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Archive for the ‘Writings’ Category

Driving While Black –“Three Times”

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

“Has that ever happened to you?”

His face looked at me with the most serious expression I’d seen from this gentle man.

“Three times,” he said.

My friend, the late Calvin Milton Jones, had just sent me a copy of Dick Gregory’s talk to a Tavis Smiley “State of Black Union” convention center audience. Gregory, the comedian and activist, wondered aloud, that if Bill Clinton was truly “our first black president,” would he know (at 4 min,20 sec.) how it felt to be a black man, driving down the road, and hear a police siren:

“Mr. President, do you know what it feels like to be a black person, to be a congresslady, to be a lieutenant governor with 12 doctor’s degrees, and driving down the street, and hear the police siren, and you start squeezing that steering wheel tight, and they pass by you, and you Thank God! Damn! You didn’t do nothin’ in the first place. Do you know what it is to be black?”

The primarily black audience was in howls, cheering with a standing ovation at Gregory’s presentation. And I realized then that the expression, “driving while black,” was so real and so common that an entire audience of hundreds had reacted, knowingly and in unison, with raucous laughter at Gregory’s searing remarks.

After I watched it, I walked over to Calvin’s office and asked him, “Has that ever happened to you?”

He looked me straight in the eye, “Three times” … on the way to and from Washington and his hometown in North Carolina.

So this gentle and generous man … who arrived at the office at close to five o’clock every morning — even the day before he died, sick with pneumonia — to turn on the lights, make the coffee, check the phone and computer systems, arrange the conference rooms to be sure everything was in place for the days’ meetings … told me, with those words, that he had been stopped by police officers on three separate occasions, just because they knew they could taunt another black man.

This man who wouldn’t harm a soul, who cut all the lawns in his neighborhood, because he didn’t want it to look unkempt; who, unasked, often waxed neighbors’ cars; and who would give you the shirt off his back, if you were in need … this man had been pulled over three times for no other reason than the color of his skin.

Imagine how it must feel to look up into the eyes of a uniformed man, who, you and he know, could change your life in an instant.

And now we have young Trayvon Martin, killed by a single shot from the gun of a self-appointed ‘neighborhood watchman,’ who said Trayvon was, “suspicious … looks black” and, chasing Trayvon against orders, told 911, “They always get away.” But “they” (Trayvon) did not get away; and the man who hunted him down wasn’t even arrested.

Walking while black?

Author Donna Britt, commenting on the shooting death of Trayvon, said, “I don’t know what this child could have done to be safe, except not be black.”

Being, while black.

These two men, going about their business, are stopped for being “suspicious,” for being black men living in the world’s lone superpower; which the rest of us tell ourselves is “the land of the free” … the “sweet land of liberty” … that exists, “under God … with liberty and justice for all.”

Perhaps it is … for some.

Catholic Priest Humiliates a Daughter at Her Mother’s Funeral

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

The Catholic Church, to which I belong and once studied for the priesthood, has hit a new low … lower than low.

It’s not enough that the U.S. Catholic bishops, who knowingly assisted the passing of predator priests from one tortured child in one unknowing community to another child in the next, have lately redirected the public spotlight to pontificate on contraception.

[You tell me … which would you condemn to hell, a person who molests a child’s body, or a woman who seeks to protect her own?]

Now this same Catholic Church is defending the desecration of a funeral Mass by one of its priests, who refused to give communion to a grieving daughter at her own mother’s funeral Mass, because, the priest told her, “you live with a woman.”

Not only that, this man of the cloth refused to accompany the mother’s body and her family to the graveside.

I served as an altar boy at many funeral Masses, attended more as an adult, and have never heard of such behavior.

This outrage occurred in one of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Feeling pressure to respond, the parish church’s governing body, the Archdiocese of Washington, decided to defend the public humiliation of a grieving woman by hiding behind a pontificating “statement” that began:

In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day.

His only error, the message relates, is that the priest should have issued his denial “in a private, pastoral setting.”

