK-47 or to carry a Walther PPK into a bar or a sawed-off shotgun into an airport while 150 students are being shot in the public schools of Chicago during this school year. And all the while the body count continues.

          And as the braying and the jesting and the foaming continues and runs amok through the news channels of this country, the countering voice is silent or muted at best. One wonders what new outrage, what spectacular massacre, what new wave of gun-related terror will be enough for common sense to make itself known. Whether it is a Saturday Night Special or a top of the line assault rifle or a “lady-like” derringer, there is a need for controls just so that the American body count does not continue to rise to astronomical levels.

          I am casting my support in favor of common sense.

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.

Point of View Columns


Last week, at a commencement address at the University of Michigan, President Obama spoke to the forces that are fomenting such vociferous protest against “big government”. He quite correctly pointed out, that in a democracy “the government is us”. In a very logical and pithy statement, the President pointed out that the right wing of the right wing, with its campaign against “big government”, is on the verge of committing societal cannibalism.

At this point in time it should be clear to all that a simple thing like logic is not going to get in the way of the right wing of the right wing. The Tea Party and its fellow travelers have drawn a rhetorical line in the sand of public discourse, the facts be damned. But if I had a chance to enter ideological fun house in which they spend so much of their time engaging in an incestuous thought process where illogic supports erroneous thought, I have a few questions that I would love to ask.

For example, exactly what part of “big government” is a problem? Perhaps Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is way on the record as being against “big government”, would like to answer. After all, he must not be referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Small Business Administration, the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard. These are all components of “big government” from which he has rightfully sought aid for the citizens of his state who are beleaguered by the BP oil disaster. I should mention, of course, that Governor Bob Riley of Alabama, and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, also stalwart opponents of “big government”, are on the record as requesting similar aid and assistance from “big government” in the face of a potential environment-wrecking calamity. Governor Rick Perry, Republican governor of Texas is on record as speculating that the BP oil spill might be “an act of God” but I would wager that he will be on line to get aid for the good citizens of the Texas Gulf Coast should the expected disastrous landfall of the oil spill occur. So I guess some kind of big government is acceptable.

Consider that, as this column is being written, the good people of Nashville, Tennessee, are literally up to their hips in flood waters. Dozens have died and over a billion dollars of property damage has been recorded to date. Acting swiftly and in stark contrast to the lethargic days of FEMA during the prior Bush Administration, President Obama has dispatched a veritable armada of federal agencies to help the distressed American citizens of that the Volunteer State. Once again, I would guess that some kind of big government is acceptable in the ideological fun house of the right wing of the right wing.

A little over a week ago, immense tragedy was avoided when a car bomb failed to detonate in Times Square in New York City. No one knows the number of dead and injured who avoided a grisly fate due to the fallibility of the bomber. What we do know is that the alleged bomber was captured within 53 hours due to the cooperation of the local, state and federal governmental authorities. And now there is one less terrorist lurking on the streets of America. And this amazing display of big government in action to protect the American people was not denounced by Sarah Palin, or Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, or Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour who is also the chair of the Republican Governors Association. Even the ever voluble Michael Steele, the head of the Republic National Committee has been silent on these cited examples of big government in action. The fun house of the right wing of the right wing is a strange place indeed.

Recent analyses indicate that 60% of the federal budget is for Medicare, Social Security and defense. Which of those areas would the anti-big government forces cut or eliminate? Turning to the other 40% we have the National Park Services, the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, to name but a few. Would the right wing of the right wing, sloganeering their way through simulated governance eliminate the agency that safeguards the food and drug supply for men, women and children? Would the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Park be privatized as the opponents of President Theodore Roosevelt’s parks initiative advocated over a century ago. Who would Sarah Palin turn to for help for her children, or your children, during the next swine flu epidemic if the Center for Disease Control were cut back or disbanded?

