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Last week Rudy Giuliani reminded this country that he remains the rhetorical thug and philosophical bully that most New Yorkers remember about his tenure as mayor of the City of New York. Giuliani is interesting just like a train wreck is interesting. You want to turn away but cannot resist taking a look. But it is clearly past time for all of us to turn away.

Rudy Giuliani is not the first Teapublican to cast doubt on the citizenship and patriotism of President Obama. Indeed, Giuliani was speaking at a fundraiser for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin when he channeled his inner Angry White Man. That would be the same Scott Walker who, when asked after the Giuliani diatribe whether he thought President Obama was a Christian, opined that he “did not know”.

So Giuliani is not alone when he casts aspersions and launches attacks that are outside the pale (pun intended) of what passes for normal political discourse in America these days. If words had an odor, you would have to brace yourself for the stench emanating from Giuliani’s speech. But if you listen closely to his words, you will hear the words of a frightened and emotionally shriveled little man who is afraid of the now and terrified of the future.

Giuliani spoke of President Obama not loving this country like “we do”, saying this in a room with an overwhelming majority of white males. He said that President Obama did not grow up like “us” and you can be sure that he wasn’t just referring to the president’s childhood residences in Hawaii and Indonesia.

Over and over Giuliani beat the moribund steed of racism. His lips were dripping with words that were bloated with bigotry and echoed of discrimination. While he did not say that he hates Barack Obama because he is black – his dog whistle was in perfect working order – and the hounds heard him.

Although it is rare to see a racist burning a cross or wearing a bed sheet, this country should not stand in the shelter of smugness believing that those days are long behind us. While we do not often see a black person lynched – we do see Ferguson and Staten Island and we remember the name of Trayvon Martin just as we remember the name of Emmett Till.

The white robes of the Klan have been replaced by the black robes of Supreme Court justices who have gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While the film Selma harks back to the days of the civil rights movement and hard won victories, Shelby v. Holder reminds us that racism is a seven headed Hydra that does not die easily or quickly.

Indeed it reinvents itself and disguises itself with verbiage that is supposed to be “conservative” but in too many instances is just dog whistle rhetoric. Calls for “law and order” and “makers and takers” are just coded language that empowers that racists and bigots. These words allow a pitiful and largely forgotten nobody who wishes that he were somebody scuttle into the limelight for a moment.

Rudy Giuliani is a forgettable footnote in American history. But last week he spoke for all the scared and frightened white men in America who feel that “we” are losing this country and that “they” will soon outnumber “us” and then the world will be different for all time.

But here is a news bulletin for Giuliani and his dog whistle listening bigoted hounds – the world has already changed.

February 21, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. This means that more than half of all Americans were not even alive on that day, and an even larger number of Americans have no real time memory of the man whose name now adorns schools, street signs and countless birth certificates. Historians and biographers will debate the details of his life, as is the case for the narratives of all great lives. But it is also important to know and understand what Malcolm X meant in real time.

It is important to know that during his ascendancy onto the national stage in the latter part of the 1950’s until his assassination in 1965 Malcolm X lived and spoke truth to power at a time when a black person could be killed for defending his life or his wife. But it was also a time when a black person could be denied a job or fired because that could not abide by casual slurs, incidental degradation or careless bigotry.

Malcolm X gave a voice to a people who saw their brothers hung from trees while their killers walked the streets with arrogant impunity. He wove into his rhetoric the frustration of mothers and fathers who knew that at birth their daughters and sons would never drink from the fountain of unbounded opportunities and that instead they would have to be satisfied with a few drops of beneficence tainted with condescension.

Because he presumed and preached that black Americans were endowed with, and entitled to, all the pride and glory of manhood and womanhood to which they were entitled by the Creator, he was branded a radical. That he demanded this pride and glory caused many to term him dangerous. And it was not only white Americans that branded him a dangerous radical, many black Americans joined in the chorus of caution and denial, afraid of what real freedom for black people might mean.

For the white Americans who bathed in this soiled pool of fear, they were afraid that by achieving opportunity black Americans would take opportunities away from them, opportunities that were theirs simply because of the hue of their skin. For black Americans who also wallowed in this pool the fear was plain and simple – if black Americans achieved real freedom their role as intermediaries, interlocutors, translators, conciliators and bridge builders between the white bastion and the blacks on the other side of the walls would evaporate because the gates would be open.

Even a casual student of history knows that in looking back we find ourselves looking through the prism of whomever his holding the looking glass. And so some may be surprised to learn that although Malcolm X preached self-defense he was passionate in his calling for an end to crime in the black community and he simply never called for or led an attack on white Americans.

