Passing Regrets

I’m scared to death of death. Is one supposed to learn to come to grips with it as one ages, or is life a constant attempt to distract oneself from the inevitable? I guess I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to stare death in the face, personally or vicariously, as often as many people my age, as often as many people of much younger age in fact. But I think back on people with whom I shared many days of my life and then one day were gone, and I recognize that it’s time to devote a blog to them.

Alfred Siegel was, I think it’s fair to say, the leader of our little band of neighborhood ballplayers, sometimes assertively, more often benevolently, most often just assumedly. I wish I could say “friends,” but I really didn’t understand the concept then. There were four of us who spent most days of a decade together, myself, Alfred, Ricky, all of us living in the same Bronx building, and Craig, who was in the next. There were a number of others who were part of the clique for significant periods. David, who moved in across the street, spent many years as second or third in the athletic and influential hierarchy, as well as serving as the group comedian. His sarcastic wit, which I unfortunately was all too often a target of, was to earn him two distinctions: becoming a successful comedy writer in Hollywood, most notably, and fittingly, for “Married With Children,” and being the only person I have ever actually hit (deservedly and clumsily), which he found especially funny. Jeff lived on the next block, and he was part of the gang for a substantial time, during which he developed a crush on Ricky’s sister, which ended up getting him slapped. (Those were the only incidents of violence in our story.) I was lucky enough to reconnect with Jeff, who might have been the closest thing I had to an actual friend and who thinks I exaggerate some of my ineptness and other perspectives, and we are at least periodically in touch (though not often enough, so I’m going to be calling him after I finish this). Joey, who had started our relationship by bullying me (in a mild, Bronx Jewish sort of way), suddenly turned around and not only befriended me for a time, but was the one who hooked me up with the little posse. He was a part of it until he discovered girls, whom he found much more appealing than sports, and with whom he turned out to be considerably more successful. There were others, from the neighborhood and outliers, one of them being Stephen Adumkin. Stephen, who lived on Jeff’s block, was born with only one arm, yet by the time we met him he was almost the athlete that Alf was. Through a little browsing, I discovered that he had gone on to be named “the best New York City handicapped athlete in his age group,” became an accomplished card player, and died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 40.

This hadn’t been my first internet search. In addition to finding Jeff, I also traced Craig, who became a car dealer in Connecticut and Massachusetts, “Richard,” a technology CEO in New York, and Alfred, an extremely successful attorney, also in New York. The old neighborhood wasn’t the last place I had run into Alfred. As a result of all those days playing ball, I had become a pretty good softball pitcher in one of the fairly prestigious Central Park softball leagues, and, to my surprise, Alfred was a manager in the same league. We faced each other a few times, and my recollection is that I more often got the best of him. One of my greatest memories is the 2-0 shutout I pitched against the league’s best pitcher, “Slim,” and the league’s defending champions, The Kings, thanks to a great throw to the plate by our rightfielder and Daily News sports columnist, Wayne Coffey. Shutouts are virtually unheard of in modified fast pitch softball, and the signed game ball I left with became one of my most prized possessions… until it was destroyed when my house was burned down years later. But I still keep the simulated replica I made, that’s how important it was to me. And it was more important because Alf was sitting in the stands watching, and hopefully impressed. He had pretty much taught me to play sports. I have another memory, of an informal football game among the four of us, me and Alf against Craig and Ricky, and he called the unimaginable play: me going out for a long pass. Overweight and awkward as I was, I was so slow that it would be sunset by the time I got open. Nevertheless, he threw a pass that must have gone three times as high as it did far to compensate, and I somehow snatched it off my shoe tops while reaching back, followed by Craig yelling in amused amazement, “He caught it!” Obviously I still remember that moment. Alfred not only kind of coached me, he kind of accepted me. That is to say, he saved me. Without those social and athletic experiences, I was on a path to become that guy that Woody Allen described in “Annie Hall,” with the galoshes and shopping bag, drooling on a bench in Central Park instead of playing on a ballfield. I never expressed my appreciation, and I guess none was to be expected. But Alfred died, too, I was to find out, in 2014, also of a heart attack, a much admired crusader for justice in the legal profession, a much praised father, and an unsuspecting rescuer.

Mary Martinez was the secretary/bookkeeper at the Coney Island day care center where I was the Director. I inherited a staff of mostly underqualified and too complacent long-serving locals. Combined with the restricted budget that City child care programs operate with, the place was unfit for children. Over a few years I tried to improve the facilities, the teaching and the staffing. I wish I could say that I performed miracles, I wish I could say that I at the time had the experience and confidence to fully overcome entrenched interests, but, for what it’s worth, it did become the best day care center in the area while I was there. I showed caring, I connected with parents, I used a slush fund, I suffered a mugging, I made some decent hiring decisions (Stephon Marbury owes me big time for being sure to give his mother a permanent job before I left), and I did have the support of the Executive Director (whom I would end up dating twenty five years later, but that’s clearly another story). I certainly faced some skepticism, but not from Mary, who recognized and appreciated the attempts at change. Mary was devoted to the center and it’s kids… and to me. Or should I say, I think she was in love with me. She was a wonderful woman, married to an abusive man, and too humble and religious to do anything about it. She was a friend, and I relied on her.

Once I took her to lunch, and the staff, presumably aware of her feelings and/or her deprivation, suggested that the restaurant should have been a prelude to my apartment. I was hardly above sleeping with a married woman at the time (or twenty five years later), but this clearly wouldn’t have been right for her, despite how torn it was obvious that she was. When I came to resign, she expressed everything I had meant to the program and the children, but, as was her way, I guess her destiny, held back regarding herself. I should have stayed in touch with her. I think it would have made her very happy when, after bouncing around other, less successful administrative positions, I found my footing, and some success, as a college professor. I don’t think she was to ever be very happy. In researching the staff in another exercise in nostalgia, I found a page of a 2011 local newspaper. It contained a very brief tribute to the late Mary Martinez, to her last days a devoted bookkeeper at Roberta Bright Day Care Center and member of the Coney Island church and community, beloved by many, as she should have been, although perhaps not, were he still alive, by her husband. My good-bye to her, and my expressions of appreciation, and of other feelings I might have harbored, will forever remain distant and inadequate. But she remains one of the very best women, in so many ways, that I’ve ever known.

David Klein was a long-time, albeit intermittent friend. I met Dave, well, I met “Bear,” at my first try-out for a softball team in Central Park. Bear was a hulking, amiable, kind of goofy teammate. We started hanging out and getting high (sure, I did that then), going to movies, playing cards and expanding our circle when his childhood friend, Zack, who remains another too intermittent friend and football betting adversary of mine, returned. There was so much that was charming about Dave. And then there were things that were so annoying, things I understand better now. Dave had a troubled youth. Although I usually enjoyed his company (especially on those days when we would get stoned, play in the playground, pick up some chocolate cannolis and Chinese dumplings, and sit in the first row of the Kips Bay theater watching some stupid when unintoxicated comedy and pigging out), I didn’t like the way he, as I perceived it, tended to use people. I don’t think he ever quite understood that that’s what he was doing. After a few years, I began to grow resentful, and after he just took it too far with his relatively new wife, I, like she, ended up divorcing him. I’m not sure I myself was in any position for such moral outrage, but we parted company and I know that hurt him, as he continued to see me as a close friend.

I found out through our mutual friend that he had moved upstate with the rather young woman he had left his wife for, a relationship which I had apparently misjudged and didn’t turn out to be as unreasonable as I had imagined, and that after it ended he had met another very nice woman whom he was living with. I was told he had changed, and I hesitantly began to see that in the nature of the relationships he was attracting, in his very warm, intimate and positive Facebook postings, and in a couple of too brief attempts at recommunication. I was also told that he was in seriously ill health, first, that he had had a heart attack, and, second, that diabetes had led to the amputation of his legs. This last woman apparently was a saint, because even after their romance ended she stayed to care for him. But he was now isolated and lonely, with a small circle of acquaintances up there that he couldn’t even get out to see and who apparently didn’t go out of their way to see him. He really wanted the company of his old friends, and our mutual friend especially wanted to visit him, and asked if I would drive since he didn’t. By this time, we were talking a little more regularly, out of friendship as well as pity, but long drives did then, and continue to, unnerve me, and at the time even the prospect of a long trip didn’t play well with the stress and depression I was undergoing, so I had to say no to the visit. I probably didn’t care enough yet. I know that Zack deeply regrets having not seen Dave before he died, in 2012, also of a heart attack. So do I now, for all three of us. He had endured and overcome a lot, and rather than regressing or turning inward, the gentle, sensitive, fun and people loving soul that he really always had been is what will always best define his memory.

Matt Zavitkovsky became a friend in college. Well, actually, from what I understand, he, along with our to be mutual friend Joe, was commissioned to reach out to and recruit this novice to radical politics into the Maoist faction of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) to which he at the time belonged. I did hover there for a while, but we did in fact become good friends. Despite being a little younger, he was like the older brother I never had, in a way taking over for Alf as a more direct mentor. He taught me to dance, to smoke pot, to be a little more social and a little less anxious, and to develop a more precise, or distorted, depending on perception, understanding of socialism. Almost exactly a year later, we discovered that we were second cousins. From then on, and especially after we graduated and pursued different things, there were times when we were closer and periods when we were barely in touch, but our friendship spanned two full decades. It also continued in its original character, with him as the mentor and big brother, even when I no longer needed, or wanted, such a dynamic. Matt had to be right, even more than I did, and there was one time when I consciously held my ground through one of our debates. The nature of relationships, any kind of relationship, is hard to change, and I think that was the final straw, amidst other annoyances, some deserved, for him. He was to be co-best man, along with Joe, at my wedding, and I was to find out that he had planned to fulfill his obligation as if nothing was wrong and then never speak to me again, continuing a well established tradition in our family. And in fact we never spoke again. I did keep tabs on him through our friend, though, and it was all sad.

Matt had been a prodigy in so many ways. When I first met him, he was smart, sociable, handsome and multi-talented, playing several instruments in a band. He could have been an exceptional musician. When the computer revolution first began (after the revolution we had been planning for never did), he taught himself to become a skilled programmer, and what a career he could have had in the new technology. He attended nursing school and became a registered nurse, authored a few pieces for medical periodicals, and assisted a very prominent scientist, Lynn Margulis (Carl Sagan’s wife) in writing a textbook. He could have made it big in the medical or medical journalism fields. He attended Harvard Law School, and dropped out in the last semester, partly because of a bout with shingles, and partly because it appears that he could never see anything through, including what seemed, on the outside anyway, a really good relationship. He was a bit of a faddist, immersing himself in something (whether, literally, it was computers or cream cheese, music or mayonnaise, medicine or vanilla yogurt, the law or goldfish crackers), and then, just as quickly and thoroughly, abandoning it. The young man with the unlimited potential took a “safe” civil service job, with the good looks shaved his enviable curly hair (again partly due to the shingles) and grew obese, with the energetic sociability became a virtual recluse, and with the wealth of interests and talents evolved into a tight-walleted scavenger and hoarder. I got a call from Joe in 2005 telling me that he had died alone, also from a heart attack, and it took several days for his body to have been discovered. So many broken hearts, figuratively and literally…. But it needs to be noted that while he was here, Matt accomplished much, touched many people and served as a model both of all of the characteristics of greatness and of mistakes and demons to be avoided in its pursuit. He certainly changed my life, overwhelmingly for the better.