I guess “bringing the light of the Gospel message” in this case means the “pastoral” condemnation of a woman who lives with the person she loves.

When I was a kid, the priests and nuns scared us about the damnation of hell.

When I became an adult, after Pope John XXIII “opened the windows” of the Church, the Gospel was known as the “Good News;” and the message of the New Testament was love of God and of one’s neighbor.

The daughter who lost her mother said what happened to her and her family was, “the worst experience on the very worst day of all of our lives.”

The Church that transformed after my youth doesn’t sound so neighborly these days.

Bishops to Employees: ‘For You, Sex Is To Make Babies. Period.’

Friday, February 10th, 2012

So, the Catholic Bishops in the U.S. are furious that President Obama would dare to require that all church denominations — not just Catholics — offer their hospital and college employees insurance policies that include contraception benefits.

Unique to Catholic laws, as dictated by the celibate, male hierarchy — historically fixated on sex — lies one basic teaching: every act of sexual intercourse must have pregnancy as its goal:

“It is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #2366, written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

In other words, sex is for making babies, not for having pleasure.

Now, I’m a Catholic; and my wife and I have four wonderful daughters. I remember when the Church lost the hearts and minds of its members on contraception in June of 1968, when Pope Paul VI, after much hope and expectation among congregants, released his major proclamation (Encyclical) about sex.

It was called Humanae Vitae, and boiled down to, “contraception is prohibited.”

While it was Paul VI who made the final decision, the person who ordered a six-member advisory board to explore the possibility of a new stand on contraception was John XXIII, the famously open-minded pope who founded the second Vatican Council to “Throw Open the windows of the Church” to fresh thinking. New World Encyclopedia

After John died suddenly in 1963, prospects for a green light on contraception didn’t look so good anymore.

Paul VI ballooned the advisory panel to 72 members, with an executive committee of 16 bishops. The Lively Debate

The die was cast. The decision would slam the church windows shut, ordered by yet another celibate male.

Sex is for making babies; not for marital pleasure alone.

That’s the way we think, Mr. Dishwasher; Ms. Nurse; Mrs. Medical Records; Dr. Physics; Mr. and Ms. Janitor. And we’re going to make sure our health insurance provider takes contraception out of your insurance plan.

You see, we bishops run the show. We are the Catholic Church (not the people in the pews).

Upon Discussing Deficits, Wars and Washington

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Me (in a breakfast diatribe): Where haven’t we tried to overthrow a government?

My wife: The Vatican.

Give Us Something to Fight For

Friday, August 12th, 2011

(This was written in 2011, but it remains relevant today.)

The President has got to come out with a huge infrastructure program, regardless whether it upsets the feathers of Mitch or Crybaby or anyone else. We’re in a frightening crisis, and he wants to keep the conversation focused on the right’s agenda?

The Man has got to give us something to fight for, something to believe in.

The situation is much too dire and cries out for a strong response (read Tom Friedman , Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman).

Saying, ‘We must defeat the Republicans,’ is no answer.

The Nation did not elect a slogan; we elected a man we believed would deliver us from this hell hole the right put us in. Yes, it was much worse than anyone (well, anyone not connected to the rich and famous) knew.

But that 3am telephone call requires giving orders on the spot, now; not after a trumped up, deficit ‘Super Committee’ — conceived to take apart what FDR and JFK and LBJ put together — fights it out.

The Nation needs hope. We need our leader to put out a ‘do this now!’ jobs plan and tell the other side: ‘Go ahead, screw Joe the Plumber, if you want. I — and those who elected me — want to save him and his job and the livelihoods of millions of his brothers and sisters who are drowning.’

Place that on the table, Mr. President and tell them this is your line in the sand. The country, as well as those who worked for and believed in you, hunger for your leadership.

You must give everyone — ‘the one’s we’ve been waiting for’ — a program to save this nation, if you want anyone to be Fired-Up again.

