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Race in America

Here are some thoughts about racism in America in the wake of the Ferguson, MO, grand jury decision not to indict the officer involved and the protests and destruction in response.

Everybody knows the particulars by now: a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in disputed circumstances. Some people, mostly white, saw it as a justified if regrettable response to a violent threat. Others, mostly black, saw it as part of a pattern in which white majority police forces target blacks unjustly and are too quick to shoot when things go wrong.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that racism is effectively over in America, at least as voting laws are concerned. I don’t believe that, but if racism no longer exists, “racialism” is alive and well.

Racialism is denying racism while looking at events with race in mind. It’s what happens when one side has no understanding whatsoever of the other. Sorry to say, this is mostly a white problem.

White people – I’m one -- have no idea what it means to be black. Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly not long ago debated whether “white privilege” is real. O’Reilly, predictably, said no. He went on to say he meant that if black people applied themselves and followed the rules they could achieve anything white people can achieve.

That may be true, but it’s also ignorant of what white privilege means. Barbara and I recently went to a Chinese restaurant in Queens that turned out to be closed. We met a Chinese couple in the parking lot who told us of another place close by, and when we got there we met them again. They were a pleasant couple about our age with a common interest in dim sum, and we began to talk. The husband was a cab driver, now retired. Without prompting, he said he never picked up black people if he could help it. “I’d turn off my light so they’d think I was off duty,” he said.

He just assumed another light-skinned guy would agree with him. That’s all anybody needs to know about what blacks are up against. White privilege means a cab will stop for you.

On election day I posted on Facebook that I had voted without having to show ID and that democracy was alive and well in New York City. One of my conservative friends responded, “Well done, Nick. Any Panthers around to encourage you?”

Where did that come from? I guessed – correctly, it turned out – that this had something to do with Black Panthers but I had no idea what. I searched the Internet and learned that two guys from the anti-white New Black Panther Party had yelled at white voters at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008. They wore paramilitary gear and one of them carried a nightstick. I would have known all about this if I watched Fox News, which turned it into a story of white voter intimidation, then morphed it into a story about the Obama administration’s anti-white bias when it didn’t pursue the case. One party member showed up at the polls, again in Philadelphia, during the 2012 election and produced fresh wails of indignation on Fox News.

This, as Media Matters put it, was a tempest in a teapot. But another conservative friend chimed in with her anger about all things Obama: “Please, the Black Panthers are allowed to threaten voters and the only problem with this action is because Fox reported it?”

When a Facebook post about simply having voted triggers responses about two marginal black crackpots harassing whites at a single polling station, that’s racialism at the very least. It’s the prism through which we see things in this country. It’s responsible for the hateful views many whites hold of President Obama. Of course their views aren’t racist, they’ll insist. They just think he’s incompetent, or don’t like his policies. But as the conversation goes on, race pops up as surely as done toast.

We can’t escape it. I really wish we could.  Read More 
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Glaucoma Update

A correspondent reminded me over the weekend that I haven't updated my Marinol posting from June, 2013. He wanted to know if my ophthalmologist's idea to dab artificial marijuana over my eyes had continued to reduce my optic nerve pressure and fend off the effects of glaucoma. He said it in terms that no writer likes to hear: "You left the reader hanging."

Thanks for prompting me, Bob. Here's what happened:  Read More 
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I'm a Medical Research Pioneer

I am on the front lines of medical research.

Some quick background: I was diagnosed with glaucoma a few years ago. It’s the kind where stuff clogs up the mesh that allows your eye to drain and causes fluid buildup that raises the pressure on your optic nerve. The pressure eventually causes irreversible damage and blindness. There are drops that lower the pressure, but I can’t tolerate some of them and the ones I can are less effective.

There are two laser procedures. They’re supposed to blast openings in the mesh at the back of the eye to promote drainage. I’ve had both of them on my left eye. They leave you with diminishing options since they cause some tissue damage. I had the last one about three weeks ago.

It diminished the pressure in the eye a little bit. Ideally, the pressure on your optic nerve should be measured in the teens. Mine was 30 before the procedure and in the mid-20s after it – better but still not where it should be.

My doctor’s name is Robert Ritch. He’s what Mark Twain would have called a rip-snorter: loud, demanding, volatile, impatient and obsessive on the subject of glaucoma. An office visit is a ticket to performance art; interns and fellows swirl in his wake like leaves in a stream, moving from patient to patient in five examining rooms at any given time. He treats rock stars and royalty and the heads of unsavory governments because he’s very, very good at what he does. Which is why I go to him even though he doesn't take Medicare and I pay out of pocket. Plus he’s fun to talk to.