I couldn’t complete this piece without commemorating two other, extremely important people to me, my grandfather and my father. As with all of the above, but, of course, even more deeply, I wish I had told them some of what I am telling you now.

Samuel Kravitt, better known to me as “Kapu,” was my maternal grandfather, and my male role model. In a Jewish family with no masculine right of passage other than going through the Bar Mitzvah motions (which I believe included the kosher chicken dance along with the hora), here was someone who had buddies and had played ball (first base without a glove no less), and smoked and drank and gambled. In reality he didn’t drink or gamble to any excess, and the womanizing that I had also believed to be part of this oh so naughtily goyishe persona was purely due to my mother’s tendency toward gross miscommunication. Regardless, I idolized him. But, really, not for any of that. I adored him because he adored me. I was the only grandchild, and he doted on me. He took me on mail trolley rides in the Post Office he worked in. He bought me rock candy. He was the aggressive card player that I modeled myself after when our family played Bridge. He was my favorite family member, and, unfortunately, I made no secret of it. But once I was mad at him for something, and my mother told me about how he had walked a long distance rather than ride the bus so he could save the nickel to buy me a comic book. Obviously, I’ve never forgotten the guilt. When I was seventeen and in the process of radicalization, he and I would have hurtful arguments over his old world racism and my new world lengthening hair. Given that and my age, I don’t remember us ever being as close again. Just a couple of years later, in 1970, I was alone in the house when the phone rang. It was our family doctor, telling us he had died, of a heart attack. He had been in ill health for some time, which is what my mother had been trying to communicate when she set loose my imagination by vaguely referring to the “trouble” my grandmother had with him that I “don’t want to know.” I had to tell my mother. And mourning him was difficult for me, despite the fact that I don’t seem to feel things as deeply as some, except anxiety, and things on television, although I respond as if I do. But there was the guilt, over our last years and my misunderstanding, to help it stew.

As is too common the case, I started to appreciate him more after he was gone and as the years passed. He worked two jobs, supporting my grandmother and mother, and was as generous and devoted and funny and kind as a friend, husband, father or grandfather can be. He would have come around on racism, as my mother and father and grandmother, sequentially, did when I announced I would be marrying a Black woman. He loved too much not to. Once I went to a psychic and asked if he could conjure up his spirit. Allegedly possessing it, he smiled and gave me a playful “zetz” on the chin. I pretty much dismissed it, until I recently read about this psychic, his life and the attestations to his legitimacy. Now I don’t know. Despite the rationalism that usually trumps my curiosities toward spiritualism, I have felt, since my twenties, that some thing/one was watching over me. I was told by this same psychic that it was a woman relative. My girlfriend talks about angels. I am about to speak with Arvel Bird about my animal spirit guides. My acupuncturist believes in them, too. Yet I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that, if there is someone or something, it could be anyone or anything but my grandfather. It’s what he would do if he could.

Joseph Weber was my father. This will be the hardest one. There was so much I didn’t understand. If anything, my father, a gentle man, was even more self-sacrificing than my grandfather, in fact, too self-sacrificing. His wife and his child were his world. He dropped out of college to also work in the post office, which he came to hate. I don’t think he had much of a sense of self. He was funny, mechanically talented, and smarter than he ever realized; my cousin wasn’t the only one with unfulfilled potential. My mother was the “strong” one in our family. Her need was to have people dependent on her, as my father was, as my grandmother was after her husband died, and as I had to break away from. I blamed her for that, I blamed him for his weakness. He was anxious, like guess who, and self-doubting, like guess who, and wasn’t the male role model my young self was looking for, never mind that after all of my libertine overcompensations I ultimately turned out so much like him in such significant, probably mostly good ways. I think that my son can thank him for my becoming as devoted a father as I believe I have been, and my students for the ethic and sacrifice, and anxiety and guilt, I have put into my teaching. I judged him immaturely. I didn’t appreciate that two people could be happy in their marriage and with each other, or good parents if they didn’t fit some traditional stereotype that was convenient for their son, or that he could be a “real man” by fulfilling his responsibilities to family and being a humble person of honesty, decency and generosity.

Yes, they were both limited in their own ways in their abilities to understand and help their boy child socio-emotionally, as that was their weakness as well, but they gave everything they could and more, and how many of us can write about having had two parents who were good people, utterly committed and gently supportive, and in undying love? Sometimes my personal frustrations and projected blame hurt him, but he took it. He also took great pride in me. He only spanked me twice, both times because I had been disrespectful to my mother, reaching for the masculine identity of her (albeit unnecessary) “protector.” During the later years of his life, after a breakdown, his retirement from his job, and the loss of another piece of his identity, that of fatherhood, with the moving out and rebellion from his son, he then found himself, instead of enjoying his “golden years,” being dragged around with my mother to respond to every needy whim of his mother-in-law. When I called, he would quickly recite some pleasantries, then pass the phone to my mother. We hardly talked. We never exchanged “I love you’s.” I started to appreciate him more and reached out meagerly, but we were too distanced. He died, of a heart attack, unexpectedly in the middle of the night in 1999. I went in to teach the next day. I miss him now, even just hearing his voice during those phone calls, and wish I had understood, and… well, you know… said so many things I never thought or got to say. I don’t see or talk to my ninety year old mother often enough, and we don’t know how to exchange “I love you’s” either. But I do tell my son.

So what is this blog all about? It’s probably about that bunch of cliches about being grateful for the presence of people in your life while you have them, and telling them how you feel, and trying to understand and appreciate and forgive them, and realizing how precious and vulnerable life is, and how nostalgic yet unforgiving memories can be. And it’s, of course, about my psychology, and maybe in some ways yours, too. Well, at least you’ve met these people now. The need to write this came to me while I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. Now I have. I wonder if sleep will come easier tonight.

Without Reservation

I attended the annual Shinnecock Pow Wow twice this Labor Day weekend. I look forward to this special event throughout the year, sometimes finding myself counting the months until it would arrive. I can’t fully explain why it affects me the way it does, but my intention here is to try.

I started to develop some kind of affinity for or connection with Native cultures in my early twenties, as I continued the process of re-education from the stereotypes and lies I had learned in school. But as sympathetic, hopefully empathetic, as I may have felt with African Americans or the Vietnamese, this was somehow different, different from that and different, I think, from the romanticized fantasies that were not uncommon among hippies of my time. Spirituality has always had difficulty breaking through my “rationality.” But I did, if somewhat skeptically, take a past life regression workshop back then, convinced that if I saw anything it would be the life of a Native American. I’m too over-controlled to be very susceptible to hypnosis, but when I blurred my eyes sufficiently while looking in the mirror, I thought that just maybe I may have envisioned a grizzled fur trapper, someone who would at least have had dealings with Native Americans, the next best thing, or wishful thinking. I started wearing Native jewelry, but was at least smart and aware enough to dismiss a prevailing idea that through dress one could “become an Indian.”

When I started teaching young children, I became particularly sensitive to the Fall period from Columbus Day to Thanksgiving. I resisted the stereotypical crafts and books, instead finding Nathaniel Benchley’s “Small Wolf,” an imperfect but better alternative to the books being used by other teachers, and creating some activities that were intended to remove the inappropriate and dehumanizing elements so commonly relied on. According to what research I have done, there still is really no book for young children that counters the misrepresentations rampant in the Eurocentric library of “holiday books.” Developing one has been one of the writing projects in the back of my mind for some time, especially after publishing “Not for Hurting,” my children’s book on the other poorly represented subject, war. After this weekend, I am now fired up to find a way to approach it, and have already played with a few ideas. I am still hoping to undertake this with a Native American collaborator, for obvious reasons.

As an early childhood teacher educator, I came in with some “agendas,” albeit none that were not in the true spirit of the field. I wanted my suburban, somewhat less than heterogeneous students to be sensitized to realities they may have been sheltered from. So I launched an annual toy drive for homeless children, and I introduced into the curriculum books by Jonathan Kozol, a fighter for educational equality whose eightieth birthday just happens to be today. I also, as well as trying to generally align the course to affirm equality and diversity, integrated a lecture I had been giving as an educational consultant on the hidden messages of holidays, among other subtle symbols of prejudice and discrimination lurking within the calendar, classroom and curriculum. Each semester I take my students on a journey from Columbus Day to Thanksgiving to Christmas to President’s Day. I don’t tell them what to believe, I share alternative perspectives and resources and tell them to seek truth on their own, because to be a teacher one needs to know before one can teach. I also don’t tell them what to do, I share with them what I did and suggest that they follow their own senses of integrity and creativity.

When my son was born, it became more personal, not that it necessarily needed to be. Whatever may or may not be within my spirit or have been in a previous incarnation, he is unspeculatively part Cherokee. When he was in Kindergarten, I and the other parents waiting to pick up their children watched from the vestibule as one class after another paraded down the hall wearing the same inaccurate, stereotypical and cheapening paper headdresses (“Indian hats”) that I had made when I was in nursery school. On a positive note, one of the teachers happened to have been a former student of mine and her children had not been subjected to this ignorant project. We were handed a flyer which announced that in recognition of the time of year, a “Pow Wow” would subsequently be held in the gym for the children and their families. I wrote a letter to the Principal, essentially communicating the following. Imagine, I suggested, that the upcoming holiday was not a day boycotted by many Native Americans, as Thanksgiving is, but, say, a holiday boycotted by Jews. What better way to handle that than to have a mock religious ceremony, trivialized in a school gymnasium, replete with paper yarmulkes whose authentic appearance teachers didn’t even bother to research, decorated by some sacred religious symbols done as a careless craft project, and punctuated by some music which “sounded Jewish”… all to celebrate a holiday that the Jewish community wanted no part of? To her credit, she did circulate at least part of the letter to her staff. On a less positive note, the tradition is still going on sixteen years later.