The Rich Don’t Pay Their Fair Share for Social Security

Monday, February 28th, 2011

The rich on the right are surely laughing.

They’ve managed to whip up a media frenzy of rabid attacks against public employees — who are our firefighters, street sweepers, teachers, police officers, librarians and garbage collectors.

Through their friends the Koch brothers and their buddies at Fox, the rich on the right are using expensive TV ads — and their own pontificating pundits and politicians — to create an anti-union firestorm.

With some success, the rich on the right in Wisconsin tempted working-class wage earners to attack their own brother and sister workers in public jobs. And now, in Michigan, they’ve taken aim at all jobs.

“All unions are evil. Let workers have the ‘right to work’ without paying their dues, even though the union is made up of your fellow workers, even though the union negotiated for the increase in your paycheck.”

‘Why, those union workers get pensions! They get health benefits! They made us put in safer lighting.”

But what about the rich-on-the-right? Who watched out for them, when they were sinking and had no union? Who came to their aid, when they were going under (and taking us with them)?

We did. And, instead of being grateful, they gave themselves bonuses with our money.

To keep us distracted from their profits at our expense, the rich-on-the-right also bring up the dreaded specter of the baby boomers — most of whom are working people — who have the audacity to retire, placing an enormous ‘burden’ on the rest of us, and threatening Social Security!

‘Why, you folks should invest that money in our banks, in our investment products,’ they say. ‘Make Social Security private and we’ll take good care of your money,’ they say.

Well, you say. Maybe they have a point.

Do they?

Want to know, truly, how to keep our Social Security solvent?

Take away the Social Security tax exemption for the rich.

What? They get an exemption from the Social Security tax?

Indeed they do.

All persons making more than $106,800 pay no Social Security tax for their income above $106,800.

Why don’t most folks know this?

Because wealthy, tax-hating people — like the Koch brothers — use the media to get us to fight against one another.

Imagine what would happen, if everybody started paying the Social Security tax on all the money they make each year.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, removing the post-$106,800 exemption means Social Security would remain solvent for the next 75 years.

Think of it — You pay 4.2 percent, taken out of each paycheck, for Social Security.

But for those making more than $106,800? They feel they shouldn’t be bothered.

Uncle Sam has given them this big tax exemption; and they don’t even have a union. They have lobbyists.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

And as the rich on the right keep up their attacks on working people, and use their huge bank accounts to foment working-class fratricide (e.g. Wisconsin), they continue to stiff-arm the cameras away from their own privileges.

Hey, Congress! End this Social Security tax privilege for the rich! Make them pay their fair share for Social Security!

No exemptions after the $106,800.

You can bet that, when the rich retire, they cash their Social Security checks. But they don’t want you to know that you paid more to backup their Social Security check than they did.

Tell Congress to end this unfair break for the rich; make them pay their share; no exemptions for income above $106,800.

The Constitution says we are all equal under the law. Then we sure ought to be equal under the Social Security tax.

Working America demands it.

Capitol Operator: 202-224-3121

It’s just on the street where you live . . .

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Recently U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while being interviewed on the PBS NewsHour, used a phrase that easily rolls off the tongue and is almost seen as a ‘given’, when we speak of children struggling to keep up in our public schools.

The phrase? “Disadvantaged communities.”

I believe we must address, openly and honestly, the question, “Why do we have ‘disadvantaged communities’ in which, most often, African- and Latino- American families live in crowded and unhealthy surroundings, in one distinct part of nearly every town in this nation?”

The answer, of course, is obvious: real estate firms and their employees, together with influential persons in communities, have succeeded in blocking off populations they prefer not to have around them.

Violation of the law – the Fair Housing Act of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 – which mandates ‘open housing,’ is ignored, with little fear of enforcement or retribution.

No person would choose to live in substandard housing in unkempt and neglected areas of cities and towns; yet enclaves of those whom the majority prefers not to see — people of color — continue to exist.