He’s also curious, smart, and willing to try anything. Read More 
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For protecting the children of America from being the helpless victims of gun violence, and for making them beneficial to society and the economy

It is a melancholy object to those who watch, on television and across the media in this great country, the grieving parents and classmates of dead children shot by a deranged gunman in Connecticut. Among the many questions they pose in response to this latest episode of supposedly random violence that took twenty-six lives in this one instance, twenty of them six- and seven-year-olds, all the others adults, all of them shot multiple times, is “Why?”

The answer I propose is simple, and I propose to further my answer with a solution that will put the question to rest. My solution will begin with children, Read More 
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"Rugged Individualism" from Herbert Hoover to Ayn Rand to Paul Ryan

Facebook and email reveal that we've come a long way from our high school and college selves, and that our political paths have diverged. How can that teenage crush have turned out to be a tea party conservative, or that fraternity brother an anti-tax zealot? We've all had different life experiences that have shaped our thinking, that is true. But I'm always amazed that intelligent people, faced with the same facts, can reach radically different conclusions. The only answer is that ideology is more persuasive than history; people believe in their ideology because they want it to be true whether it is or not.

This was prompted by an email joke forwarded by a college friend. It's why one guy in line for a vasectomy gets laid by a nurse while six other guys are jerking off. The one guy has Blue Cross and the six have Obamacare. It shouldn't, but this stuff sets me off, and I got into an email argument. Here's part of what followed: Read More 
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Polarization in America

Every day, my email in-box and Facebook notifications reveal the grotesque polarization of our country. Friends forward “jokes” and cartoons painting President Obama as an anti-business socialist determined to crush the United States under mountains of debt. They laud Mitt Romney’s business experience as the only answer to the stalled economy, for which  Read More 
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You Didn't Built That (Roads and Bridges) Yourself

Ian Reifowitz has a nice take in July 31 HuffPo on Romney objecting to the Obama quote he takes out of context: "All President Obama is saying is that an American who builds a business nevertheless relies on the investments made by America as a society in things like schools, that educate most of us, including people who work in each and every business, and of course the roads and bridges necessary for virtually all business owners to be able to send and receive goods, and for their employees to be able to get to work, and customers to be able to get to their stores." Here's the whole thing: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ian-reifowitz/mitt-romney-each-business_b_1719054.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

The best example of what he's talking about was the New Deal's investment in public infrastructure during the Depression. The New Deal's jobs programs brought America into the 20th century. It needs to happen again, for stimulus that provides customers and the infrastructure that connects business with those customers.  Read More 
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Republicans are Desperate to Kill the New Deal in 2012

It’s 1936 all over again for the Republicans.

By the last year of President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term, the party of business had seen the shape of the New Deal, and it was terrified. Tough new banking regulations were in force. Taxes on employers would help fund the new government-run retirement system for all workers, and some people would even get money when they couldn’t work. The government was paying a vast army of the unemployed to build roads and bridges, which was bad enough, but artists and actors and writers were also getting paychecks to do whatever it was they did, and all on borrowed money. Collective bargaining and wage-and-hour laws meant labor was a rising force. Factories couldn’t even hire children any more.

The Supreme Court had done the best it could, striking down incursions into central planning. It might yet strike down the Social Security Act. But the New Deal government was set on reshaping and improving life for the majority, and the people in the board rooms didn’t like it. The taps of wealth opened to deny FDR a second term.

The rich man’s anti-New Deal coalition called itself the Liberty League. It formed in 1934 with du Pont gunpowder and the Morgan banking money behind it. The league foreshadowed Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and Karl Rove “Super PACS.”  Read More 
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WPA to the Rescue!

This story arrived by email over the weekend. It's another example of the WPA's extraordinary work in rescuing America, and Americans, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. I'm posting it with the writer's permission.

Dear Nick,

I'm glad you have written about the WPA.

I wanted to tell you my story because if it wasn't for the WPA, I would not be alive today. Read More 
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Greetings, Friends, On the Republican Candidates

Greetings, friends! May I address
A selection process that’s a mess,
And the candidates involved
Who pledge to get our problems solved?

They’re from the right, that’s very clear.
That’s why their stock in trade is fear.
They talk about the deficit,
But don’t say they created it.

They all say taxes are just bad,
Don’t take from rich folks what they’ve had.
Just starve the poor and middle-class.
Who cares if the wealth gap is so vast?

Let’s start with Mitt, the man of Romney, Read More 
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