So, back to the present. Something came over me this weekend, as evidenced by this blog. For whatever reason, I always find myself more at peace and more at home when I come to the reservation than I do anywhere else, with the exception of Woodstock, which I can at least visit whenever I like and can afford. At least in part, the part I can “know,” it’s the smell of the white sage, the beat of the drums, the valuing of the children, and, mostly, the welcomingness, diversity and “ways” of the people. I was smudged for the first time, and felt something instantaneously, a sense of calm and connectedness which usually escapes me. Was it all in my mind, I don’t know, what’s “real” anyway? I (pardon the expression) “discovered” Arvel Bird, whose musicianship, storytelling, messages and being touched me powerfully. I saw children running free and dancing with respect, an abundance of artwork and craftwork, jewelry and clothing, blankets and oils that I wanted to take with me, and a red sunset. I did buy a magnificent carved and beaded cane for a mutual friend, Kokopelli earrings for my girlfriend, a “Cherokee Prayer” plaque for my son, and a couple of Arvel Bird CD’s, one for myself and one for my acupuncturist, who had just given me as a gift an elegant black and white Native print.

But I didn’t want to leave. Part of me was asking, “Why go home when you’re already there?” As I said, I am quite well aware that no matter what I wear (and I have two beautiful pieces of Native jewelry, a ring and a watchband, that my girlfriend bought me and I wear every day, along with the perfect denim jacket adorned with delicately stitched important Native symbols, and moccasins that I put on just for this occasion), or what I might ever feel or believe, I am not, nor shall I ever be, Indian. I envy my son for his triraciality, at least until we ever become post-racial, which will not be in my lifetime. But, while trying not to romanticize the realities as those hippies of yesteryear once did, I might be dissuaded from my fairly long-standing dream of moving to Woodstock were I able to spend my days in this environment and with these people, maybe working with them in some capacity if not being welcomed to live with them as an outsider. I certainly don’t want to minimize poverty, but I also can’t ignore my poverty of the spirit. My first book was about going through the chapters of finding one’s true and whole self, and where and with whom one belongs. This should be one of the chapters. It’s too late, though, at least for the book.

For My Palestinian Student, Teacher and Friend

(I posted this on the Facebook page of a friend who happens to be a devout Palestinian Muslim. Its intention is that our friendship serve as an example to others of her friends and mine of possibilities that exist in this growingly divided, hateful, chaotic and violent world, even at its epicenter. I have changed her name to “Mudarris,” which means “teacher” in Arabic.)

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while now, but decided to wait until the right time. My understanding is that Mudarris will be leaving to go back to Jordan at the end of the month, so I think this is that time. I hope, Mudarris, that you find it appropriate, otherwise you can delete it.

Mudarris was my Education student in three classes, and one of my best. In addition to her intelligence and decency, she always seemed to take to and agree with my philosophy of teaching and I always admired the things she wrote and said. But I’m not writing this to commend Mudarris, as remarkable as she is; that I can and will do privately. I have something more to say.

Mudarris and I have become friends, and in addition to substantial agreements on an approach to teaching, I think we have substantial agreements on an approach to living. I am Jewish… and an atheist. To me those things are irrelevant to the values one exhibits in one’s dealings with people and issues. Maybe I should tell you a little about myself before I continue.

I wasn’t raised with either a sense of religion or of nationalism (of any kind). In the 1960’s I was dramatically changed as a person. I became an activist against war and for civil rights and social justice. It became important to me to surround myself with a diversity that had been missing, and to be consistent, without blinders, regarding my principles. As such, I began to learn about the plight of the Palestinian people and came to support their struggle for justice.

It was common practice during those times for radical political organizations to set up tables of literature for passing students. Learning in college was not about what happened in the classroom then, it was about finding our place in and our potential impact on the world. As I remember it, a new manifesto or constitution had just been published by the PLO, and I wanted a copy for our table, to show students, who were disproportionately white and quite possibly Jewish at the time (until we closed down the campus to force open admissions), that they would not find the words “drive the Jews into the sea” as any kind of current and official position. So I went down to the PLO headquarters near Grand Central Station and introduced myself and my mission to the representative. Given that they had just been printed, he had only one copy. And he gave it to me (this was before affordable copy machines) on my promise to return it, having just met me and knowing I was Jewish, but apparently appreciative of my purpose.

I have never forgotten that gesture. I have, ever since, debated and written about “the Palestinian question,” fought against anti-Islamic prejudice and discrimination, and dreamed of and worked (albeit in small ways) for a world in which we, the “seed of Abraham,” the Semites, would rediscover our common roots and bonds, histories of oppression and aspirations for our children. I once organized a luncheon for the victims of a hate crime right around the corner from our College after 9/11, and demonstrated at the site of the mosque that was proposed near Ground Zero that met with so much ignorant opposition. It is painful for me, as a Jew, to hear the stereotypes and lies that have followed my people for millenia being perpetuated because the government and too many people of the Jewish state have acted so inhumanely and uncharacteristically based on the tenets that we are supposed to believe in. It is equally painful for me, as a human being, to hear the stereotypes and lies that have been cast at Muslims, also for centuries but of course especially now because of those who have acted so inhumanely and uncharacteristically based on the tenets that they are supposed to believe in.

From the time that my ancestors were driven from their homeland, not for the first time, by the Romans, we have suffered characterizations ranging from “Christ killers” to “money grubbers” to a secret conspiracy of evil that rules the world. These myths of bigotry, like all myths of bigotry against any persecuted peoples, were used to justify atrocities, including the exile, the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms and ultimately The Holocaust. Muslims, based on other myths of bigotry, suffered the Crusades, their own pogroms, exiles and attacks, and ultimately the likes of “Shock and Awe” throughout the Middle East and roundups and persecutions in America. We should understand one another. In fact, we should be united.

I understand that there is a fine line between “terrorists” and freedom fighters, as there was in Ireland, and, for that matter, America when it fought the British. I also understand the reality and legitimacy of feelings of rage, desperation, powerlessness and limited options, and that bombs and drones, kill lists and black sites are terrorism, too, in fact the most egregious. Nonetheless, there is a line, there has to be.

This is my perspective. My ancestors wanted a country of their own. They felt that it was God-given, that it had been taken from them, and that it was the only way they could defend themselves against eternal persecution. I would have preferred had the Allied powers carved up Germany and made half of it a Jewish state instead of a military outpost for the West. But I am not religious. There were those, Zionists in its original meaning, who believed that their Bible decreed that the Jewish state be in Palestine. I do believe that while some among the Zionist movement were imperialists, many were following an honest religious belief. They were told by their leaders that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land.” It’s not very different from the European settlers who came to the New World having been told that it was largely unpopulated except by “savages” who didn’t know how to use the land anyway, and that it was their “Manifest Destiny” as ordained by God, to have America for their own.

Once they got to Palestine, they had to realize that they had been lied to. Some, like those in the Irgun and Stern Gang, became terrorists, and committed massacres and forced exiles. Some, like in the Haganah, while being the more moderate, certainly gave tacit permission for and willful ignorance of what was happening. Many of the Jewish immigrants were scared, exhausted, even barely surviving their tortures. Was it hypocrisy to allow to be done to the Palestinian people what had just been done to them, of course. Some used religious justification for retaking the land, and what happens when two peoples both believe that God is on their side and has bestowed to them the same land? Would it be moral to send many if not most of the immigrants back to Germany, Russia, etc. and return it to the Palestinians? One could make that argument, just as one could make the argument that Europeans should be returned to Europe and America returned to the Native Americans. But time, for better or worse, always obscures morality with practicality. How far back do we honor claims? So what’s the solution from my perspective?

To me, the practical solution is easy. at least easy to conceptualize, albeit not accomplish. Israel has to pull back all of the settlements to at least the 1967 boundaries, cease all acts of martial law in exchange for a permanent, mutual cease fire, supervised if necessary, and recognize a Palestinian state in the otherwise occupied territories of sufficient size and cultivatability to allow a Palestinian economy to flourish. With temporary neutral international monitoring that seems very doable. I would also make Jerusalem an international city. Again, I’m not religious, so that’s easy for me to say. People who believe that God granted them the city would undoubtedly not be so easily convinced, and I don’t have a good answer for that. Look, I’m not an historian, nor a geographer, I’m just someone who wants people to stop killing and dying, misunderstanding and hating each other, and have our children taught to and be able to live in peace. I would love to be further educated, because I am the first one to admit to my relative ignorance of other perspectives. I just want each reader to believe that everything I have expressed is heart felt and free of any agendas other than one simple one, love.

And back to Mudarris, I want to again express my respect and admiration, not only for what she has accomplished here, but for her courage and self-sacrifice in her desire to bring her gifts and what she has learned back to the needy children of Jordan and hopefully, one day soon, Palestine. First and foremost, I wish her safety and peace. However, I recognize that America isn’t the safest and most pleasant place for Muslims these days or for the foreseeable future, and I promise that I will continue to speak out, to those who support Trump and those who support Netanyahu, to Americans in general and particularly Jewish people because that is my special responsibility, against words and acts of hate or ignorance. The world would be so much better if people took responsibility within their own “families,” if Whites took the lead in educating other Whites about the stereotypes and history of prejudice that affect Blacks, so Blacks wouldn’t have to, if Anglos took the lead in educating other Anglos about the stereotypes and history of prejudice that affect Latinos, so Latinos wouldn’t have to, if Straights took the lead in educating other Straights about the stereotypes and history of prejudice that affect Gays, so Gays wouldn’t have to, if Jews took the lead in educating other Jews about the stereotypes and history of prejudice that affect Muslims, so Muslims wouldn’t have to, and if Muslims took the lead in educating other Muslims about the stereotypes and history of prejudice that have affected Jews, so that Jews wouldn’t have to. And please be aware that there are many, an increasing number of Jews, inside and outside of Israel, who do condemn its policies. It is in the tradition of the Jewish people, with this one glaring exception, to side with the oppressed, and I am proud of our tradition of commitment to education, free thinking, progressive politics and compassion (and guilt). It is my job to teach them to remove their blinders and, despite defensiveness and bias, remember that.

To Mudarris, I hope we remain friends and keep in touch across the waters. I am eager to find out about your accomplishments, which I know will be outstanding. And I hope you are happy with what I have written here, as I would like to think that our friendship provides just a little example of hope that we can all begin to see our differences as opportunities for learning and enrichment in the context of our common humanity, rather than divisions that scare and silence us, although ultimately we are just two people who had the good fortune to meet. Best wishes to you and your family on a safe trip and fulfilling futures.

 

Baseball and Boycotts: Suffolk County Community College Earns an “F” on LGBT Rights

I have been a faculty member of Suffolk Community College for more than a quarter century. I have served on their Faculty Senate, their Academic Standards Committee, their Student Liaison Committee, their Curriculum Committee, their Diversity Committee and their Academic Integrity Committee. In addition to having taught seven different courses in and helping to redesign their Early Childhood Education Program, I have been Co-Coordinator of the Academic Advisement and Mentoring Center, I have taught in their College Success Program, I have participated in workshops on multiculturalism and the first year student experience, and I have designed a game for the College website which serves as an interactive “map” for students of the College’s components, functions, requirements and supports. I have been loyal, but I have rarely hesitated to speak out when College policies and decisions have run counter to their stated mission, as they frequently have. And now I find myself ashamed of the institution to which I have devoted more than half of my adult life.