I think one of the keys to better education for everyone is the aggressive enforcement of our open and fair housing laws, along with the equal opportunity for genuine access to all jobs.

I have seen a 50 year-old Virginia deed with phrasing similar to ‘this property may not be sold to non-Caucasians.’

One of my family members once received a call from a Tallahassee real estate agent, who said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask this, but are there any black people in your neighborhood”!

And a former neighbor is alleged to have apologized to others, who lived near her, for renting her home to an African-American mother, and saying, “I had no choice,” because of the law.

In my 42 years as a renter and home owner, I have never heard of any similar incident, perhaps because people know of my position on civil and human rights. Or perhaps because it just doesn’t happen that often.

If all of our children are to receive the best possible education, their families must be able to live in any neighborhood of their choosing — in subsidized housing in those neighborhoods, if necessary — and protected from any and all unjust and racist challenges conjured by the forces of hate.

Real estate operators can’t just slap an FHA ‘equal sign’ on their stationery and front window, and think they need do nothing else to be within the law.

But as long as they flaunt the law, and until the law is openly and vigorously enforced, we will continue to see ‘disadvantaged areas,’ shaking our sad heads, in nearly every jurisdiction in this nation.

I believe proactive fair housing enforcement may be the best solution to lead to better schools and quality education for all children.

The Birth of Butterfly — Off to Mexico!

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

The chrysalis the boys gave us had turned black this morning and we thought he had died. Suddenly, Mary Ann screamed, ‘Nick, he’s out!’

There he was, a big gorgeous monarch butterfly, crawling along the twig to which his chrysalis — still …attached to the twig — hung shriveled and tiny next to this beautiful creature.

We watched as he slowly locked his legs into place and remained very still for a half hour or so, wings folded together.

Then, he began to open his wings. So, we took the peanut butter jar in which he was living (minus peanut butter) outside; removed the lid and slowly placed the jar on the ground, between some plants along the little brown fence.

He opened and closed his wings a few times… very, very slowly.

Then he quickly crawled out of the jar. We watched, like expectant parents, as he continued to open and close, open and close, for maybe 15 minutes.

Mary Ann had to leave, so I said I would ‘butterfly-sit’ … but as Mary Ann began to turn around just beyond the house, he just as suddenly flew!

He flew up toward the utility pole on front of the house, made a sharp left turn, as he flew higher, and disappeared behind the blond brick house next door.

Off to Mexico.

We’re going to plant milkweed in the spot where we’d placed the jar and hope one of his descendants will pay us a visit next year. Or, perhaps he will go to the spot where he’d been born, at the Cohen household in Gainesville.

What an exciting and magical afternoon!

Koran Book Burner Has A Cousin - Nazi Book Burning 1933

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum –

Book burning has a long and dark history; and perhaps the most famous of these events, the burning of books under the Nazi regime on May 10, 1933, had a precedent in nineteenth century Germany.

In 1817, German student associations (Burschenschaften) chose the 300th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses to hold a festival at the Wartburg, a castle in Thuringia where Luther had sought sanctuary after his excommunication.

The students, demonstrating for a unified country — Germany was then a patchwork of states — burned anti-national and reactionary texts and literature which the students viewed as “Un-German.”
Holocaust Museum

View the 1933 book burning.

This Florida ‘pastor’ intends to burn a sacred book just as Hitler’s followers burned the books of “degenerate” authors. See any connection, pastor?

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me.” Matthew 25:40

How Goldman Secretly Bet on the U.S. Housing Crash

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

By Greg Gordon - McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting. Read more

These ‘businessmen’ and others of their ilk stole one trillion dollars from us and our government. Along with BP in the Gulf, they must be ordered to return the money and make whole those who have lost everything. And then the CEOs must be charged as criminals, and, once convicted, and sent to jail.

If an inner city kid selling crack can get half a lifetime in prison, shouldn’t these ‘white collar’ guys — who sold out the people of the United States of America — serve half of their lives in adjoining cells?