Point of View Columns

Shameful and Shameless

It is pretty clear that when the discussion turns to modern political discourse and contemporary commentary in the United States there is no bottom. From blathering “birthers” to fallacious claims of “death panels” to the prospect of “terror babies” as the latest cavil to be hurled at immigrants along with calls for Koran burning sessions, nothing is too stupid, too revolting or too ridiculous to get a place in the media sun, however momentary.

With that thought in mind, no one can be too shocked at the depraved, mindless and morally impoverished disgrace perpetrated by Glenn Beck and his Tea Party cohorts this past weekend. To hold a rally at the Lincoln Monument (thankfully sans nooses and burning torches) on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for the purpose of exhorting Americans to “take back America” was obscene in its intentional desecration of the memory of a moment in time when it seemed that all things right were possible and there was no need to “take back” this country. Rather it seemed that it was time for everyone to share in this country.

I was blessed and favored to have actually attended the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 as a 13-year old kid from New Jersey who would be starting high school in a few weeks. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time for a single purpose except for when I sat on my father’s shoulders to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a little guy. That the purpose was the elimination of injustice and racism and the promotion of equality and justice was uplifting and inspiring. Anger and rage were not the emotions of the day, but the demand for justice was clear and unequivocal and anyone who was on the mall that day will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

I have to wonder what will the attendees of the Glenn Beck – Sarah Palin self-love fest remember for the rest of their lives? That they came to Washington to “take back America”? Take back America from whom? Will they recall that they raised their voices in a chorus to “reclaim America”? Having already exercised his freedom of speech to mindlessly insult President Obama as a “racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people” (which presumably would include the President’s white mother), Glenn Beck now proclaims that the President does not practice the “right type” of Christianity, while we should presume that he and his followers are steadfast in adhering to the true path that Jesus trod.

As noted, there is no bottom to this pit of madness and sadness. It is madness that, in the midst of this very real and sustained economic crisis there are millions of Americans who perceive the first black President of the United States to be complicit in some plot to “take” American away from them. It is a cause for sadness that too many of our fellow citizens believe, truly believe, that Barack Obama and his purported fascist/socialist/atheist/Muslim/subversive agenda will result in the final demise of this country when in fact it is their mobocratic tendencies that are sending us careening towards the brink of something very ugly.

And, at this stage of national debate, it must be clear to even the most partisan observer that the blackness of this president is not irrelevant to the outrage and bile and vitriol that have flowed into the national bloodstream. It is more than political disagreement that has 20 per cent of the population believing that he was not born in the United States, voicing an unspoken wish that some undeniable bolt of disqualification will make Barack Obama just go away almost two years after his election.

Every President of the United States, from George Washington to George W. Bush has been insulted and reviled. It is a part of the political process and the limitless freedom of speech that has been a truly exceptional aspect of this country for over two centuries. And certainly freedom of speech allows Tea Party yahoos to burn Barack Obama in effigy and to Photoshop his head onto the body of a half naked bushman.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was portrayed by his opponents as a baboon and George W. Bush was certainly burned in effigy more than a few times during his term in office. But the very special hatred that is directed towards Barack Obama is coming from something more than philosophical disagreement. There is a visceral need on the party of the Becks and the Palins and the Limbaughs and the right wing of the right wing and the Tea Party yahoos to “take back America” because this country has, in their minds, been besmirched and defaced by the dark presence that now occupies the White House.

The world premiere of “Birth of a Nation” was held at the White House at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson. That racist screed on film directed by D.W. Griffith had at its core a message that it was time to “take back America”.

Now, instead of a cinematic monstrosity that upon its release inspired the lynching of black Americans throughout the country, we have Beck and Palin and the Tea Party yahoos cavorting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, proclaiming that they will “take back America” again.

Wilson and Griffith would be proud. This country should be ashamed.