Last week, the Board of Trustees, essentially an unreachable group of appointees, voted that the College baseball team be “allowed” to travel to North Carolina, in the face of the nationwide boycott against its new discriminatory laws against the LGBT community, because, since the team is partially paid for by student fees, it is “not covered” under the New York State ban on interstate commerce with North Carolina in support of LGBT rights. In other words, since students are paying to collude with discrimination rather than solely the taxpayers, that’s somehow okay. Their unanimous vote clearly misses the point, and undoubtedly deliberately so. The issue is not whether they “could” go, it was whether they should. They could have ruled that the College stands in opposition to discrimination and, therefore, the Board directs its components to abide by the sanctions against North Carolina. Or, in recognition of the fact that the College is supposed to be an institution of learning, it could have drafted an advisory statement on discrimination, including specifics about the new law and an historical perspective on previous boycotts, including those in the world of sports. It chose to do neither. And one has to wonder just how committed they are to supporting the rights of all people when it was just a year ago when they voted to ignore another boycott in support of the LGBT community, and contracted with Chick-Fil-A, whose profits derived from those student fees are donated to anti-LGBT groups and causes.

Whether one calls their statement a cop-out or a sell-out, they violated their own mission statement, which reads, “Suffolk County Community College promotes intellectual discovery, physical development, social and ethical awareness, and economic opportunities for all through an education that transforms lives, builds communities, and improves society.” One can see phrases like “ethical awareness,” “build(ing) communities” and “improv(ing) society,” all of which the decision made a mockery of, but where do we find anything about, say, “ignoring the plights of others in the privileged pursuit of the personal fruits of competition?” Allegedly the buck was passed to the ballplayers themselves, and if there had been a responsible, facilitated dialogue about the matter, that could have made for an empowering teachable moment. But as far as I am aware, no such dialogue ever took place, even after I reached out via email to the College President, the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, the Director of Athletics, the Coach of the baseball team, the Faculty Advisors of the LGBTQ student club, the Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, Faculty Governance and its Chair, and the Faculty Advisor of Student Governance. What resulted was the typical silence that has too often been Suffolk’s history.

I recognize that these kids would have been put into a position to sacrifice something that at the moment was big to them. But don’t we teach that sacrifice can be noble? Don’t we want them to see that there are things that are bigger than themselves? Should we turn away so they can have their moment in the sun while others are reaching out from a storm? Do we buy into the national model of having the athletic tail wagging the academic dog and making ethical exemptions for athletes, who bring money and “prestige,” or do we continue the values that these kids once were taught in little leagues and junior soccer, that what’s most important is “how you play the game?” Which course would have been more likely to have had the greater impact on the adult citizens they become, and don’t we have more than enough self-centeredness, obliviousness, privilege, mispriorities and division in our society without making decisions which do nothing but contribute to their continuation? And which would be better advertising for the College’s recruitment and reputation, that we won yet another sports award, or that when push came to shove we stood on principle? I am disappointed in the ballplayers that played in my name, but I am more disappointed for them. A perfect opportunity for substantive learning. about tough decision making, about values, about one’s place in the world, was blown. And that’s a tragedy for an institution of “higher” learning.

The Case Against Clinton: Why Hillary Is an Unacceptable Alternative

With the rigged nomination process reaching its inevitable conclusion, we are once again being manipulated with the fear tactics that make us postpone our principles for another four years and resign ourselves to “the lesser of two evils.”  Yes, minor differences can make major differences in the lives of vulnerable people, say with Supreme Court nominations.  But many of us have been waiting for forty five years for another progressive and idealistic youth movement to emerge, and we cannot tell them to settle and wait.  Now that they have looked behind the curtain, we cannot provide cover for the power brokers anymore.  Now that they have turned around and beheld the light, we cannot divert them back to the shadows cast on the cave wall by the puppet masters.  We have to have long term vision, and to achieve it, to realize solutions that will finally end the cycles of fear and powerlessness and pain, we have to stop believing what the corporate media, CNN (the Clinton News Network), the sell-outs at MSNBC and the unabashed liars at Fox News, tells us.  Donald Trump is scary, no question.  But the deeper one looks at what they can actually get done, and what they would want to get done, the more one begins to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is in fact not “the lesser of two evils” at all, and that the Democratic Party, by nature of the plutocracy, will always be part of the problem rather than the solution.  And here is why.

  1. Hillary Clinton is a war hawk. She supported the invasion of Iraq, and without even reading the intelligence because she wanted to appear “tough” in foreign policy to advance her own political ambitions, which is the only thing she has ever cared about. She counseled Obama to widen the war in Afghanistan, to force regime change in Libya and to be more militaristic in dealing with Iran, all allegedly against Biden’s advice, and as a result ISIS has grown and been armed, and weapons have been collaboratively smuggled from Libya to Turkey. Now she wants a no-fly zone in Syria and to be more aggressive in the Ukraine, not to mention against the Palestinians, putting us into direct conflict with Russia. Her Foundation has raked in millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, China and other “bad actors,” including anonymous ones lying in the shadows of international geopolitics. We don’t really know all of the covert alliances and abominations that go on in the world, but we can “safely” assume that she is somewhere in the middle of them. Accordingly, her tenure as Secretary of State was praised by Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney, while being criticized by Jimmy Carter for a complete absence of initiatives for peace.
  1. She has gotten millions of dollars herself from Wall Street and the banking, insurance, pharmaceutical, fossil fuel and educational profiteering lobbies. She claims they haven’t influenced her, but Elizabeth Warren tells us that in the nineties she had warned the then First Lady about a pending bankruptcy bill that would have been a windfall for credit card companies and a disaster for consumers. As a result, she convinced her husband to veto the bill, but then she became Senator and the money from the lobbyists started pouring in, and magically she flip-flopped, like she has on every single issue, and voted for the bill. She claims that all of the money from the fossil fuel industry has come from “the workers,” but as Secretary of State she tried to force fracking around the world, and still supports fracking, which poisons the drinking water as much as in Flint. She also refused to take a position on the Pipeline until it was politically untenable to support it. In the nineties she aided in the push to deregulation, helping her masters further, and also helping to cause the economic collapse after the Clintons left office, and then blamed it on those taking out mortgages, not the banks. She supported the dismantling of Glass-Steagall, and refuses to release the transcripts from the closed door Wall Street speeches she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for, even though no one remaining in the race has made any such speeches to release with her. And she supported every trade deal written by multinational corporations for their own profit and to the detriment of American workers.  Previously, she had sat on the Board of Walmart and did nothing about the slave wages and lack of benefits of their workers, and was an attorney for Monsanto and defended their toxic agricultural and environmental practices.
  1. She claims to be a champion of the LGBT community, but was against same-sex marriage until the polls swung in favor. She claims to be a champion of women, but as an attorney she got the rapist of a twelve year old girl off with a slap on the wrist by putting the young girl’s sexual fantasies on trial, and then laughing about it in a subsequent interview. She savaged the courageous women who stood up to her husband’s predatory behavior. And she has always, and continues to this day, to pay women working for her less than men, and treats them like crap. She claims to be a champion of the African American community, but didn’t hesitate to play the race card not once but four times against Obama during the contentious South Carolina primary eight years ago. She built her career working for a segregationist, and praised the career of Senator Robert Byrd, much of which was spent as a Grand Dragon of the KKK. The criminal justice “reforms” she helped her husband draft have had a devastating effect on inner city minority youth, whom she once referred to as “superpredators,” and, as a footnote, she still supports capital punishment, which almost the entire civilized world has come to reject, along with private prisons and, of course, the Patriot Act. She actually traveled with her husband to witness the execution of a mentally challenged man whom he refused to pardon so that they could look “tough” on crime, again solely for the sake of personal ambition. She claims to be a champion of gun victims, but do you remember when Obama nicknamed her “Annie Oakley” for her defense of guns and coziness with the NRA? And she claims to be a champion of children, but that didn’t stop her from saying that poor children fleeing war, oppression and poverty in their native Latin American countries, largely due to American foreign policy, should be sent back to their deaths “to send a message.” She also supports the destruction of the public school system through privatization, having received lots of money from the charter school billionaires. And she helped her husband draft a welfare “reform” bill outlined by the Republicans which killed “Aid to Dependent Children” and has created abject shadow poverty, primarily for children. People support her because of her “experience.” But as Senator from New York, she authored not one piece of legislation. She doesn’t like her handiwork noticed, or her positions pinned to her.
  1. She is a pathological liar. Remember when she claimed she ducked sniper fire in Bosnia, claims which she embellished more and more in every speech, even when video surfaced showing her strolling the tarmac in the unbulleted sunshine greeting children? How about when she claimed at the most recent debate that she always supported the $15 minimum wage when all one had to do was replay the past debates to hear her say the opposite? How about when she claimed that Chelsea was jogging around the World Trade Center on 9/11, or when she claimed that all of her grandparents were immigrants, or when she claimed that much of what was on her email server was correspondence with her husband when he has made it clear that he never uses email, or when she claimed to have been a civil rights worker, or when she claimed that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary? How about when she was caught in her claim that Bernie Sanders’ Vermont was the chief supplier of guns used in crimes in New York? How about her flip-flops on everything from the environment to criminal justice, war to trade, guns to gay rights, deregulation to desegregation? Not a single genuine word comes out of her mouth, it’s all completely calculated and self-interested.
  1. She, her machine and the DNC have conspired to fix this nomination. There is documentation across the country of voter suppression, of covert disenfranchisements and party re-affiliations, of electoral fraud and illegal electioneering, of hidden ballots and deceitful robocalls, of closed polls and rigged machines, and of monetary and informational collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign, all to Clinton’s benefit. And then there are the superdelegates, many of whom are lobbyists for the banks, the fossil fuel industry, etc. Just read about the controversies in Nevada, Iowa and New York, among other states. And the oligarchy is taking good care of her, from the SuperPacs, including not only those that previously supported the Clinton cousins, the Bushes, and Marco Rubio, but the infamous Koch Brothers, to George Clooney’s $350,000 a plate dinner and the $100,000 a head benefit by the heir to the Rothschild fortune.

I hope you will join me in going Green and voting for Dr. Jill Stein for President.  We have to build a progressive, independent and uncorrupt force to serve as an alternative to the two-party duopoly.  There is no more time and there really is no other legitimate choice.

