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Given the flaming news cycles igniting the airwaves and the Internet one would think that issues like healthcare, Russian intervention in the U.S. elections, Syria, North Korea and climate change have all been resolved due to incandescent leadership of the Supreme Leader, also known as Donald Trump, also known as Donald Tinyhands. That would be a useful explanation for little or no media attention being focused on the cataclysmic nature of the damage that the Trump Administration has planned for the people of America.

As you are reading this column, countless human hours are being spent recounting and re-recounting every breath and heartbeat of Donald Trump, Jr. as he spins himself into the dustbin of history while crafting lies and counter-lies regarding his more than obvious flirtation with Russia. Not unlike his father, his lust for “winning” seemingly erases any sense of right or wrong and obliterates protocols that should be obvious to a passably bright fifth grader.

And as you are reading this column, Donald Tinyhands is singlehandedly (pun intended) discovering new and increasingly unpleasant ways to mar, deface, denigrate and devalue America’s international alliances much in the way that an unruly child might devastate a china shop if he broke free from his nanny. The saddest part of this incredibly short-sighted behavior is that there may come a time when these alliances will be all that will keep America from standing alone.

Because it is clear by now that Donald Trump does not understand the difference between deviant and devious, there can be no doubt that these distractions from the daily damage that is being inflicted on the United States is unintentional. Nevertheless, the damage is real and history will show that when it comes to damaging a nation, it is very easy to do so, and so very hard to repair.

The Donald Tinyhands Cavalcade and Clowns has diverted attention from the fact that his tiny hands picked Elizabeth Devos as Secretary of Education and that she has embarked on a series of initiatives that have the potential for wrecking national education policy for years to come. By deliberately downgrading the importance of civil rights enforcement in the field of education, millions of men and women of various racial and gender identities will suffer. By limiting, and in some cases eliminating the protections afforded to students at for profit institutions, Secretary Devos is shepherding the concept of predatory learning into reality.

Meanwhile, the United States Environmental Protection Agency is headed by Scott Pruitt, again personally selected by Donald Tinyhands tiny hands. In addition to being a climate change denier, Mr. Pruitt seems to be hell bent on promoting coal – an 18th century fuel – as a 21st century energy option. The pollution of rivers, lakes, ocean beds and parks in the name of fossil fuel exploration and extraction will be part of the legacy of Donald Tinyhands and his minions.

And so, while Ivanka Trump plays musical chairs with presidents and prime ministers in Hamburg, the dismantling of the health care system, the demolition of urban policies and shredding of this country’s social service safety next are all moving forward at an alarming pace.

The distractions offered by the Trump Administration are too numerous to mention and too numerous to be ignored. Nevertheless, the real danger to the Republic are the intentional and malign acts of a soulless presidency that will haunt this country for years after the man with the Tinyhands is forgotten.

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The annual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. creates annual mixed reactions and concerns. On the one hand it is great and wonderful that there is a national holiday that recognizes a great and courageous and brilliant African American who is an indelibly important part of the history of this country. And yet this holiday can also distort history and distract from the true significance of Dr. King.

Ever since the King national holiday has been a part of this country’s calendar, there has been a continuous effort to sanitize the life and legacy of Dr. King. There are any number of leading political figures who damned the living Dr. King and supported institutionalized racism and then became adherents of Dr. King’s “dream”. To this day, many people conveniently forget the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke truth to power and the abuse and misuse of power.

Dr. King spoke out against social and income inequality. Dr. King spoke out against the war in Vietnam and other imperialist incursions by the United States. Dr. King did not seek accommodate injustice and while he advocated nonviolence, he did not advocate acceptance of what was wrong. His choice of nonviolence as a strategy was as calculated and as sincere as the strategies of opponents of injustice throughout world history from Gandhi to Castro to Mandela.

But it is not a surprise that there would also be some discomfort in placing the entire civil rights movement on the shoulders of Dr. King to the exclusion of all of the famed (and unnamed) millions of Americans who changed America. It can be imagined that Dr. King would be the very first person to point out that without W.E.B. Dubois and Walter White and Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement.

It can also be imagined that Dr. King would be the very first person to point out that without Harry T. Green and Viola Liuzzo and Emmett Till there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement. And certainly, without the millions of parishioners of black (and white churches) who supported the Movement, along with the maids and cab drivers and train porters and students – all anonymous in current historical accounts – there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement.

The problem with the narrative that accompanies the King Holiday is that by promoting the “great man” theory, it gives everyone else a free pass. By presenting Dr. King as a demi-godlike apparition on the stage of history, it means that the rest of us cannot have the hope or capacity to create and sustain the kind of change attributed to him.

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Prepared Remarks for the Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – Monday, January 17, 2011

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it does not matter with me now – Because I have been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will – And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land.”