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Be My Guest

Guest Column by Leslie Allen

When I reached a career high singles ranking of number 17 in the world, no one was more surprised than Arthur Ashe. Arthur, a family friend knew that as a child I had no interest in tennis; yet there I was playing in the US Open, Wimbledon and other WTA Tour events around the globe.

A French Open tradition, Arthur would take the few other black women pros and me out for fried chicken and honey at a soul food joint near the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Those dinners with him were always entertaining and are some of my fondest memories with Arthur.

One US Open after Arthur’s untimely death, I asked his wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, if she needed help with the Ashe AIDS fund-raising efforts at the US Open. The answer was a resounding YES!

The 2010 US Open marks the 16th year I’ve managed the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS US Open fund-raising booth! It has truly been a labor of love. Who knew we’d still be here in the fight against AIDS?

So far at the booth we’ve raised a million dollars by selling AAEDA branded merchandise and through our important silent auction. This year marks an exciting change as we launch the on-line expansion of the auction http://endowment.arthurashe.org/ . Now friends and tennis collectors around the world can bid on memorabilia autographed by the biggest names in the game while supporting the AAEDA. Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic as well as other top stars and tennis legends such as Billie Jean King, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova are all a part of this year’s auction.

Arthur Ashe said, “We want to be able to look back and say to all concerned, that we did what we had to do, when we had to do it, and with all the resources required.”

Even if you don’t get out to the US Open this year you can support the AAEDA by simply logging on and bidding for one of a kind auction items. If you are going to the2010 US Open, be sure to stop by the Ashe Endowment booth to support the cause and say hello.

Each year I proclaim that I hope I will not be back again next year because that would mean the fight against AIDS is over. I’ve made that statement 15 years in a row– I hope I won’t have to state it too many more times! Arthur and AAEDA deserve our full support.

LESLIE ALLEN, an honor graduate of University of Southern California, is a NCAA and WTA champion. A 10-year WTA Tour competitor she achieved a singles world ranking of #17. Allen made history in 1981 by capturing the singles title at the Avon Championships of Detroit, becoming the first African American woman to win a major pro tournament since Althea Gibson’s 1957 US Open victory. Allen won a combined 9 singles and doubles WTA Tour titles and was a French Open mixed doubles finalist.

Off court Allen has worn many hats in the tennis arena; including representing today’s Top 20 players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Board, a TV commentator, a winning Division I college Women’s Varsity Head coach (Fordham University) and high school varsity boys and girls (Riverdale Country Day) head coach, a WTA tournament director and corporate executive.

In 2002 she founded the Leslie Allen Foundation (LAF). Their trademark Win 4 Life (W4L) program gives youth of diverse backgrounds insights to the 100+ careers behind the scene in pro tennis, helps them develop the life skills needed to be a success on and off court, and improves their fitness through tennis. The LAF motto is “Tennis is more than just hitting a ball.” W4L programs have impacted youth from NY, NJ, VT, SC, CA, MA, TX & FL.

Allen is proof positive that “Tennis is more than just hitting a ball”, she currently resides in NYC with her 15 year old daughter Rachel.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 27, 2010

The last weekend in the month of August has arrived and in this era of the 24 hour news cycle it is clear that there is something happening here, there and everywhere all of the time. This past week is no exception to this nerve-shredding rule:

The Son Also Rises……
Having written two novels, I have wrestled with editors and my literary agent over what flights of fancy are implausible, even within the realm of fiction. And then I follow the news and realize that truth will always be stranger than fiction.

It was 22 years ago that Dan Quayle was elected Vice President of the United States and continued his successful quest to be perceived as some sort of national joke. His lack of knowledge of even elementary facts, his deer in the headlights look at press conferences, his public failure at spelling “potato” in front of a first grade class……the list goes on. Thankfully President George Herbert Walker Bush was a healthy man and, at the end of his one term, Dan Quayle faded into the obscurity that he (and we) so richly deserved.