Time to Go Green: An Endorsement of Dr. Jill Stein for President

Time to Go Green

An Endorsement of Dr. Jill Stein for President

So it’s all over. Bernie Sanders’ campaign was sabotaged into hopelessness, and all indications now are that he will be a “good Democrat,” stop the anti-oligarchist attacks on Hillary, and “do everything he can” to make sure a Republican isn’t elected. Yes, I supported him. Hell, I voted for Obama the first go-round, too. Since the sixties, when I was a young radical, I have known that the two-party duopoly serves the same interests, and more often than not, over the years, I went third party instead of falling for the “lesser of two evils” fear tactic. But I was always a little torn. After all, even small differences can have a large impact on the lives of vulnerable people. Take the Supreme Court, the example most conflicted progressives cite to justify the postponement of their ideals for one more election.

In 2000, I voted for Nader. Then the Bush Coup became apparent, we had “Shock and Awe” in Iraq, Al Gore subsequently moved to the left (not the first Democratic candidate to seemingly snap out of a political coma once the election was over and lost), and I questioned my decision. When Obama ran, I wanted to believe. I mean, electing the first African American President surely would at least send a symbolic message, and here was someone who had not only been a community organizer, but had worked with Bill Ayers, for God sake. So I suspended my belief that any viable candidate who claimed to want to qualitatively change the system would either be a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a dead duck. And, like ol’ Bill Clinton before him, a once idealistic young man showed that, somewhere along the way, he had sold out. We have had the most secretive Administration in history, the most deportations, drones, military expansion, secret wars and black sites, trade deals, renewal of the Patriot Act, little but lip service for the poor, minorities or the environment, and a sell-out to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries after a closed door meeting no sooner than he had moved his furniture in.

And that should have done it. It should have confirmed everything I kind of knew that I really knew. But then Bernie Sanders comes along. He’s a socialist. His record seems reasonably clean, although not unblemished by what could have been some bad but honest decisions. And that long-awaited third wave of a student movement, the descendants of the children of the sixties, and, to a lesser extent, the eighties, starts to emerge from the disconnect and apathy. So once again, let’s play ball on the home field of the plutocracy. As of this writing, I don’t know, and we may never know, whether Bernie was the real deal or a smokescreen. Regardless, now his campaign is on life support, yet his young followers want to keep “Bernie or Bust” alive, confusing a cult of personality with a movement of principle. Some will write him in, ignoring the fact that some states don’t allow the practice, and the reality that if so many votes for a candidate actually on the ballot can be taken away one can only imagine how many write-in votes would merely be discarded. Some want him to run as an independent, which he won’t do, but even if he did, perhaps in the event that the Republicans split, too, what would we be left with after his inevitable loss?

Some will succumb to the fear, yet again, and fall in line with the Democratic National Committee. But how can a former Sanders supporter vote for someone: who is for the death penalty, traveled with her husband to watch the execution of a severely mentally disabled man, and helped architect a criminal justice reform initiative that has devastated inner city, minority communities; who supported the war in Iraq, was instrumental in the expansion in Afghanistan and regime change in Libya, and now wants a no-fly zone in Syria, setting up a confrontation with Russia; who has raked in millions from Wall Street and other national and international financial powers, has refused to release the transcripts of her closed door speeches for which she was paid hundreds of thousands, and despite her claims to the contrary, was clearly influenced by these donations, whether it be the flip-flop on the bankruptcy bill for credit card companies that Elizabeth Warren exposed or her aggressive promotion of fracking here and around the world; who built her career working for a segregationist, was not above playing the race card not once but four times during the contentious South Carolina primary against Obama, and referred to inner city youth as “superpredators” then and engages in raised-voice confrontations with instead of listening to African American activists today; who pretends to be a champion of LGBT rights yet opposed same-sex marriage until polls moved in their favor, pretends to be a champion of women but who got a slap on the wrist for the rapist of a twelve year old girl by lying that she had made false accusations before and putting the girl’s sexual fantasies on trial (and then laughing about it in a later interview), and pretends to be a champion of children but argued that Latin American children who successfully escaped their dangerous and impoverished countries (thanks in large part to American intervention) should be sent back to “send a message”; who has flip-flopped on every single issue, from the environment to criminal justice to foreign policy to trade to deregulation to guns, etc.; who is a pathological liar, who claimed to have ducked sniper fire in Bosnia until (and even after) footage showed her strolling down the tarmac in the bright sunshine greeting children, who claimed to have always supported the $15 minimum wage even though in previous debate she quite specifically argued against it, and who claimed that most of those emails still hanging over her head, and ours, were communication with her husband even though it’s well known that he doesn’t use email; and who has, in conspiracy with the DNC and her own massive machine, stolen this primary through voter suppression and mysterious party reaffiliations, hidden ballots and illegal campaigning, and SuperPacs and superdelegates.

Some will even vote for Trump, for various reasons whose logic I am still working on, but, nonetheless, a calculation I believe to be morally repugnant, given his history of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, ruthless and failed business practices, ignorance, incitement of violence, statements in support of torture and the killing of family members of suspected terrorists, and positions that would shred the Constitution and lay the groundwork for fascism. So that leaves us with one constructive option: voting for Dr. Jill Stein and building the Green Party as an alternative to the two-party trap, one that already has a framework and ballot access, a progressive platform stronger and more consistent than Bernie’s, and no baggage requiring future ethical dilemmas. No, she won’t win, but it’s about long-term building so that we might have what other, more democratic nations have, a real choice of parties and positions. If we keep voting for “the lesser of the two evils,” then we shouldn’t be surprised that we continue to end up with evil. If we keep giving into short-term fear, then we have no long-term hope. We survived “The Reagan Revolution.” We survived “The Bush Coup.” I suspect we would even survive “The Trump Reality Show.” We would fight back against it, but, as compelling as the argument that little differences matter may be, there is the counter-argument that it’s only when we stop masking the system that it is exposed for what it really is.

So the hell with the DNC, Hillary Clinton and “politics as usual.” I hereby renounce my enrollment in the Democratic Party, I have ordered my Jill Stein button, I have just discovered a Green Party chapter in Suffolk County, and you will be reading all about the campaign here and around social media.

Aim Both Barrels At the NRA: A Radical Perspective on Gun Control

 

There was yet another school shooting yesterday, at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where ten students have died.  This is the forty fifth school shooting this year alone.  When is enough enough?  How many children have to be sacrificed to the gun lobby?  How much blood money in the coffers of the gun manufacturers, in the salaries of their puppets in the NRA leadership, and in the pockets of the politicians they’ve bought is each child worth?  Forget all this crap about “sensible” gun control.  What we need are radical measures, like those in all other of the industrialized countries, whose gun deaths combined don’t equal ours.

Okay, let’s start where all unfanatical and uncorrupted people would hopefully agree.  Ban semi-automatic weapons.  One doesn’t need an AK-47 to shoot Bambi.  People who argue against this conjure images of a slippery slope.  So if we have an uninfringeable right to “bear arms,” why not let everyone have atomic missiles for recreational use?  The slippery slopers, and they are awfully slippery, make the same argument against limiting the number of rounds per marketable firearm, despite the fact that the mass murderers have generally been caught while attempting to reload. So enough bullshit.  And that goes for their other arguments, too.

How about we look at the Second Amendment and read what it actually says?  My copy of the Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Come on English majors, what does that actually say?  The sentence is governed by the premise of “a well regulated Militia.”  This is what guarantees the right of “the people” to security.  No “strict constructionist” alive can offer proof that it has anything to do with each individual citizen’s rights.  Why is there a comma before “shall not be infringed” if that related directly to some universal “right?”

And if one is not a strict constructionist it’s even easier.  When this was written, people had one shot muskets that had to be painstakenly reloaded with gunpowder.  People needed to hunt for food.  The union, on the heels of a revolution, was shaky.  We actually had a popular militia.  Could the authors of this amendment have had even an inkling of the completely different realities of today’s society, and don’t we in other areas, such as equal protection and the right to privacy, interpret the Constitution based on projecting its principles to today’s circumstances and knowledge?

Today few people have to hunt for food or clothing.  Those who do can be otherwise supported in their need.  Hunting now is done for sport or tradition.  Sorry, but that’s not good enough.  Personally, I think that killing animals for sport is a sickness, not unconnected to why we have so many killings of people.  And past cultural customs often have to give way to the general mores and welfare of the society as a whole.  But even if one can justify hunting, is that “thrill” worth parents having to bury their children?  Can’t people find another way to satisfy those alleged primal urges for adventure, perhaps by using it toward some form of freeing or rescuing rather than stalking and destroying?

So if not for hunting, what about for protection?  More bullshit.  Guns in the home are thirty four times more likely to result in unjustifiable homicide, suicide or accident than in any protective action.  Gun owners are forty three times more likely to kill a family member than a dangerous intruder.  People with guns in their possession are four and a half times more likely to be killed by gunfire.  Those with guns in the home are at three times greater risk of being killed.  And those guns are at least twice more likely to be used by the intruder against the homeowner than vice versa.  A hundred children a year die from accidental gun deaths.

One hears, in response to a massacre like yesterday’s, that if only someone there had been packing it could have been averted, that we need more guns not less to prevent tragedies.  More bullets flying “old West style” would make bystanders safer?  Does anybody see a problem with putting guns in the hands of school personnel, mall guards or theater ushers and hoping they stay cool under pressure, aim well, judge clearly, guard them safely, don’t ever have any mental episodes, don’t ever inaccurately interpret threat or self-defense, and haven’t evaded anything in their background checks?  We don’t even have reliable background checks as it is, now we want to use our schools and public places for such a social experiment for which we can’t call on a single one of those cases where it’s been successful?

There’s only one argument that, in my opinion, has any reasonability, although it carries its own kind of dangerous irrationality.  It is the fear of having an unarmed population.  If we give the government the right to disarm us, we potentially enslave ourselves.  Okay, but even considering the high unlikelihood that we’ll be facing outright fascism here in the foreseeable future, if there were armed insurrection we’d be massacred.  And considering the political mentality and insight of the average American and how much more likely, in that eventuality, they could be driven by politicians and media to turn on scapegoats and each other than on the government and plutocrats, are we really safer with, say, a well armed North Dakota or Texas, or will we have to shoot it out with them first?  Yes, police brutality is still alive, but we saw what happened when the Black Panthers asserted their right to bear arms: they’re not.  And this is all gross speculation.  Meanwhile, real children, seven a day in America, are dying.  You know how they say that regardless of laws criminals can always get guns?  Well, in the midst of an outright revolution, desperate insurgents can always get guns, too.