Some may be surprised to learn that while Malcolm X did indeed preach the virulent anti-white rhetoric of the Nation of Islam for a number of years, he did evolve into a man who understood that definitions of good and evil transcended race. And he evolved into a secure black man who could and did embrace anyone who advocated and believed in justice.

Everyone appropriates historical figures for their own purpose. This is why the radical side of Martin Luther King is conveniently forgotten and erased from the common memory bank. It is also why the passion for justice that fueled the shooting star that was Malcolm X is also a footnote instead of the headline.

Malcolm X believed in justice and spoke out against injustice when black Americans felt the cold breath of racism in the North and the South. He called for justice when it was inconvenient for many to hear. And when he died the New York Times opined that he was an “extremist” who spoke with “bitter eloquence against what he considered to be the white exploitation of Negroes”.

Perhaps what the writers at the Times didn’t understand is that Malcolm X was not bitter nor was he an extremist. His message was bitter for the exploiters to hear and he was only extreme to those who thought that full justice and real freedom for black Americans were extreme notions.

Fifty years later we can only wonder how far we have really come since February 21, 2015.

Whose Death is it?

A bill was recently introduced in the New York State legislature that would in effect permit doctors to assist patients who wished to commit suicide due to terminal illness. Unfortunately, but predictably, the usual suspects immediately announced their opposition to the bill and in the process, their support for enforced suffering.

End of life care and the decisions attending that care are deeply personal and understandably complicated. These decisions are further complicated by medical technology that can keep a person alive for what can seem like forever to the seriously ill patients and their families. Ironically, and sadly, we are at a point where we know how to keep people alive indefinitely but there are no generally accepted protocols in this country regarding the ending of life.

As a result, these personal decisions have to be made in a maze of contradictory laws and procedures. We have progressed to the point where a patient can appoint a proxy to make certain decisions regarding the cessation of so-called “extraordinary care” which can result in the patient’s death. But anyone who has ever had to make that decision knows that it is a heart breaking and soul wrenching decision.

It should be no surprise that people who are seriously ill would want to spare their family and loved ones from this ordeal. It should also be no surprise that anyone who is terminally ill may not wish to have their family and loved ones witness the last stages of physical diminishment and devastation that precede death, especially when recovery is simply not possible.

Opponents of pro-active end of life strategies probably congratulate themselves on their graciousness in supporting pain relief for the terminally ill. But there are terminally ill patients that simply do not wish to walk the torture gauntlet of pain and fear as certain death inexorably approaches.

No one suggests that these are decisions that should be made lightly. There comes a time when medical science can no longer provide a person with the quality of life that every individual deserves. It is at that time that medical science – and society – should be permitted to assist a person if they request to die with dignity at a time of their choosing.

What is astounding is the presumption of religious leaders, ethicists and politicians who would presume to introduce themselves into these deeply personal and unquestionably intimate decisions. It is difficult enough for an individual to confront a terminal diagnosis. It is painful enough for the family and loved ones of that individual to have to come to terms with that reality. And it is at that precise moment in the life of a person when assisted suicide can be a true act of mercy, if that is the will of that person.

By what right, by what notion of moral superiority, by what conceit does that religious leader, ethicist or politician even consider substituting their judgment of how a person should live or die? More to the point, who conferred upon them the power to determine precisely what constitutes enough suffering….suffering by the patient, suffering by the family.

We should have no problem with anyone following the teachings of a religious leader, ethicist or politician. But we should be shocked and offended that anyone would impose their vision of morality on a person who chooses to day. After all, whose death is it?

Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City is one of the most outstanding medical institutions in the world. Its cancer treatment programs are globally recognized for excellence. MSKH has as its motto, “More Science, Less Fear”. These are words that the anti-vaccine lunatics and the climate change deniers would do well to heed – before they mindlessly degrade the planet in the name of……..well, nothing.

We can begin with the recent attention that the anti-vaccine mob has garnered, primarily because of the national outbreak of measles. Measles is a disease that had been virtually eradicated in the United States due to……………….you guessed it….universal vaccinations. But, due to a mindless public health decision, the state of California has given parents the right to opt out of mandatory vaccination regimens.

This anti-vaccination turmoil gained momentum when that world renowned scientist, Jenny McCarthy, started making the talk circuit spewing discredited theories regarding the connection between vaccinations and autism. Ms. McCarthy cited an Englishman by the name of Andrew Wakefield and his “studies” on this non-existent connection. Wakefield’s “studies” were revealed to be bogus and he has been barred from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom.