And now? Someone named Benjamin Quayle (there’s that name again) appears in a congressional race in Arizona. And this someone is the son of Dan Quayle. And Benjamin Quayle proves that stupidity can be inherited as he took inanity to a new low in winning the Republican primary.

His campaign slogan is eight words (by his count), “Barack Obama is the worst President in history”. It should be noted that in 19 months President Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, appointed two women to the Supreme Court, passed the most comprehensive health care legislation in American history and brought the country back from the precipice of financial ruin.

The invisibility of James Buchanan, the corruption of Warren G. Harding and the dogged persistence of George W. Bush to steal a presidential election, deceive this country into a war in Iraq that should never have been waged and nearly collapsing the national economy all come to mind when I think of worst presidents.

Clearly Benjamin Quayle is as good at comparative history as his father was at spelling.

Mano a Mano?
This week the outgoing commandant of the United States Marines, General James Conway, stated that “an overwhelming majority (of Marines) would like not be roomed with a person who is openly homosexual”. A stunning statement in a year of stunning statements, although to his credit, General Conway opined that Marines were “pretty macho”, inferring that since they are willing to fight and die for their country they could probably summon the courage to share a dormitory with someone with a different sexual preference.

One wonders if General Conway is confusing cross-dressing with homosexuality as it is not clear how someone is “openly homosexual” during the course of performing military duties and tasks. I shudder to think that this country is being protected by macho Marines who would cringe at being in the same dormitory with someone with a different gender practice, keeping in mind that sexual activity – heterosexual or homosexual – is prohibited conduct in military dormitories.

And, this statement should be taken within the context of Defense Secretary Robert Gates having ordered a survey of active duty and reserve troops regarding a proposed change in policy that will permit gay men and women to serve in the military without having to misrepresent or lie about their gender preference. The new policy would be, in effect, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

And once again we are witness to the determination of the rights of a minority by pursuant to the perceived will of the majority. The very first Secretary of Defense was James Forrestal, who appointed in 1947. In 1948 Secretary Forrestal was called upon to carry out President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9841 which eliminated racial segregation in the military.

Even a dimly informed student of American history (Benjamin Quayle anyone?) knows that in 1948 segregation was the law of much of this land known as the United States. Lynching of black Americans was commonplace and any “survey” of the military of the American public or the military would have resulted in a resounding roar of disapproval of such a policy. But President Truman did what was right.

Decisions of morality or constitutionality cannot be subject to a voice vote, because the naysayers will always be the loudest ones and the voice of justice may be muted if not extinguished.

We should wish General Conway all the best for his years of service to this country. We can only hope that, whatever the results of Secretary Gates’ survey, this Administration will do the right thing when it comes to the rights of gay men and women in the military.

It Hurts So Bad
So President and Mrs. Obama went out to dinner during their vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. So Michelle Obama wore a colorful print shift. As is the case with her every public moment, photographs of her latest attire flew around the internet. And then the knives came out – again.

On some level I can understand that some people are compelled to give voice to their inner fashionista and let the world know their opinion on every garment worn by every person of note. I can even understand that some people might care.

What I cannot understand or countenance is the venom and anger and pure vitriol directed at the First Lady because of her choice of clothing. I am forced to think that the source of the venom and anger and vitriol has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with hatred and envy and ignorance. And that is truly a sad commentary on an aspect of what passes for public discourse in these United States.

Have a great weekend!

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Excerpts from "The Pride"

The Pride – Chapters 5 & 6

CHAPTER 5
Paul
What a tangled web….

It was O.K. because no number of sit ups or pushups or bench presses could make me forget that there was something worse for me than delivering the eulogy for my father. That’s because six months after my father died, my younger brother died in a freak hang-gliding accident in the hills east of Monterey, California.

For almost a year, I spent almost all of my nonbillable time on estate matters, insurance matters, closing down residences, selling furniture and poring over endless piles of personal effects. There is certainly worse torture; I just don’t want any part of them.
A psychoanalyst might say that these serial deaths were the reason that I pursued such a self-indulgent lifestyle, but the truth is much simpler – I like to have a good time. And someone like Lisette Bailey could make a man forget almost anything.