But let’s examine that mantra about gun control taking guns out of the hands of “the good guys” while the “bad guys” can always get them by virtue of being “bad guys.”  In this context, what exactly are “good guys” and “bad guys,” other than comic book caricatures?  They tell us we need to focus on “sick people,” not guns, because “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  And of course we need to devote more money and care to people with mental illness.  But those with pre-diagnosed disturbances make up only a tiny percentage of armed killers.  Most gun deaths are not premeditated or motivated by some ascertainable “evil,” they occur in “the heat of passion” or rage, during some kind of unpredictable psychotic break, in some irrational perception of self-defense, unintentionally or accidentally.  But even if we tightened background checks, which we of course have to do (and the NRA fights even that), even if we had the best system of mental health care in the world (instead of one of the worst), it would only begin to chip away at the epidemic we face.  If guns are available, they’re more likely to be used, it’s as simple as that.

When the victim of bullying starts to seethe, when the depression of the teen starts to deepen, when the man thinks he sees his wife with another man, when the spousal abuse begins worsening, when the fight continues to escalate, when the immature fool wants to show off, what does common sense say about whether it makes a difference whether a gun is readily available or not?  If they even first had to go out and get them, how many lives would be saved?  How many more would be saved if they couldn’t?  We see this phenomenon in research.  Those with guns are more likely to taunt and bully, to engage in road rage and reckless behavior, to escalate and not back down.  So how the hell do they make us safer?

We need a war on guns.  Bottom line: they have no place in a civilized society.  Gun violence is a national health and child welfare emergency.  We talk about it for a couple of days after a tragedy like this most recent one and then let it die, just like we let the next group of kids die.  A new study by the Boston Children’s Hospital confirmed that the states with the strictest gun control measures tend to have the fewest gun fatalities, as if that wouldn’t be self-evident. But then there’s that pesky problem of neighboring states.  In the news just today, surveillance tapes were released capturing a gun runner bragging about how he had bought an arsenal of weapons down south, in states with weak gun laws, and then sold them on the streets of New York. We need to expose the many politicians, more than half in Congress as of the last accounting, who put their NRA contributions before common sense and common decency.  We can disagree about how far to go, although how far is far enough when it comes to our most vulnerable and precious resource?  But at very least, it’s time we stopped talking, and then stopped stopping talking, and began to act.

The Trump Lemmings

There is a televangelist by the name of Peter Popoff.  He professes to be a faith healer.  With his funny hair and his claims to be able to make people richer and safer, he has amassed quite a fortune and quite a following.  He has been caught numerous times, for using secreted listening devices, for planting collaborators in his audience and for various schemes to swindle the sick and the greedy.  But the more he has been exposed, the more outrageous he has become in response, the more his desperate and oblivious flock just keep believing and growing… just like Trump followers.

In Donald Trump’s case, the fraudulence has been a bit different.  Since he has neither facts nor positions, he shows his slipperiness by making things up or evading questions with empty slogans and self-aggrandizement.  In place of political debate he prefers juvenile name calling.  In the guise of trying to elicit greatness, what he actually appeals to are people’s basest instincts, prejudice and ignorance.  And every time he is called out, for racism or sexism, for lies or gibberish, or for his many flip-flops despite presenting himself as the anti-politician, or his many corrupt, ruthless or failed enterprises despite presenting himself as the model businessman, his supporters defend him with even more fury and in even greater numbers.

Charges that Trump is a racist have been largely met by either excuses or attacks on “political correctness.”  Pride in incorrectness and uninformedness appears to be winning the day.  It goes beyond his having said that “they,” referring to Mexican immigrants, “are rapists,” criminals, leeches, etc.  Let us for now fast forward past the facts that, even if this were not expressed as a collective racist stereotype reminiscent of similar and similarly purposed characterizations of African Americans during Reconstruction, there is no basis in reality for any such assertions according to law enforcement or simple statistics.  And as many of the immigrants are from Central America as from Mexico, which apparently makes for a difficult distinction for Trump, as it was for his party’s transfigured hero, Ronald Reagan.  Let us also not dwell on any enlightened perspective as to the reasons so many from Latin America have been forced to come here, including the impoverished and brutal conditions in their native countries thanks to the raiding of their labor and natural resources by American corporations such as United Fruit, and the installing by our government of dictatorships considerably more friendly to our politico-economic interests than to their own people.  Beyond all of this, we have other examples of Trump’s racist history and appeals with which to expose him.

As arguably the leading spokesperson for “the birther movement,” certainly Trump was conveying a message that Barack Obama, America’s first African American President, is “not one of us.”  But even those who might dismiss that interpretation would find it hard to justify one of the off the cuff remarks Trump is not only known to make but, rather than well thought out and factually supported statements, is actually a great part of his appeal.  In an interview with the Associated Press several years ago, Trump wondered out loud how a “terrible student” like Obama could have “merited” admission into two elite schools, raising the implication of affirmative action, similarly to how his fellow Republicans have referred to Obama as “the food stamp President,” with no records and no sources.  It was a little like when he was asked at the first debate where he had gotten his information about the rapes and such and his response, after first trying to dodge the question, was something vague about some unnamed members of the border patrol saying some unspecified stuff.  Lest we forget, he had gone down there with the intention of meeting with them but they refused to involve themselves in his media stunt.  But he assures us that he has “a great relationship with the Blacks,” just like he assured us that Hispanics love him just like he loves them because so many work for him (including so-called “illegals,” by the way).  I’m sure most Hispanics simply loved when he castigated Jeb Bush for speaking in Spanish, and I wonder if that “great relationship” with “the Blacks” was at all strained by his proclamation that “laziness is a trait in Blacks.”

So at least Trump is an equal opportunity racist.  “Black guys counting my money!  I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”  He used an offensive mock Asian dialect in describing Chinese and Japanese business practices during a stump speech in Iowa, and attempted to sue the American government to declare Native American run casinos, one of the few sources of revenue left to the severely impoverished Indian nations, unconstitutional to close them down, presumably so that they couldn’t compete with his own casinos, in court even saying, “They don’t look like Indians to me!”  This is from a man who tried to have an elderly woman evicted from her home so he could bulldoze it to make room for VIP parking for one of his casinos.

Then we get to Trump and women.  The Donald has two ways of dealing with women, patronizing and insulting.  (That is unless one doesn’t include raping, as alleged by his former wife.)  He also has a habit of cheating on and divorcing them, it appears when they, unlike Donald of course, age and, like Heidi Klum, are no longer a “perfect ten” who looks like his daughter, of whom he said that given her “nice figure” he would perhaps “be dating her” if he weren’t her father.  After all, in his inimitable words, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”  He tells us that all of the female contestants of his other reality show flirted with him, and who could resist someone who publicly fantasized about how good one of them must have looked on her knees in front of her?

Those of us who watched the first debate surely remember that exchange with Megyn Kelly, of friendly Fox News, which began with a question about his belittling comments, and how at first he tried to pretend that they were restricted to Rosie O’Donnell.  It took only a few seconds before he admitted that he had just lied, but those alone speak to Trump’s character, having referred to her as a “slob,” a “fat pig” and a “disgusting animal.”  He even brought her partner, Kelli Carpenter, into it by not only saying that her parents were “devastated at the thought of their daughter being with (her),” but that he should send one of his friends to pick her up (and presumably “straighten her out”) because, “I mean, would you want to wake up next to that?”

Of course, Ms. Kelly’s question about him having referred to women as pigs and dogs and animals, while generously leaving out “sluts,” “whores,” and a word starting with “c” that she could not even hint at on television, ignited a firestorm, because nobody asks “hard questions” of The Donald, that’s just not fair, waah waah.  So needless to say, he, in his schoolyard bullying ways, had to respond to Ms. Kelly, by calling her a “bimbo.”  “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes… blood coming out of her wherever.”  Trump later denied that he was referring to women’s irrationality when on their period, which was as convincing as when he said about opponent Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the race, “Look at that face.  Would anyone vote for that?!”, and then trying to tell us he was referring not to her looks but to her persona.  Donald has a history of difficulty with women’s womanhood.  He once had what was reported as “an absolute meltdown” when an attorney had to take a recess to pump breast milk, which he found “disgusting.”  Oh, and while Fox quickly got back into the good graces of The Donald, by apparently promising no more tough questions, Megyn Kelly found herself on vacation.

Okay, enough of the interpersonal.  Let’s get to the would-be political.  Now recognizing that his platform is about as hollow as one of those breakaway blocks used by impostor karate show-offs, this one might not be so easy.  His talking points on the issues of the day, no matter what they might be, nearly always come down to, “I’ll do such a great job you wouldn’t believe it.”  He did, however, promise us that he would hire some unnamed people who actually know something about foreign policy, so that by the time he’s President, even if he himself still knows nothing about all those strange names and places out there, ignorance he pretty much unabashedly admitted to at the more recent debate, we will be fine, no, better, we will be “great again.”  Plus, we know he knows how to make shrewd deals.  So convincing Mexico to pay billions for that two thousand mile wall with that “big, fat, beautiful door” in it somewhere (probably near the Trump insignia), built to keep in Mexico the Central Americans coming from the south and the American-born babies flying over it from the north, or China to agree to less favorable trade conditions for no apparent reason other than that The Donald always talks “tough” and gets his way, should be a piece of cake.  And he’s sure he’d “get along with Putin,” but there’s always name calling as a first resort.  So there we have it.

Oh, wait, he does have one somewhat more tangible strategic position.  His answer to the threat of ISIS would be to “bomb the hell” out of Iraq to get the oil from them and take it for ourselves.  Now it’s easy to understand why the idea of hoarding other people’s (the Iraqis’, although Trump contends there “is no Iraq”) assets would come easily to Trump.  But wasn’t he supposedly against the invasion of Iraq in part because of all of the deaths caused?  Or perhaps he was only talking about American deaths and not the inevitable mass civilian casualties caused by such “shock and awe” bombing, whose only effect on terrorist movements is to help them grow by creating greater anti-American sentiments that drive otherwise moderates to their side and sow the seeds of eventual world war.  Trump’s sympathy with American soldiers is well known; how can one forget how he attacked John McCain, and by extension all POW’s, for having been captured?  That’s not heroism, according to The Donald, he’s a real hero.  It’s a good thing then, that he evaded the draft, first with four separate student deferments and then with a mysterious medical deferment that he has been unable to clarify, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so stupid as to have been captured.  He’s smarter than all of us, as he constantly reminds us.  “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it!  Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure,it’s not your fault.”