Martin Luther King spoke these words on April 3, 1968. How prophetic he was on the eve of his death. He caused us to consider several things. He told us that these would be difficult days ahead of us, days of economic hardship, days of incivility and days tragedy. Dr. Martin Luther King was aware that not all was right with the world and that it would not all be resolved in his lifetime.

Dr. King told us that he simply wanted to do God’s will. He told us that he had been allowed to look over the mountaintop. He told that he had seen the promised land. Martin Luther King told us in 1968 that he had seen what was going to be, even though he was not going to be here with us.

He saw a black governor of Virginia. He saw a black mayor and a black governor of New York. He saw what we could not see. He saw black people travel from the slave house to the White House.

My friends, Martin Luther King may not be with us today, but he left us hopeful about our future. Martin Luther King said: “In the spirit of the darkness, we must not despair, we must not become bitter – we must not lose faith.”

Dr. King told us that “Faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future.” So my friends, colleagues and students I say to you this morning, that as we remember the King legacy, we should remember a man of faith, a man who believed in the idea that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

My friends we have much work to do in this community and around the world. We must still rebuild Haiti. We must still educate the children of Brooklyn and New York City. We need a “Dream Act” to support the young people who have done no wrong.

We must still build a more valued and respected Medgar Evers College, but it can only happen if we work together to do so. With the faith of this man, Dr. King, we can move mountains. I leave you with these words of Dr. King:

“Before the ship of your life reaches its last harbor, there will be long drawn out storms, howling and jostling winds, and tempestuous seas that make the heart stand still. If you do not have a deep and patient faith in God, you will be powerless to face the delay, disappointment and vicissitudes that inevitably come.”

Dr. William Pollard is the president of Medgar Evers College (City University of New York) located in Brooklyn, New York

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CHAPTER 11
Paul
Showtime on Riverside

As soon as I heard that shrill voice braying and careening over my shoulder, I knew who it was. Bonita Woolsey, Esq., the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York. In her role as the de facto Attorney General of the City of New York, she had a lot to say about which lawyers would write the legal opinions verifying the validity and probity of the billions of dollars of bonds that the City of New York sold every year. These were legal opinions that generated huge fees for the firms fortunate to be selected by the esteemed Ms. Woolsey.

And so, she was definitely someone with whom I had to speak. And, in the bizarre nature of my personal universe, she was also someone that I definitely could not stand. It was nothing specific. It was just something incredibly visceral and undeniable.

“Ms. Woolsey. Its always a pleasure. It’s been much too long since we have had lunch or breakfast or drinks. How is life in City Hall treating you these days?”

“Mayor Dinkins has me on 24 hour standby, or that’s what it seems like. I thought that being a partner at Shearman & Sterling was hard work, but this job is eternal.” Bonita smiled through teeth that would make an orthodontist retire to a monastery on a desert island, taking a vow of eternal silence upon entry.

I had to marvel at how, in one sentence, she managed to make sure that I remembered that she had been the first black partner at one of the top law firms in America, that she held a very, very important job in the biggest city in America, and that she was a confidante of the first black mayor of New York City.

Bonita Woolsey was one of those people that you could stand being around for about……ten nanoseconds. After that she seemed to be the manifestation of all annoyances. There was her braying laugh, her phony veneer barely covering the nudity of her hypocrisy and her unbridled ambition. And probably worst of all was her clear disdain for everyone and everything she surveyed. She was possessed of the unshakable belief that Bonita Woolsey was the undeniable center of the only universe that counted – hers.

What I remember most about her that morning was her…….teeth. After all, I had to be cordial, my business, and that of some of my best clients, was connected to the peremptory whims of the esteemed Ms. Woolsey. I have always felt that I could stand the company of anyone if business was involved.

So I was prepared to converse with Bonita and to make sure that at the end of our conversation I had done everything to make sure that my business interests were unimpeded and unscathed. But her teeth! My God!

All of her front teeth seemed to wander in boldly independent directions making her smile seem something straight out of a Salvador Dali painting, perhaps during his Mescaline Period. But on this particular morning there was, could it be? Something was clearly stuck between two of her front teeth.

Was it this morning’s whole wheat toast or, heaven forbid, last night’s collard greens? There was no way of knowing, and that was information that I simply never wanted to know. There is such a thing as too much information.

This was a living, breathing, braying illustration.
But her particle-ridden smile was hypnotic, and as we chatted, I felt myself trying to resist staring. It was like trying not to look at a hairy mole that resembled Mount Everest or a scar in the shape of a palm tree or a tattoo of the image of the Virgin Mary on someone’s neck.

“If it was going to be an easy job Bonita, Mayor Dinkins never would have needed to choose you.” I felt my eyes wander toothward.

I simply had to find a distraction. Anything would suffice. I could feel the precipice of disaster approaching, beckoning, begging me to make the jump into the abyss of mockery and perdition. It was simply too early in the day for this kind of bullshit.