It was almost as if she realized that there was this cloud, this burden, and she seemed to dedicate her time with me to make it all go away. At least that’s how it seemed to me. She probably was just having a good time too. Her angelic smile and endless, eternally creative, devilish desires always made me want to forget.

I could never forget the pain and sadness that I have felt in losing my father and brother that way. And she could never make me forget Samantha Gideon, although I never would have dreamed that Samantha would be gone from my life someday.

Even now, married and with a son, a day does not go by that I don’t think about her. I have grown accustomed to the reality that her memory will be with me as long as I live.

There are a lot of theories about true love, and none of them are wrong and none of them are right. I believe that it’s all about time and space and circumstance and serendipity and the lottery-like happenstance of romance. I love my wife and my son, but who knows?

If Samantha hadn’t gone away so suddenly, maybe she would have been the mother of my son. How different would my life be now? I have no regrets at this stage of my life, but still, I can’t help but think about these things from time to time.

Finishing my shower, I still had time to get dressed and attend to my home computer and the attendant e-mail messages before leaving for the funeral, which was to be held at the Riverside Church, no more than a ten minute taxi ride from my house.

Before going to my home office, which was on the second floor of my townhouse, I went down to the first floor kitchen, with its appointments of a Garland industrial range and a Norge refrigerator/freezer.
It had a free standing island of marble-faced counter space, rubber tiled floors and indirect halogen lighting. I had to begin my morning have a blended shake of yogurt, fruit juice and soy powder to go along with a veritable pharmacopoeia of vitamins and herbal supplements. I took my cup of Kenyan mountain roast coffee back up the stairs and logged onto my computer.

In the relatively few years of its existence in my world, I have found e-mail to be virtually indispensable. There was a point in my life when there was no e-mail, I just can’t remember it anymore. Just like I can’t remember when there were no faxes or overnight mail. I must admit that I do remember Special Delivery letters.

When I sat down to check e-mail that morning, I had no idea that a note from one of my classmates at Harvard Law School would give me a perspective and then an idea, that would change my life and the lives of many other members of The Pride.

Joel Rosenblatt was one of those people who saw public service as something more than an avocation. He had been in government since we graduated from Harvard, and he now worked as a senior staff member of the United States Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Banking.

He worked there because he wanted to and liked it, not because he was looking for a platform for a partnership in some K Street or Wall Street law firm. And, he was a good guy.

Paul:
There is no easy way to put this – so consider this a word to the wise. The shit is really about to hit the fan for some of your investment banking colleagues “of color”. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are working with my subcommittee to hold hearings about the rise of black investment banking firms and the correlation of that rise to their political campaign contributions to black politicians around the country.

Can you believe it? There would be no Merrill Lynch or First Boston or Lehman Brothers without all of the contributions, cash and otherwise, that they have made to various government officials over the years. But it looks like your people are going to have to play the game by another set of rules.

The worst part is that these hypocrites have wrapped themselves in so many veils of self-righteousness that going after these black firms is going to seem like a holy crusade if they ever get any momentum going.

As I write this I realize that I should have some kind of advice or suggestions for you – and I don’t.

But I thought that you should know this, and I knew that you would know what to do with this information.

Take care.
Joel

Like I have said, memory is so strange. It can be so unreliable and useless at times, and then there are other times, like now, late at night in my Harlem brownstone, when it seems like I am the only one in the world who is awake, that I can remember every detail of something that, at the time, I didn’t even realize was so important.

For example, I remember that I stared at Joel’s e-mail message, understanding it, and, at the same time, trying to comprehend its greater meaning for a long, long time. While thinking, I sent an e-mail back to my former classmate and current friend.

Joel:
Thanks for passing on the information. I know that you have a lot more to do than worry about the fate of black investment bankers (and their lawyers) who don’t know where their next BMW is coming from, but you should know (if you don’t already) that its a lot more important than that.