Trump’s popularity stems from the fact that he’s not a politician.  So what are his qualifications?  Or as Rand Paul pondered just yesterday, “How could anyone in the GOP think that this clown is fit to be President?”  He brags about his wealth and how successful a businessman he is.  He fails to mention that he inherited his wealth and almost squandered it several times, having filed for bankruptcy on four separate occasions.  Presumably that’s the way he’d bring the American economy back.  Hopefully America would be one of his successes, given how many failed business ventures he’s had: “Trump Airlines,” “Trump Vodka,” “Trump the Game,” “Trump Magazine,” “Trump Steaks,” GoTrump.com (for luxury travel), “Trump University,” “Trump Mortgage” and the Trump Casinos in Atlantic City.  But it’s only money, trump change.  So why do his followers support and identify with him?  It’s the illusion of the “American Dream.”  Americans, since the time of the “robber barons,” have been conditioned to believe that they too could climb the ladder to infinite success if only they were to step on those beneath them who are, in some twist of logic, blocking their way.  The richest one percent of Americans hold more wealth than the bottom ninety percent.  But it’s not the billionaires, freeloaders benefiting from tax loopholes, corporate welfare, golden parachutes, off shore accounts and oligarchical inheritances, who are the ones taking our money, oh no, it’s the immigrants, “welfare mothers,” public employees and those struggling with their mortgages.  Trump shamelessly brags about the ways in which he played the system at the expense of our economy while telling us he’s on our side, and how he “bought” politicians while telling us he’s running against the corruption. And when was the last time he built anything for anyone other than the rich?

But people want to be like him, though that’s not quite the way the system is rigged.  People see this as leadership, but the only place he’d lead us is over a cliff.  People are drawn to his ignorance and, at the same time, his brilliance, his being an outsider and, at the same time, the ultimate insider, his speaking for and being one of “us” and, at the same time, being a celebrity with luxuries and arm candy that we can only emulate in our dreams.  Did he give a damn about “us” when he outsourced his companies, when he laid off workers, when he displaced homeowners, when he squashed small business competitors, when he rigged the system to his benefit… and who is best known for the phrase “You’re fired?”  Because someone shoots from the lip that doesn’t mean they’re speaking the truth.  Because someone isn’t a politician certainly doesn’t mean they are uncorrupt.  And because someone is “entertaining” it doesn’t mean they are qualified.  The Trump lemmings need to wake up before they follow him over that cliff, and take us with them.

 

P.S. Just yesterday Trump finally came out with something concrete, other than a foundation for his luxury buildings. It sounds kind of promising until one gets into the details, which is why he has avoided details for so long. He would lower taxes on everyone, including the rich, costing the U.S. economy trillions of dollars which would be made up for by cutting social programs of course, specifically education. He said he would be eliminating a bunch of loopholes that he has benefited from, but he would also lower the corporate tax rate, so his businesses would get a windfall, and would completely eliminate the estate tax, so he could pass down his entire fortune to his children, and they to their children, keeping the Trump dynasty lording over our descendants forever Plus, when asked on Fox News, of all places, to name one specific loophole he would actually eliminate, besides an easily circumventable one for hedge fund managers, he couldn’t attest to a single one, and when asked about business write-offs, as for luxury jets or baseball tickets, he said no, they would stay. Even conservative analysts have determined that this smoke and mirrors plan would actually benefit rich people like him.

Miscarriage of Justice on Long Island – CRITICAL UPDATE!

Miscarriage of Justice on Long Island (CRITICAL UPDATE)

 

(You can see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3&v=BqgWhUM_VDY)

 

We read about injustice all the time, but most often it’s from a comfortable distance.  We know that there are flaws in our legal system, but we seldom get a magnified view of just how ill-conceived and corrupt it really is, not just when it relates to race or class, but at its very core.  My best friend was, without any doubt in my mind, railroaded by our system of “justice,” and is now awaiting sentencing, including the very real possibility of prison time, for charges that were false, disproven, illogical and political. Please bear with me while I explain, and see if you would come to the same bewildering (or fishy) conclusion that the jury did.

Some of you may have heard of the recent trials involving the Medford Multicare Center for Living, a nursing home on Long Island. I know, the minute you saw the phrase “nursing home” the preconceptions began. Don’t forget that; that’s at the heart of this case. A patient, Aurelia Rios, died one night in October of 2012. The office of the New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, ultimately decided that there was criminal negligence involved in her passing… or saw this as an opportunity to close or take over a facility that has been on the State’s radar (and not without some legitimate reasons) for some time, while advancing his own political career. I mean, what more exploitable target for the personal ambitions of a State A.G. likely to seek higher office and an Assistant A.G. wanting to advance her career than a high profile trial against nursing home employees?  And just as Governor Cuomo has been widely suspected of trying to enhance the failure of public schools and their teachers in order to help his wealthy patrons raid the education system and set up privately run “public” schools to replace them, is it unreasonable to imagine an attempt to take over public nursing homes and hand them over for profit as well?

I mourn the passing of Ms. Rios, as I would anyone who suffered what, and in the way, she did. But sympathy does not imply criminality. Yet the message boards of the local paper, Newsday, and television station, News 12, were ablaze with hateful stereotypes, cries for vengeance and rushes to judgement before any facts were ascertained or the jury was even selected. And the slanted news coverage that followed only, I believe, sealed the fate of the four defendants long before the verdict was unsealed. So please bear with me as I go over the realities of the case, fact checked for irrefutability, with you, and thank you for your indulgence. I don’t know if it’s too late for justice to be served, but with your help I’m going to try.

The prosecutor’s case hinged on three presumptions: that alarms were ringing throughout the facility for two straight hours while the entire staff willfully failed to respond, that Ms. Rios was supposed to be connected to a ventilator and the failure to do so resulted in her death, and that after the death there was some kind of (non-conspiratorial) cover-up of the events. I want to take you through each of these allegations, unproven despite the convictions, but first I want to introduce you to the prosecution’s star witnesses who were instrumental in getting those convictions.

It seems pretty well established, in part by the Attorney General’s staff’s own words, that they cast such a wide net in rounding up anyone they could in order to get some of them to turn on their coworkers and build for them what was a very weak case that they took a long time to develop and fumbled through even as the trial was proceeding. Unfortunately, in American “justice,” threat and bribery pay off. Prosecutors can drop charges against guilty people to elicit testimony to put away other, perhaps innocent people. Arguably the one whom they had the strongest case of negligence against was handed probation for giving obviously scripted testimony, complete with coaching from the prosecutor’s table. How did they get her to testify for “their side?” They held deportation and separation from her child, along with prosecution, over her head if she failed to do so. On the stand she admitted to having lied to not only the D.A.’s office and the Grand Jury, but to her employer and to the very jury that ultimately bought her newest version of events.

Their other “star” witness, an attention hound with a detailed history of psychiatric disturbance, reportedly including schizophrenia, and real patient abuse and neglect (not unlike, but even worse than that of the first one), was granted immunity from any prosecution by the very Grand Jury that she then had to admit to having misled on the stand, where she now told brand new stories not only under immunity but seemingly under the influence. A third prosecution witness was the prosecution’s hero, the Respiratory Therapist who had turned the four women in, presumably out of fear that he himself would have otherwise been prosecuted for negligence for not having passed vital information about the doctor’s order on to the next shift’s therapist because, as he testified on the stand, he wasn’t being paid for the overtime minutes it would have taken. And their fourth accomplice gave damning testimony against a defendant who seemed otherwise completely in the clear, testimony built from details of words and actions in a meeting which, despite her claims, further testimony revealed that she hadn’t even attended. It’s a great system, ain’t it? The rest of the prosecution witnesses, with the exception of Ms. Rios’ family, were primarily alleged “experts” who had no actual familiarity with Ms. Rios’ or her condition, the operating procedures or equipment at the facility, and/or the actual events of that night.

So let’s get to the charges, starting with the alarms. Testimony, including that of prosecution witnesses, showed that there are various alarms that mean different things and therefore require differing responses, that the alarms are in fact not audible all over the facility and that they can also be silenced when called for, and that there was a documented history of often unaddressed equipment failure. But just from a logical standpoint, is it believable that loud alarms were blaring for two straight hours and these four women who were convicted, among a number of others, all of whom had cared for Ms. Rios during the hours, days and weeks prior to that time, would suddenly, independently, all decide to “willfully” (which means with full knowledge of the medical and legal consequences) ignore them and, essentially, allow the woman to die?

My friend was the floor supervisor that night. That’s the only reason, I believe, that she is in this horrible situation. It’s her job to exercise professional discretion, based on her years of experience. (That’s despite the testimony of the story-changing colleague who testified that every alarm needs to be run to, yet videotape showed that during over one hundred and forty alarms he only responded to two or three and never ran, not even once.  My friend, on the other hand, was seen running when the real emergency began.) She had a history with Ms. Rios, and knew that she had “behavioral issues,” meaning that she had a habit of disengaging her equipment, which causes audible or visual alarms. What my friend also knew was that because of this, along with Ms. Rios’ very poor health, she had a one-to-one aide in her room with her. There was also a nurse on the floor right by her room. And then there was that “star witness” on the monitor. My friend was convicted for criminal neglect for not running to her room at the sight of red lights (let alone the alleged two hour blaring of alarms) despite all of the safety measures and circumstances she was aware of. If there was a true emergency, she would have been personally summoned. Otherwise, she would continue to do her rounds, check records, maintain the med cart, help the staff and pass by various monitors but not have to study them. The “star witness” claimed to have summoned the defendants, but videotape showed her within feet of each of them throughout this entire episode not uttering a word. It also showed no unusual activity, which is because the prosecution’s claims that this is when Ms. Rios died turns out to be false. But think about it. Had she died when the prosecution claimed, how could these women have been prosecuted for failing to answer two hours of alarms after her death? Their story never made any sense, which is why they pulled a “reverse OJ” and overwhelmed the jury with so much stuff, videotapes and papers and purely theoretical testimony, that the jurors must have thought that there had to have been something in all of it.

But a real game-changer has just come to my attention. Recently, a similar incident happened on the adjoining ward of the unit, and several people were suspended pending investigation and threatened with prosecution. But what a preliminary inquiry showed was that the Bernoulli system, the very alarm system which was at the center of the prosecution’s charges, that allegedly drove the two hours of signaling that the defendants swore they did not receive, was so backed up or overloaded that it was giving false readings! And there is no way of determining for how long this system had been doing so. (Some of the Center’s walkie-talkies were also reported to have been non-functional at the time of the incident.) It has been reported to me that as a result of this finding, the component that ran that side of the unit has been removed, so as to lighten the stress on the defective, interconnected system, and there are current plans to rewire the entire facility for an eventual replacement. And the employees are all back at work. People have seemed hesitant to be fully forthcoming about all of this, and my suspicion is that the State, which has been encamped in the facility since the trial, may be attempting to keep this all hush-hush, at least until they have completed their investigation… oh, say, after the sentencing. Hopefully, though, this will all be verified and documented before then, as it could and should enter into the judge’s considerations as to the verdicts and sentences.