Somehow, the complete devastation of any logical, statistical or factual basis to claim that vaccinations are a public health hazard, much less that they are connected to autism, has not been enough to deter Jenny McCarthy or her followers. Although one would think that we have progressed from the times when scientists risked being burned at the stake for articulating scientific principles that we now take for granted (see Galileo, for example), it is clear that there remains a deep seated distrust of science, even when it saves lives or is inconvenient.

We see the same distrust virus ravaging the logic and thought processes of the deniers of climate change. Presumptive presidential heir Jeb Bush pronounces himself as to being “skeptical” as to the impact of human activity on climate change. And he is not alone, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney and seemingly any aspiring Teapublican candidate has drunk the Koch brothers Kool-Aid and not only denied climate change, but they have also denied the melting polar ice caps, the rising sea levels and the weirdest weather patterns in the history of mankind.

Presumably, the climate change deniers adhere to this madness because to admit that climate change exists and is the result of human activity would require inconvenient modifications of human conduct. Alternative energy sources, conservation and respect for the environment would deny some people the enjoyment of the planet to which they feel entitled.

But we also know that the purveyors of fossil fuels understand quite clearly that the modifications of human conduct will lessen their bloated profits. And they are quite ready to sacrifice the future (as well as the present), on the altar of their profit and loss statements. And so it is important of climate change deniers to substitute fear for science, in this instance, fear of the change of lifestyle that would accompany the intelligent acknowledgement of the science that supports climate change.

More science and less fear should be our guide in these twenty first century debates that should not even be debates. Science has made undeniable progress in understanding diseases and how to prevent them, making the entire planet safe in the process. Science has helped us to understand how industrial and technological progress could destroy this planet as well as how to escape those consequences through scientifically-based strategies.

There are really no scientific rationales to oppose vaccinations or strategies to offset climate change. The proponents of fear tactics endanger not only themselves, but you and me and everyone we love.

More Science. Less Fear.

During the past week a new book, Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, appeared in bookstores across America. Ms. Leovy chronicles the progression of homicide in South Central Los Angeles, but the story that she tells chronicles a national disaster that has been created over the past several decades – a disaster that begs the question, do black lives matter?

The statistics are numbing and serve to anesthetize the sensibilities of the American public in general as well as those of the national black community. But we can try to focus.

• Black Americans comprise approximately 13% of this country’s population.
• African American males make up approximately 6% of the American population.
• African American males comprise 40% of the people murdered in this country.
• Over 90% of African American murder victims are killed by African Americans

While these are numbers that would warm the heart of any member of the Ku Klux Klan, they should be horrifying for any person of good will or decent conscience. The homicidal mayhem being waged against the black community by members of the black community would be considered genocide if the perpetrators were of another hue.

This decimation of the black community must be seen within the larger context of the high levels of incarceration which the black community experiences. Recalling the fact that black Americans make up 13% of the population of the United States, it is stunning to realize that 40% of the prison inmates in this country are of African descent. Further, the overwhelming number of these black inmates are men between the ages of 18 and 34.

It is simply not possible to amputate such a significant part of any community – by murder, mayhem and selective law enforcement – without eviscerating that community and damaging the prospects for that community to be a full partner in the larger society. These are not excuses or rationalizations. These are the facts.

The search for solutions to this seemingly implacable vicious cycle is the only useful and rational response. Better education, more employment opportunities, reformation of the law enforcement and penal systems are certainly important steps on the road to progress.

The marginalization of cultural messages that glorify “thugs” and all their accoutrements is also a necessary strategy. The reality of “Ghettoside” is that it is not only found in Los Angeles, Ghettoside is a part of black American that must be recognized, addressed and eliminated.

Let the first step be recognition of the crisis. The next steps must be born out of creativity meeting innovation meeting imagination.

The future depends on it.

Recently, President Obama pointed out something that the fans of the National Football League Seattle Seahawks (and the fans of the Green Bay Packers) experienced firsthand last weekend – the fourth quarter can be an interesting time in sports. And, as President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address shows, the fourth quarter of the Obama Administration may prove to be just as interesting as the Seahawks-Packers game.

During this week’s State of the Union speech, another of facts of American political life became apparent. First, despite the tsunami of attacks, insults, falsehoods, conspiracy theories, faux scandals (think birther or Benghazi, to name a few), President Obama still contends, he still competes, he still adheres to a vision in which the people of this country have a better life.

Second, it is also clear that the Teapublican majority in the House and Senate is not prepared to cede even the slightest credit for anything to this president. While applause meters should not be seen as a definitive indicia of much of anything, the protocols of SOTU speeches do call for applause and the Teapublicans would not, seemingly could not, applaud such mayonnaise on white bread good news items as the historic decline of unemployment, the lessening reliance on foreign oil or the fairly benign notion that the minimum wage should be raised from its current, hardly luxurious $7.25 level.