We both know that on a per capita basis, there are as many white knuckleheads on Wall Street as there are black knuckleheads. We also know that without some real power and influence and an institutional presence on Wall Street, the black experience in America will continue to be a series of parallel stories of individual achievements and collective frustration. You have to control sources of capital in this country to be able to play the game.

And, speaking of playing the game, it is so ironic that the moment black investment banking firms start to get a little traction that the SEC and Justice and the U.S. Congress (!!!!) start to jump on them for so-called ethical violations. What a crock of shit!

I guess that my clients can be more discrete in their future forays into the adjoining worlds of politics and municipal finance. But I would hope that I could give them more advice than that. If you have any bright ideas, let me know.

Hasta
Paul

The note from Joel Rosenblatt set in motion a Rube Goldberg-like series of levers and pulleys in my mind that finally dredged up the bright idea that would change the life of so many.
As I logged off the computer, I remember thinking that Joel’s note, while newsworthy, was hardly surprising.

There were a lot of reasons for members of The Pride to be paranoid, not the least of them was that their very existence offended too many white people in these United States. There were otherwise intelligent, well-meaning and God-fearing white men and women in America who had grown up their whole lives with a certain sense of the natural order of things.

In their universe, black men as principals and partners in Wall Street investment banking firms and law firms simply didn’t exist. Black men and women who were chief executives and senior officers of major corporations simply could not exist. Black women with law degrees, MBA’s and partnerships in major law firms offended the Laws of Nature as much as a flying pig or a talking mule. Some things simply could not exist in their world.

And their response upon encountering this unnatural reality – after the initial shock – has been to deny. And then, if denial did not reassert their conception of reality, then it was time to take more aggressive and even violent actions.

Sometimes those actions might be as simple as not hiring someone for a job for which they might be overqualified. It could be a peremptory no at the meeting of a coop board in a particularly exclusive address on Park Avenue or Central Park West. Country club memberships and law firm partnerships and investment banking firm partnerships do not stay all white in New York City or the rest of America by accident or for the lack of qualified and interested black men and black women. All of these things are simply puny and pitiful attempts by some people to maintain the natural order of things as they had always known them and would like for them to be.

If I had let the antipathy and hurt feelings of white people determine my fate, I imagine that I would be lucky to be pumping gas somewhere far from Wall Street. Still, Joel’s note was not to be dismissed or ignored.

This guerilla warfare against key members of The Pride could have disastrous results. Municipal finance-based revenues were an important part of the financial foundation of a number of black investment banking firms and law firms. Whether that business resulted in the sale of mortgage revenue bonds or the investment of pension fund assets, this income represented the base upon which other business could be built.

Or should be built, I thought wryly, because now it really was time for me to start getting dressed for the funeral. Going through the eternal ritual of selecting a dark suit, white shirt and subdued tie, I thought about the fact that too many of my friends and colleagues in investment banking were content to frolic in the high cotton of municipal finance, never heeding the common sense thought that their success would eventually bring about serious institutional reprisals. But more than a few members of The Pride perceived the obvious – it was time to diversify and to solidify gains that have already been made.

That morning I finished dressing and called a local Dominican car service to send one of its seemingly infinite number of new Lincoln Continentals to come by get me to the church on time.

I decided that I would make it my business to invite a few insightful friends to a post funeral lunch. After all, Winner was to be buried near his birthplace in Alabama so there would be no need to endure an interminable ride to some suburban cemetery.

As I settled into the back seat of the car, salsa music gently tapping at the door of my consciousness, I started to think about a guest list. The right mix would be important as a plan started to take form in my mind. As I tried to sort these matters out, the always awesome and bold presence of the Riverside Church insinuated itself into view.

I was glad that I was early. This was going to be a very busy morning and, as the cliché goes, it really was going to be the first day of the rest of my life. Of course, at the time, I just had no idea how right I was going to be.