Now we get to the ventilator issue. Allegedly Ms. Rios died because the facility failed to hook her up to the ventilator she was supposed to be on at night. Before we address the ventilator issue, we have to digest perhaps the most significant fact of the case. There was no autopsy. No one knows what Ms. Rios actually did die of. She had heart disease and a number of other serious conditions including morbid obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea and behavioral issues. So since the prosecution has no actual cause of death and they got the time of death wrong, as we’ll see, how could they possibly prove that the defendants’ actions or inactions had any deleterious effect on Ms. Rios? But back to the ventilator. My friend had worked directly with Ms. Rios the week before. At that time the standing order was to help wean Ms. Rios from the vent and allow her to be on the “trach collar” “as tolerated,” which included part of the night. Supposedly there was a second doctor’s order that came later, requiring that she be attached to the ventilator at night. If in fact this order superseded the other one, which seemed fuzzy, then it was the job of the Respiratory Therapist, who was convicted separately the day before these four women, to make the staff aware of the new order and hook Ms. Rios up herself. That is not within the purview of the nurses. She herself should have been made aware of any such order by the prosecutor’s “hero,” but he said he didn’t want to be bothered. The press convicted the nurses of not hooking Ms. Rios up to the ventilator. That was not specifically one of the charges, although it almost certainly swayed the jury as to the negligence conviction.

Okay, now we get to the issue of time of death, which is a critical one. The prosecution claimed the data readings showed she had died at about one forty in the morning. This was when the defendants allegedly had to act to save Ms. Rios’ life and failed to. The other “star witness” even claimed to having seen Ms. Rios blue later on, to bolster the prosecution’s timeline, even though there was no reason she should have been in a position to see it, it would have been virtually impossible to detect from a distance given Ms. Rios’ skin color, she never mentioned it at the time or to the Grand Jury, and every other witness, including the EMS responder and Emergency Room doctor, contradicted this. But two hours later, two hours after her alleged passing and when she was supposedly already blue, her oxygen level went back up, and when the paramedics arrived, they, by all evidence, reestablished a heart beat. None of Ms. Rios’ personal doctors were called by the prosecution. What were they keeping from the jury? Instead, a celebrated coroner, Michael Baden, who testified in the O.J. case, and had no knowledge of this one, was called. Remember, at one forty, when the prosecution claimed Ms. Rios was in distress and died, there was a one-on-one in her room. Did she open the door and yell for help?

That “star witness” claims that a picture of the one-on-one aide sleeping had been circulating. But the picture was never produced. It turns out that this prosecution witness had a personal grudge, against not only the aide she was spreading innuendos against, but against my friend, who had given the somewhat easier assignment of bedside care to the other aide and not to her.  It also bears noting that she wasn’t the only one who took a plea deal.  This one-on-one aide who, mind you, was in the room with Ms. Rios during this alleged massive negligence, was set to be tried separately after this trial concluded, for whatever reason, strategic or otherwise.  Obviously seeing the writing on the wall, she also took a plea deal, confessing to whatever she was asked to confess to in exchange for exemption from prison time.

More recently, the Administrator, whose impending trial was also separate, confessed to covering up his records of all of this alleged alarming and lack of response, two felonies, and he too was rewarded with clemency, being told by the judge that he wouldn’t have to serve more than seven days in jail and would have to surrender his license for a maximum of five years, at which time presumably he could resume his career.  In other words, the way the system works is defendants submit to the prosecution and judge and admit to charges, whether true or not, or turn on colleagues, whether deserved or not, or otherwise supplicate themselves sufficiently, they will get a slap on the wrist, but those who stand by their innocence, refusing to lie or throw someone else under the bus or “admit” to something they did not do, will be slapped down.  And rumor has it now that my friend was indeed thrown under the bus in the first place by a colleague who lied about their respective roles in the efforts to save Ms. Rios’ life.

Finally, we get to the alleged “cover-ups.” My friend was convicted of “falsifying business records in the first degree,” a felony. (Patient abuse is not a felony. Business comes first.) On what was she convicted? My friend was interviewed twice by the State investigator. After the first interview, my friend was not arrested. The investigator wrote her report, but apparently someone didn’t like how it turned out so she called with more questions. She asked whether anyone had reported to my friend that alarms had been blaring for two hours and my friend truthfully answered no. My friend was not asked whether she herself heard any such alarming, so she was indicted and convicted for not answering a question that wasn’t asked about something that didn’t happen. Her statements, unlike that of the prosecution witnesses, have remained true and consistent throughout. It should be further noted that the judge instructed the jury that in order to convict on this charge they not only had to find her guilty of willfully deceiving the investigator, but also had to find that the “intent to defraud included an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” What other crime was ever brought into evidence? And that’s what she faces prison time over.

One of the biggest problems was that the judge, Judge Collins, required these four defendants, who had somewhat conflicting interests on some issues, to be tried together, despite the protests of their attorneys. Not only that, they were tried simultaneously with the seemingly more negligent Respiratory Therapist, in the same courtroom with a different jury. This was for convenience, to save time. Not only would that likely confuse any juror as to who was responsible for what, but it would make the four separate defendants, or even the five, appear to be a cohort. And since they were therefore seen by cameras and jurors having lunch together socially, the impression that they were conspiratorial and remorseless was quite possibly etched into minds that were so likely biased from the beginning.

So, I ask you. How did the jury, in a matter of hours, come back with seventeen convictions against four defendants after a long, complex trial with thousands of pages of evidence, and “beyond a reasonable doubt” no less? Am I crazy, or is there nothing but doubt, about every bit of the prosecution’s case and the verdict? Meanwhile, my friend is now without her nursing license, without income, without employability and without her good name, and just now she has lost her apartment, and very possibly will soon lose her freedom. She has four children, all with some degree of special needs, and an elderly, infirm father she takes care of. She has always been a highly respected nurse, loved by patients and staff alike. This is not just a plea for mercy, it’s a plea for justice.  Please circulate this, and if there’s anyone out there who is a journalist, an attorney or an advocate, someone who might help, in the interest of said mercy and justice, please respond.

 

P.S. The five women, including my friend, were all given prison sentences.  She is now sitting in a cage, and even bail pending appeal was refused.  Except for the one administrator who was reassured by the judge that he would serve “no more” than seven days, no one else, none of those who were by their own admission much more negligent and deceitful than these women could ever have been claimed to have been, saw any prison time at all.  In other words, you have a choice: bend over for the Attorney General and/or the Judge or else get ready to bend over in prison.

 

Please note: The opinions expressed herein are solely mine, based on a good faith assessment of the facts. They should not in any way be attributed to any of the defendants nor to counsel, who were not involved with or made aware of the initial writing of this report.

 

A Different Cultural Lesson Learned At the Pow Wow

I attend the Shinnecock Pow Wow every year.  I have long felt a special, only partially explainable affinity with Native American culture(s), and not only enjoy, but feel especially comfortable being there amongst the people, sounds, rhythms, scents, tastes and colors (including those of the diversity of the participants).  And I am not generally a comfortable person.  I’ve taken in and taken home a number of things over the years, but something special happened this year.

Due in large part to the current battles over the direction of public education, there is a lot of attention focused these days on children and what they need to learn and grow.  Now before I go any further with this, I want to acknowledge that what I am about to present as insight is bound with more than a few subjective assumptions and generalizations.  But what I perceived and how it affected me beg that risk.

Simply put, I have never seen more happy, peaceful, independent and in tune children.  I and my companion watched a beautiful toddler experimenting with blades and clumps of grass and the wheel of his carriage, and one could almost see the cerebral synapses firing.  His family seemed to strike a perfect balance of loving affection and respectful space, a watchful eye and following his lead.  We saw a number of parents affectionately holding their children up to give them a clear, engrossed view of the dancing up on stage, or playing with them attentively, or walking with or behind them regardfully.

And we saw the effects.  There was absolutely no crying or fussing, from the babies nor what could have been “the terrible twos” nor the older ones right up through teenage.  It was in their body language: how relaxed and contented they looked in their strollers, on their blankets or in the arms of their parents, and how free and proud they appeared in their postures and movements while walking or running or dancing.  And it was in their faces: the fascination with every interpersonal and sensory experience surrounding them, and the confidence to explore, approach and partake.

There was one notable exception.  A school-aged boy, observably less comfortable with himself and his surroundings, was trying to capture the attention of his father, who seemed much more interested in his camera and his considerably younger blonde girlfriend.  Fairly or unfairly, he appeared to us to be a too-typical every-other-weekend custodian.  And he also appeared to us, unlike the parents described above, to be, in accent and appearance, assumptively non-Indian.

Obviously, as a non-Native Caucasian myself, I am not trying to assert that all White parents are bad ones.  There was a wonderful, loving mother, later finding herself next to us, whose daughter was a joyful, liberated dervish, even when the music stopped.  She clearly relished in her daughter’s exuberance, at least up to a point where a slight hint of a self-conscious need for over-control revealed itself.  So what am I really saying here?

From what little I may have read or have observed, the parenting tradition among Native Americans, discounting any corruptive effects of poverty and its corrolaries, has historically been one of respect, restraint, naturalness, immersion and communalism.  The parents that I witnessed whom I presumed to have some Native American cultural influences may well have been showing that continuing tendency, more likely than others in American culture to see children as a gift to the future rather than a burden to the present.  Or maybe it was less about lineage than it was about atmosphere.

I find peace and acceptance in the white sage, in the music and rhythms, in the natural environment, and in the people, their diversity, their hospitality and their spirit.  Why wouldn’t others be influenced by the same sensory, or dare I say spiritual, envelopers?  Could the reservation hold some collective consciousness, some enduring wisdom, when it comes to children and parenting?  Am I making too much of all this, stereotyping and mystifying sheer coincidence, or can I trust what I, what we, became so seemingly aware of?

As someone who is supposed to have some expertise in child development, I am so often disappointed, when not horrified, by the way children are raised, taught and treated in our society.  I have done pretty much no traveling in my life, so haven’t had a first-hand view of the experiences of children in other societies around the world, some I nonetheless know to be better, and some far worse.  But a mere forty minute drive brought me to another nation, one which, for all their struggles with poverty and oppression, seems to know or induce far better what children really need and deserve.

As I approached and sought an ending for this reflection, I thought I’d do a little research to satisfy myself that I am not completely off base here.  I came upon references to a book, Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom and Parenting, by Laura Ramirez.  I will be buying and reading it.  But I was immediately struck by her having interwoven the traditional wisdom of Native American perspectives with the very compatible psychological theories of Erik Erikson, who did engage in cross-cultural studies in determining what is universally best for children.  Erikson’s theories on child development have always been at the heart, quite literally, of my teaching and parenting.  So, this now all comes full circle for me.  And, again from my meager knowledge of the subject about which I am writing, truth is supposed to come in a circle.