A House Divided…


In June of 1858, Abraham Lincoln won the candidacy for the Republican Party in the Presidential race. He addressed over a thousand people that evening with a now famous speech that, in part, spoke of the rift caused by slavery. He quoted the bible: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

A hundred-fifty years have passed since Appomattox, and we seem to have come full circle. South Carolina is once again the center of controversy (the recent shootings in Charleston were, figuratively, a stone’s throw from Fort Sumter), and the ignominious face of racism has been unmasked, once more. We’re still dealing with the shame and arrogance of the Confederate flag, economic and political issues divide the nation, and terrorism runs rampant throughout the country as it did in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In the 1830s, there were upwards of 115 riots in the then major urban centers, and reports of lynchings were commonplace.

How sad is it to discover that we have learned nothing? For all our advances in medicine, technology, and science, we are still standing on the same foundation of the house that burned to the ground in the most catastrophic domestic war in our history. The Ku Klux Klan, formed in the aftermath of that war, during the so-called Reconstruction, still wreaks havoc. Its influence has spawned more than a dozen other white supremacist organizations, which are just as guilty of radicalizing our young minds as ISIS is.

Historically, I’m amazed that other, stronger nations of the period, like France or England, didn’t capitalize on our weaknesses then and attempt to absorb our nation into their empires. We may not be so fortunate the next time around. China and Russia are both posturing with imperialistic intent, both militarily and economically, and we are insolent enough to assume that we can withstand all-comers.

To borrow a quote from economist, John Maynard Keynes: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” So how do you eradicate the truly pervasive and deep-rooted notions of racism and prejudice? You can’t undo the teaching of hate, you can’t legislate against it, civil wars don’t eradicate it – in fact, it probably exacerbates it, and you can’t go around shooting people who stand at the root of it all, though the temptation to do so might be appealing. Unfortunately, that would put all of us in the same category as Dylann Roof. Don’t laugh, Charles Cotton, moron extraordinaire and board member of the NRA said that if more people carried guns, nine people might not have died in Bible study class. I kid you not!

Racism is but one of many divides in our country. Politics, always a detestable and unpalatable subject, has practically unraveled to the point of political civil war, and any unifying force seems as remote as the Andromeda galaxy. If a Democrat says the sky is blue, the Republicans will pronounce it will ruin the economy. Economics: Republicans, Super PACs, and the 1% on the right; Democrats, the dwindling middle class, immigrants, and the common American on the left. How are you going to solve that one? I don’t even want to think about the Tea Party. Gays vs anti-gays, blacks and Jews vs white supremacists, Bible-thumping creationists vs the scientists, war-mongers vs the isolationists, union vs non-union, humanitarian aid vs ‘it’s not my problem’ types, or pick any other one you want, the list is inexhaustible.

Is leadership the answer? Right now, there appears to be only two voices out there that seem to make any sense: The Pope and Bernie Sanders. Since the former isn’t eligible for the presidency on any level, this leaves Mr. Sanders – who could possibly take the Republican Party seriously at this point. It’s a long road to next November. I’m not sure if leadership will help since whoever is elected will be hated by virtually fifty percent of the people.

In a recent post on racism, I said the only solution to curbing that problem lies within each of us, individually and the choices we make. I lack the faith that this notion will work in practice for the legion of problems we face. Meanwhile, I hear the timbers around me starting to crack inside my divided house. Anyone out there know a good carpenter? I can imagine someone making the corollary that Jesus was a carpenter. Well, if the guy was as good as so many people believe he was, then this might be a good time for him to make a pit-stop.

Diversity is the cultural norm of the United States, and the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but there is a price. Diversity is the root of all conflict. It sparks the fuse of superiority and entitlement and explodes in a miasma of hate.

Racism is alive and well…


How many more incidents need happen before we fully acknowledge that racism is still a part of our culture? South Carolina, where the most recent atrocity took place, still flies the Confederate stars and bars of the Southern Cross; it’s not even lowered at half-mast. In Kansas, a black lawmaker is facing possible disciplinary measures because she used “inflammatory” language in referring to supporters favoring the elimination of tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants as being racist. Blacks are claiming strong racist sentiment as the underlying cause for the shooting of Freddie Gray and the resulting riots in Baltimore. The statistics being kept for the number of ‘deaths by cop’ show that nearly half were minorities. The fear factor is rising on both sides of the equation. Blacks and minorities fear that it’s more likely to be shot and killed by police (especially while unarmed – nearly a third of the blacks killed had no weapon) and the police are wary of reprisals which only serves to make them more trigger-happy, as was evidenced by the officer involved in the Texas pool party incident – he didn’t fire his weapon, but he did train it on a couple of other teens to get them to back up.

The vacillating argumentation on racism, even as it exists today, would fill volumes upon volumes of books and newspapers. White supremacist organizations are as strong as they ever were, and just as vile. After the murders in Charleston, another bigot in Virginia was threatening violence against another black church.