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CHAPTER 6
Sture
Through the looking glass

In retrospect, it would seem that I knew about The Pride before I knew learned about it. After all, Paul Taylor was not the first or only black patron of the Water Club. However, since there were so few blacks who were customers of the restaurant, I would always notice them. And since far fewer were anything like regular customers, it was hard not to remember the repeat visitors. And in any event it would have been almost impossible to forget Paul Taylor.

Working at the Water Club was an education for me in many ways. I learned, for example, that clowns and idiots come in any and all colors – that there were as many black idiots and clowns as white idiots and clowns. There were the kinds who were too loud, too ostentatious, too ready to treat the waiters and restaurant staff as their own personal servants, or worse.

I always have thought that such people were insecure about something in their lives, but then of course, no one ever asked me. My job has been to see to it that my patrons are well fed and satisfied with sufficient libations. Their manners and deportment have never been my department.

And, since the Water Club (and now Dorothy’s By the Sea) has always been an upscale establishment, during the past decade I have spent my working hours with people with decidedly high income lifestyles – or at least pretending to do so. And, I have found that the size of your income and the amount of disposable cash that a person might have has nothing to do with having class or even knowing how to spell the word decorum.

Paul Taylor always brought a certain amount of class with him when he came to the Water Club. He took the time to say hello to the coat check girl and was never superior or dismissive of waiters, sommeliers or the busboys.

I don’t want to make him sound like Mother Teresa in a pinstripe suit, but he was always a classy and decent person. I remember he would come with his (then) wife Diedre, and they would celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and the like, and he was always solicitous of her without being a phony romantic.

When you work at a fine restaurant, you get to see all the types. And you get to know the pseudo-Romeos who want to be sure that the whole world sees that they are making a big deal over the woman who is their companion for the evening -wife, girlfriend, escort, it doesn’t matter- regardless of whether any of the pomp and circumstance is meaningful to her. Paul was never like that.

I guess it was that something about Paul that gave me the nerve to talk to him about a serious problem that I was having at the time. And the way he helped me through it certainly gave me all the reason that I ever needed to talk to him a few years later about my idea which later became Dorothy’s By the Sea. But that came later.

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Point of View Columns

Silence of the Lambs and the Donkeys and the Elephants

I thought that a mildly interesting research project might entail finding the origins of using animals as the symbols for political parties in the United States. It turns out that the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant as party symbols can be traced to the work of the 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

There were no focus groups, no branding sessions, and no strategic plan. Nast thought it was amusing to cast the Democrats and Republicans in this anthropomorphic light and the labels stuck.

These days we refer to “Red” states and “Blue” states and the right wing of the right wing conservatives and liberals. But sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the zoo and the barnyard, and this just may be one of those times.

Sound bites and megabytes have been consumed by the billions in the commentary over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. It is not a mosque even though CNN, the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets refer to it in such an erroneous fashion. Which begs the question, so what if it were a mosque? But I digress.

Although this center has been in the planning for over a year, during the past month the attacks against its construction have gone from nattering and chattering to white hot incendiary rhetoric. Battle lines have been drawn although it is not clear who is the enemy.

To listen to Newt Gingrich, The Man Who Would Be President proclaiming that the Islamic center being built near the site of the World Trade Center is akin to building a Nazi memorial near a Jewish concentration camp. It should be noted that such foul and hateful language by the pseudo-intellectual Gingrich is permitted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, the same First Amendment that grants freedom of religion.

However, although one can freely speak, the First Amendment does not confer immunity from criticism. So I wonder at the relative silence of the Republican elephants as they listen to one of their leaders invoke such hateful imagery, stoking the already smoldering fires of prejudice and discrimination with barely disguised glowing embers of rage already in every corner and every precinct of this country.

Where are the Republican elephants with a voice of reason? Where are the Republicans with a sense of decency and respect for this country who are willing to tell Newt Gingrich to stop surfing in the sewers of indecent and disgusting public discourse?