Indeed, the only time that the Teapublican cabal applauded spontaneously is when President Obama mentioned that he would never run for office again. It was, however, a move that the Teapublicans immediately regretted as the president reminded them that he was not running anymore because he had beaten them in the last two elections – thereby proving once again that at times silence really is golden.

Real world, real time issues like education, immigration reform, tax reform and the implementation of a reality-based environmental policy all need to be in the forefront of policy decision-making in Washington. The Teapublicans offer little hope that they have any interest in improving the quality of life for anyone given the fact that their first act in the new Congress was to bring a bill to the floor that articulates draconian restrictions on abortion – as if this issue is what keeps the majority of Americans awake at night. Female Teapublicans squelched this particular bit of grandstanding, but it is an unfortunate sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, another highlight of President Obama’s speech was his call for the lifting of the Cuban trade embargo, a punitive policy that was a failure at the beginning, a failure for the past half century and is a failure to this very day. And in this instance, failure means that the trade embargo has done nothing to change the political environment in Cuba, it has imposed unnecessary harm and damage on the Cuban people, and it has denied economic opportunities to American firms who cannot compete with companies that are based in more enlightened – or pragmatic – countries.

Needless to say, the Teapublican leadership seems intent on clinging to this hoary and worn out relic of the Cold War, even as the Berlin Wall has become part of the pavement between East and West, even as Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China have become robust trading partners with this country. What is it about Cuba that warrants such enmity and political hatred?

For the answer to that question, one would have to ask the aging, Castro-obsessed Cubanos in Florida and New Jersey. They are clearly the tail that is wagging the Teapublican dog in this case and it would seem that they don’t have any real answer except that they want Cuba to go back to the good old days that they remember in their fizzled dreams – and it ain’t gonna happen.

Meanwhile, President Obama is pursuing a progressive agenda that, while far from radical, does move the country in a different direction than that proposed by the likes of John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, et. al. As noted, the fourth quarter should be interesting.

It is a part of human nature that the latest outrage, the latest tragedy, will overshadow the disaster that precedes it. So it should come as no surprise that the carnage related to the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris has riveted the attention of much of the global media. What should be a surprise, or at least a cause for concern, is that the ongoing death march being conducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria barely moves the media needle.

Last week self-proclaimed Islamic jihadists wreaked murder and havoc in Paris and spread fear through much France. The reaction of the French government and its allies around the world was immediate and swift. With the deaths of seventeen people, over 18,000 French police and military personnel were deployed to seek and kill the perpetrators and to act as a deterrent to further terrorist actions.

Within days of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, leaders from most of Europe (and Israel and the Palestinian Authority) marched through the streets of Paris in an unprecedented show of unity and determination. These images, which were carried around the world, conveyed an opposition to the reign of terror proposed by jihadist terrorists who had attacked a little more than 100 hours earlier.

Meanwhile, in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, the streets moved with business as usual. This, despite the fact that about a week before the slaughter in France, the killers who call themselves Boko Haram attacked and killed as many as 2000 men, women and children. This, despite the fact that during the past few years thousands of Nigerians have been slain by Nigerians, the murderers calling themselves inspired by their God, although it would seem that their motives and calling come straight from Hell.

Nevertheless, the same leaders who marched the streets in Paris are nowhere to be found in Nigeria. Nevertheless, the response of the Nigerian government, with the largest military force in Africa, has been tepid at best and obviously ineffectual.

Despite the fact that Boko Haram threatens to destabilize the largest economy on the African continent, the African Union has been muted in its response to this regional threat. And, despite the obvious trampling of the human rights of the Nigerian people, there has been no call in the halls of the United States Congress or the White House to “do something” to stop these war crimes against humanity.
This tale of two tragedies reveals that it matters where crimes against humanity occur and who the victims are. A terrorist monstrosity raises its bloody head in Europe and a million voices are raised against it and robust military action takes place immediately. A terrorist monstrosity of even greater magnitude in Africa spills out over the media channels and the response in Africa is undeniably weak and the global response reveals that human rights violations in Africa are simply not a priority.

Of course, given the less than robust response to the depredations of Boko Haram by the African Union and the Nigerian government, it is difficult to understand how the former African colonialists and neo-colonialists are supposed to come to the rescue. And without an African response to the death and destruction currently raging in West Africa, there is no doubt that the global response will be rhetorical at best.

All lives matter. All lives have intrinsic value. All murder is senseless, whether it occurs in Ferguson, Paris or Nigeria. But it is clear that the venue of the tragedy and the identity of the victims do matter. And that is an injustice that cannot be allowed to continue.

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