My first experience with racism came in 1967. I was raised in the predominantly white neighborhood of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn (it has changed considerably since then). We had any number of children come through our school because Fort Hamilton was close by, and they came to our building while stationed there. At one point, it was decided that some of the under privileged schools would send some of their students to us for classes; they were to be bused in. I was in seventh grade and a member of the school safety program, which meant I helped the teachers monitor the students as they lined up with their class to then walk up the stairs to their rooms. The first day one of those busses arrived, an entire class of African-American boys and girls lined up in the gym. One boy in particular was stepping out of line and being very disruptive, so I walked over and touched his shoulder , asking that he please step back in line. He whirled on me and said: “Don’t touch me, I’m black”. I was stunned. Up to that moment, I’d never experienced anything like that. I really had had no understanding that one racial group could have an attitude toward another simple because of the color of their skin. But, it was a subject that was going to grab hold, for us all, in the months that followed.

I think the prevailing notion is that since the days of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, George Wallace, and Malcolm X that significant inroads have been made to eliminate racism and prejudice. There probably have been, but it’s also fair to say, that it hasn’t gone away, and it never will. This is clearer by the moment, and racism isn’t just limited to black people, it’s flowing over to Muslims, still includes Jewish people, and certainly extends to the people of Mexico and all points south who desperately try to immigrate here. Oh, and let’s not forget the LGBT community – it’s still quite dangerous in parts of the country for homosexuals to take a breath.

Okay, so let’s face it. Try as we might: we can legislate, educate, and proselytize equal rights and tolerance. It simply isn’t going to happen. If we haven’t found a solution in at least the six thousand years we’ve been struggling with this, how can we expect to find a way to do it now? So, what next? What possible solutions can there be to allow for peaceful co-existence? How do we get whole communities and organizations to back off in order to reset the levels of rage and despair to the point where communication is even feasible again?

As I see it, it comes down to individual responsibility; to take that moment to rise above ignorance, to engage in a cease-fire from any personal agenda in projecting hate. It requires the self-discipline of stopping, thinking, and rationalizing before taking action, and this has to happen on all sides. Seeing a black person on a subway platform, strutting his attitude, showing off tattoos and sideways baseball caps, with rap music blaring from their Dr. Dre’s can be just as intimidating for some as a redneck with a bandana and a black tee shirt with a swastika blazoned across the chest can be. Attitude breeds fear, and fear drives pre-emptive retaliation where none is called for. We can’t rid the human brain of racism, prejudice, and intolerance, but hopefully we can learn to co-exist.

Everyone take a deep breath.

All the news that’s fit…


The motto which sits at the upper left corner of every New York Times issue states “All the News That’s Fit to Print”. It’s been there for 118 years. When Adolph Ochs coined the slogan, the idea of television, radio, the internet, cable news networks, blogs, and countless other modes for the conveyance and reporting of news was then beyond the imagination of anyone but science fiction writers. To me the slogan suggests that someone of integrity has reviewed a full spectrum of events and having made informed and responsible judgments, put news-worthy material out there. (I can hear the grumbling now: what does responsible mean? What constitutes news-worthy?) I don’t always know, but I can tell you that what I see ain’t it. CNNs Fredricka Whitfield calling the perpetrator of the attack in Dallas “courageous and brave” ain’t it. Former Fox News host Glenn Beck suggesting that the Baltimore riots were staged ain’t it. Commentator Marc Lamont Hill raging that those same riots were “uprisings” not riots because of police terrorism is sure as hell not it.

Do such guardians of news content exist? I gave up watching the news on television because it’s simply…well, not news. A healthy diet of who shot who, what building burned down, what celebrity was arrested, inaccurate weather updates, and sports do not make something newsworthy in my mind. There are far more serious national and global events that we all should be more familiar with. Then again, given the popular diet of reality television, I suppose it’s not a big stretch to see why there isn’t more opposition to watching non-news. Why can’t we get a news report on the tax issues facing our country? Why can’t we see an analysis of the danger we face from Russia, or China, or North Korea? Why can’t we get a fully informed report on exactly what happened at the McKinney swimming pool? Instead we get a news break with the barest of information and within minutes judgments have been made, and lives have been ruined.

It broadcasts the overall decline of editorial standards. Journalism is supposed to be founded on the principles of accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality. The American Society of News Editors actually has a Statement of Principles:

ARTICLE I – Responsibility. The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time. Newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust. The American press was made free not just to inform or just to serve as a forum for debate but also to bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces of power in the society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government.

ARTICLE III – Independence. Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.

ARTICLE IV – Truth and Accuracy. Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly. Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.

ARTICLE V – Impartiality. To be impartial does not require the press to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for the reader between news reports and opinion. Articles that contain opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified.

ARTICLE VI – Fair Play. Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports. Persons publicly accused should be given the earliest opportunity to respond. Pledges of confidentiality to news sources must be honored at all costs, and therefore should not be given lightly. Unless there is clear and pressing need to maintain confidences, sources of information should be identified.

Does anyone heed these principles, or is it more about providing a platform for advertisers to sell their stuff? Since when did journalists abandon a code of ethics for the type of biased reporting found in newspapers and media streams? How is it that any form of news media is permitted to skew to the left or the right? This surely adds one more factor to the polarizing of our nation just as badly as politics or religion because it’s used to inform opinions and those opinions will only be as sound as the information they’re drawn from. As I mentioned, look how the country is now dividing over the issue of police violence – it’s the quandary of the chicken and the egg – which begat the other? Instead it’s a see-saw of argument that no one will ever win, but I guarantee that it will only lead to more blame, more invective, and solve absolutely nothing.

News that’s fit to print; man, I wish I had some.