And rather than demonstrating the leadership that ostensibly is a part of the job description of Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid proclaimed that he would prefer that the “mosque” be built somewhere other than in such proximity to the World Trade Center because its presence offends the sensibilities of some.

Aside from the fact that there are already two mosques near the World Trade Center site, mosques that have been in continuous operation since 9/11, one has to wonder about these mysterious “sensibilities” that must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of denying Constitutional rights to some American citizens.

After all, the screeching, braying and caterwauling crowds that cursed and spat at the black school children who integrated a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas were clearly expressing their offended “sensibilities” to the nearness of black people. While the black students had a “right” to attend that school, one can imagine that it certainly would have been more convenient to observe and respect those “sensibilities”.

And so, rather than demonstrate leadership, the Democratic donkeys have largely been silent or have brayed in favor of the perceived majority. We have heard too many shameful statements affirming the right of Muslims to build the center but questioning the “wisdom” of building the Islamic center at the lawfully selected location of their choice.

Of course, if rights are to be doled out based upon the will of the majority, there will be few of us with many rights at the end of the day. The right of an arrested person to remain silent would never pass a national majority vote today. I don’t think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would either. One wonders what the Democratic donkeys might bray if these items came to a vote this very day.

Today it is the construction of an Islamic cultural center that is the target of hate and senseless prejudice. Tomorrow it might be gay men and women who wish to marry. And next week it might be you or me. It is axiomatic that hate is insatiable and the more that it consumes the more it will consume.

These days it is not only the lambs that are silent.

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Be My Guest

Guest Column By Congressman Charles B. Rangel

Despite my own personal vote, Congress recently approved additional funding to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem to have no end. It is a sad reality because even as our combat troops are leaving Iraq, we continue to wage war in Afghanistan, making it now the nation’s longest military conflict, even longer than Vietnam.

I strongly support President Obama’s policies, particularly his historic initiative to extend health care coverage to millions of Americans, an effort which I helped design and move to passage in Congress. The President’s economic stimulus not only saved the country from a total collapse into a depression, it created and saved millions of jobs and started the beginnings of a recovery. Nearly $300 million has been funneled by the program into my Congressional district alone.

The devastating oil spill in the Gulf, which the President has handled as well as anyone could, has highlighted our need for a new energy policy, as pointed out earlier by President Obama. It also points up the nation’s vulnerability with respect to alternative petroleum sources, including those in the Middle East and Central Asia.

I cannot challenge the President’s handling of the war in Iraq, where he was left with few options after inheriting the conflict from the previous administration. I support his intentions to withdraw, but I’d like to see it happen sooner. In my view, no additional tax dollars should be appropriated for hunkering down in Iraq and Afghanistan, where taxpayers have already spent over $1 trillion. That is why, despite my unequivocal support for our troops, I voted against the additional funding. From here on, all expenditures should be for one purpose: to safely bring our brave and exhausted troops home.

And we must never undertake something as serious as war without a sense of shared sacrifice among the American people. That is why I have introduced a bill in Congress to reinstate a draft, both for military and other national service, during wartime. The previous president made no such demand for sacrifice in the run-up to the war in Iraq, instead pushing through a destructive tax cut that primarily benefited the richest among us at a cost to our economic security and stability that we all continue to pay every day.

As a Korean War combat veteran who understands what our service members put on the line every day, I must ask: Would those whose votes authorize the President to send our brave young men and women into war be so quick to accede if they knew that it could be our sons and our daughters called upon to enter harm’s way?

The 5,400 families who have lost loved ones in these wars – 4,400 in Iraq, and 1,000 in Afghanistan, where monthly casualties are climbing fast – and the 2 million others who have served – nearly half for more than one tour of duty – do not have be told about sacrifice for the country we love. Medical advances have allowed many more troops to survive serious head injuries, but post traumatic stress disorder and suicides have increased dramatically.