What has made the United States a global force for over two centuries as been its ability to combine the collective resources of this country to benefit all of citizens. It took Europe two millennia to learn this lesson. How ironic it is that the greatest example of collective governmental action within the context of a democracy is under attack from the people who benefit from it. But, of course, that is life in the ideological fun house of the right wing of the right wing.

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.

Point of View Columns

People Make the World Go Around

Last week, by chance and good fortune, I was invited to the closing bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange, honoring Operation Hope – www.operationhope.org – and its excellent efforts to increase financial literacy in America, particularly in minority communities. The chairman and founder of Operation Hope, John Bryant, was present, along with the CEO of the New York Stock Exchange and about 10 sixth graders from a New York City public school.

          I happen to believe that Operation Hope represents an extremely important initiative that will ultimately make a huge difference in the progress of this country. Financial literacy is assumed even the face of a blizzard of countervailing events. The fact that most Americans overuse available credit and ignore achievable savings is perhaps the most obvious indicia of financial illiteracy. And we should understand that the global financial crisis, while including a Very Special Onetime Performance by some of the least honorable aspects of the financial community, could never have occurred without millions of Americans being lured into the trap of adjustable mortgage loans that they could never afford.

          Operation Hope doesn’t claim to cure all of the ills that the financial crisis illustrated in living, 3-D color. But after a major epidemic it is usually a good thing for people to at least learn to wash their hands and to observe good basic hygiene habits.

          Another noteworthy aspect of my adventure on Wall Street was an opportunity to actually walk on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the Operation Hope participants went up on a balcony to trigger the ringing of the closing bell. And up on that balcony were the 10 black and Latino sixth graders and several black and white representatives of Operation Hope. And being on the trading floor with no official responsibility in the balcony festivities I walked around.

          As the official stock exchange trading was coming to an end there wasn’t the manic activity that some associate with Wall Street stock trading. Of course, much of the trading is done globally and electronically 24/7, so there were traders everywhere trading and dealing in the ethereal environs of a multi-trillion dollar economy. A very impressive sight indeed, notwithstanding the greed-driven debacle that almost collapsed the economy of the entire planet. And yet, there was something unsettling.

          And then the source of my unsettlement was made known to me via a clarion call of simple observation. With the hundreds, probably thousands of NYSE jacketed and tagged traders, it was almost impossible to find a black man or woman working on the floor of the exchange – unless they were engaged in maintenance or security work. Thinking that I was letting some deep-seated prejudice against the New York Stock Exchange rear its ugly head, I asked a white colleague who was also attending the Operation Hope celebration if my perception of a monochromatic environment was accurate. After some further reconnoitering and surveying, we agreed that unless Thursdays was the day that black traders were given the day off, that there were some serious diversity issues in the very heart of American capitalism. Indeed, there were also very few women wearing the vaunted NYSE jackets with the coveted NYSE badges. It actually had the feeling of some fraternity for the over aged. Just “us guys” handling key aspects of the economy of the planet. Just “us guys” having the wherewithal and the innate skills to handle the complex tasks of managing major market movements all the time every day.

          I realized that there were several problems with this picture. First, there is no way that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange could achieve such a vanilla hue without intent. There are too many men and women of color with the education and expertise and interest in finance for there not too at least a handful of minorities present. Second, one of the problems with monochromatic decision-making and lack of diversity is that there are skills and abilities and even genius that are excluded on the totally arbitrary basis of race or gender.

          I have no doubt that there are black and Latino men and women who are as sufficiently skilled as their white counterparts and are eminently capable of losing billions of dollars within a matter of minutes. But no one knows if there might be a glimmer of a glint of a hint of a different perspective from some of the thousands of men and women who have been excluded over the years, a different perspective that might occasion a different result.

          No one knows for sure. But what we do know is that as long as exclusionary processes are the norm, as long as diversity is seen as a desultory nod in the direction of political correctness, we will never find out what gems of brilliance and jewels of genius this society is missing. And as a country, as a society, we are all the poorer as the result of such bad judgment.

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.