“Flattery will get you everywhere Mr. Taylor. But to tell the truth, the private sector never seemed more appealing. When Mayor Dinkins gets reelected this year, I have promised him one more year and then I’m back at S&S, unless a better offer comes along.”

“That’s understandable Bonita. You have certainly served your time.” I remember thinking, why is she telling me this? And then I found out.

“I know that our conversations are always off the record, but this is really and truly off the record, O.K.?”

“Bonita, my lips will be sealed for eternity.” A few more cars were pulling up to let off passengers in front of the church. The press was starting to stake out their positions for their television cameras and still photographers.

The sun was bright and it was still frightfully cold. I continued my silent, subliminal prayer for someone, anyone, to rescue me from the impending risk of embarrassment and professional doom. No one came.

“Frankly Paul, I am seriously thinking of going back into the practice of law. Of course my former partners at S & S will have been back in a heartbeat. But I think that I am ready for new challenges.”

“You have already overcome so many challenges Bonita (I suddenly, and with horror, realized that a subtle insult might be perceived and prayed that it would fly below her radar. It did), what mountains are left for you to conquer?”

I must confess that at this particular moment I had not a clue that this conversation was about to take a more than serious turn. After all, I was just making conversation and trying to stay occupied until the doors of the church opened. I was also trying not to stare at Bonita’s many and multi-angled teeth.

“Let me get right to the point Paul. We can talk about this later. But I want you to think about us being partners. With your experience and my contacts we would be quite a team. I think “formidable” would be a good word, don’t you? I can make money at S & S, but I don’t kid myself, I can be there for one hundred years and I will only be a partner in name only. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if that is what I want any more. What I do want is a chance to find out how good I can really be. I know that this is something out of left field for you, and that we have to make time to talk about this. But think about it for now, will you?”

“Here comes Mayor Dinkins now, I have to go. Speak to you soon. Ciao!”

Bonita turned on her stiletto heel and I was truly one stunned buffalo soldier left in her wake. I was reminded of the expression from some old Stepin Fetchit-type film character, “Well slap my face and call me stupid!” And frankly, I could have not been more shocked if Bonita had done just that.

There was no way that I could even begin to fashion a response to her non-proposal. Although, I must confess that even that at that moment, despite my having something less than warm and fuzzy feelings for Bonita, the practical aspects of our alignment, as she so succinctly pointed out, had some real advantages. Of course, Winner Tomlinson’s memorial service was neither the time nor place for such discussions.

But given the flow of events in the near future, it was a discussion that I did not forget. But at that moment, it was time to go into the church.

*************

CHAPTER 12
Paul
Now about that church….

The Riverside Church is a colossal monument to God built by the colossal fortune of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. John D., Jr. was the eldest male heir of the greatest businessman and possibly the most rapacious entrepreneur in American history.

We will never really know if he built Riverside Church to atone for his father’s many sins. It may be that he felt that it was more important to fulfill an edifice complex, a construction/building disorder that was clearly transmitted genetically in its full glory to his son, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York State a few decades later. Or maybe John D., Jr. just liked Gothic cathedrals. Or maybe he just felt like it.

It stands like some granite sentinel across Riverside Drive from Grant’s tomb. Indeed, the Riverside Church is a huge, silent stone commitment to the belief that there may be something more to life than life itself.

As I entered the church that morning, I couldn’t help but think about medieval times in Europe when huge cathedrals were built as part of a socio-political effort on the part of the powerful to keep the powerless occupied. After all, idle hands are the workshop of the devil and political dissidents. Revolutionaries and dissidents of varying pedigrees and radically differing degrees of success have been known to also show up when there is some of that nasty idleness lying around.

The royalty of a particular era would get together with the reigning religious leaders to declare the need for the construction of a monument to God and His everlasting glory. The church would openly and actively support such an initiative from the pulpit. In turn it would support the taxation and control over society by the State that royalty would have to impose in order to finance and complete such a project.
Since a project like the construction of a gothic church literally took centuries, this meant that generations of the poor and powerless would be employed as poorly paid, but busy, masons, carpenters, stone cutters, glaziers and bricklayers.

While the Riverside Church did not take generations to complete, there is no doubt in my mind that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his inherited fortune represented a part of America that could be called royalty. After all, he was the son of the same John D. Rockefeller who engaged in price-gouging and shockingly monopolistic strategies that strangled any hint of competition. And he was the son of the same John D. Rockefeller who employed the rather interesting labor relations tactic of having his employees shoot and kill striking workers (along with their wives and children) at one of his silver mines.

John D. Rockefeller probably never felt the need to receive approbation from anyone. On the other hand, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had the luxury of reflection and contemplation. He did not need to build a fortune. His task was to institutionalize it, nurture it, and humanize it. And maybe, at the end of it all, maybe that’s what building the Riverside Church was really all about. Only John D. Jr. himself knows, and he is certainly not telling anyone anything anymore.

************

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