Again in this war, troops recruited from large urban communities and economically depressed small towns, carry the heaviest burden of service. Financial incentives to enlist have reached as much as $40,000 which, combined with the economic recession, have made for record recruiting results.

While the longest in our history, the Iraq and Afghan wars are far from the bloodiest. The media coverage has receded from our newspapers and television screens in large part because so few Americans have a stake in the war or any reason for concern about the fate of the men and women who have served.

I believe our nation’s leaders would be forced to think long and hard before embarking on questionable wars if every family felt that their sons or daughters were at risk–or subject to be placed in harm’s way.

Whether in Afghanistan, or any future conflict, the test is whether Congress– in supporting a war policy–is willing to require all eligible residents of this great country to make a contribution–to put their own children at risk.
In other words, in order to fulfill one’s moral responsibility to this democracy, anyone who supports this, or any war, should also support a compulsory military draft.

Congressman Charles Rangel represents the 15th Congressional District in Harlem, New York, an office that he has held since 1971.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 20, 2010

It is summertime, but few would suggest that the living is easy. There are also few songs about autumn or winter being any easier, so it will best for us to brace ourselves. Meanwhile, all around us the content of our national character is tested and ascertained daily:

Travesty
In all of the discussion about the proposed Islamic cultural center (NOT a mosque) in Lower Manhattan, it would appear that the basic and dispositive constitutional point is ignored – purposely, I would imagine. The Constitution of the United States clearly establishes freedom of religion in this country and just as clearly states that government (that would mean federal, state and local) cannot take any steps to limit that freedom. That would seem to be the end of the discussion.

But Minnesota Governor Tim (“smash the government”) Pawlenty claims that this reference to the Constitution is a mere “technicality” and that the feelings of the majority in this country trump the rights of the minority. Former Governor Sarah Palin calls on the Muslim community to “refudiate” (whatever that means) the cultural center because it is offensive.

Of course there are some who find Jews offensive and would wish that there would be no synagogues. There are some who find African Americans offensive and would wish that their children should never go to school with white children. There are some who find Catholics offensive and would close every church, chapel and cathedral if they could. None of these represent the majority of Americans, but those feelings did represent the feelings of loud and large numbers of Americans at different points in time within the past 200 years and it was the Constitution that turned away the venomous slings and errors embodied in these points of view. But now, the Constitution is a “technicality” when it is applied to Muslims.

Of course, the worse part of this entire travesty is the transparent rabble rousing and hatemongering that is going on, without the slightest regard for fact or truth. Fact: there are two mosques close to the 9/11 site. One is 4 blocks away and the other is 12 blocks away. Both have been there before the 9/11 tragedy and have been in continuous operation ever since without the slightest hint of a trace of a glimmer of controversy. Fact: the proposed Islamic center is not a mosque. There is a prayer room planned along with a culinary school, a banquet facility and a basketball court. Could the logical outcome of this travesty be that Muslims be denied a place to pray in any place that the majority finds “offensive”? A useful question to ponder as we peer down the slippery slope slathered with mass hysteria and prejudice.

And finally, Fact: There is a mosque within the Pentagon, another site of attack during 9/11. Many American died at the Pentagon that day so presumably the ground is as “hallowed” as the ground in Lower Manhattan. Yet, there has not been the slightest hint of a trace of a glimmer of controversy. Where fear and hatemongering live, truth and justice find it hard to survive.

Time Travel
A recent poll indicates that 26% of (presumably) adult Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. The fact that he is an acknowledged Christian who worships in Christian churches, was married in a Christian ceremony and has had his two daughters baptized as Christians doesn’t seem to matter.

What is not mentioned, but is just as fascinating, is that there is an underlying assumption that President Obama being a Muslim would be a bad thing. And I am reminded that there was a time that even the hint of being associated with Roman Catholicism would doom a political career for all time. Of course, that was over 100 years ago. And, of course, we really haven’t come that far in 100 years after all.

Have a great weekend!

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