Sunday, August 13, 2017

History Repeats, But We do Not Learn

Peekskill, NY - 1949
Charlottesville - 2017

Some must get tired of my history lessons but the record of history and current events compel me.   

I was Born in 1945, so I am old enough to remember the comments of my parents in response to national and world events. I remember coming home from school and finding my my mother doing her ironing while watching the Congressional sessions of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, other wise known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings.  My parents were outraged by this travesty of justice. Later on in a casual conversation about visiting territory north of New York City the city of Peekskill was mentioned. I was surprised by my mothers immediate recoil. I did not 'get it' and asked for explanation. "Oh, that is where bigots rioted after a performance by Paul Robeson, a Negro with a great voice who had spoken out against some US policies and in favor of Russia." Whenever I drive through Peekskill today I remember the story, now further informed by an interview with Pete Steeger in which he described being in a car leaving the grounds and being stoned by the crowd with police doing little to hold down the violence.  

So now, 68 years after Peekskill, and more than 50 years since the passage of Civil Rights legislation, we are faced  with hideous images of rampant violence and organized hate groups unafraid to brandish symbols of Confederate slave states, the renewed Ku Klux Klan, and the Neo-Nazi Party.

Believing as I do that the campaign rhetoric and current language and behavior of Donald Trump have given permission for such pent up prejudice, anger, and lethal violence to erupt  I continue to worry about what will happen when he is unable to produce what he promised. How will the Right spew its lava of resentment, hopelessness and pure hatred? The volcano has erupted in Charlottesville. It will not stop there.

So now we face the prospect of war, nuclear or otherwise. One issue seems not to be enough. Both North Korea AND the likes of Venezuela present issues. Could Venezuelan oil have something to do with it?  And at the same time we face domestic warfare unleashed by power that does not know history at all.

For further information about the Peekskill Riot of 1949 go to for great video and documentary accounts.                                              

Monday, May 15, 2017

History Teaches: 
     Effects  of Industrial Revolution

Dare a member of the academic elite opine? Takes a bit of courage these days. However, compelled 
as I am, here are some thoughts. They emerge from what I thought was a sudden flash of brilliant idea.
Further research brought me down a peg by revealing that the idea did not originate with me.

Recently I engaged in very stimulating conversations about the the current state of things with two young
men (freshman and sophomore in high school) and their father. The youngsters were totally engaged 
in the discussion, knowledgeable and very capable of expressing their thought out opinions. In the midst
of extolling the balance of powers in our government, presidential propriety, banning immigrants and 
restoring jobs in coal mines my new idea came as a flash. "We are going through a new industrial revolution
without learning the lessons of the unintended consequences caused by the last one", I blurted out.

Few would doubt that we have entered a period of technological revolution. It seems those in decision making 
positions effecting not only our citizens but also those of the world have failed to comprehend the enormous 
consequences of that revolution. Much less have they considered the unintended negative consequences for 
society which the industrial revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries caused. Highly recommended is an essay 
concerning the social effects of the industrial revolution . I makes abundantly clear the negative effects of 
unbridled free market capitalism.

In 2016 German economist Klaus Schwab published "The Fourth Industrial Revolution" . Reading it brought to 
an end my notion of having a unique idea. After giving historical context and ample evidence for his theory
(and that of others) of this new and equal consequential global revolution he offers a number of chapters on 
the consequences in terms of the economy, nature of work,business, national and global developments,
society at large and the individual. 

Sub-topics in these areas include but are not limited to:

nature of work
consumer expectations
collaborative innovation
inequality and the middle class
identity, morality and ethics
human connection
managing public and private information

You must be getting the idea. What is facing us cannot be fixed by persuading companies not to move facilities
in order to keep to 1,200 employees on the job; not by assuring coal miners that jobs will come back. 
Coping with what is to come requires major study and planning within an informed and communicating citizenry, 
governance by the constitutionally balanced executive, legislative and judicial branches of government less
interested in re-election or appointment than the best interests of all and influenced by 'the better angels of their
nature, and finally, business within a compassionate capitalist system.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Not So Unfamiliar Story

Current Presidential Immigration 
Actions Hit Home

Waking this morning to news of detentions at airports of visitors, refuges, immigrants and green card holder from middle eastern countries listed in President Trump's recent executive action immediately raised my anxiety/compassion level. These reports sadly melded with my own family story of an immigrant detention at port of entry.

In 1921 my Sicilian grandfather, long a citizen of the United States and veteran of service in the US Army durning World War I, returned to the US from a visit to his homeland. He brought with him a new wife and her 10 year old sister. Upon arrival at Ellis Island the authorities were required to admit my grandfather as a citizen and his wife by virtue of that citizenship. But his young sister-in-law did not fit into that formula. She was neither his wife, daughter or blood relative. Although he asserted his willingness to fully support this child he could not prove his ability to do so. He had been out of the country for almost a year and therefore could not provide evidence of gainful employment. He must have had savings because within four years he would by a three family house in Brooklyn. But it may also have been impossible at that moment to provide proof of any assets. The authorities determined that the 10 year old girl who could not speak anything but Sicilian had to be detained in Ellis Island facilities until my grandfather could return with proof that he could support her and prevent her becoming a burden to society and government coffers.

An Italian woman with young children apparently took little Carmelina under her wing for guidance and protection. It was November and during my aunt's two week detention Thanksgiving was celebrated and a special meal provided. Eventually my grandfather returned with proof of support in the form of bank passbooks or a pay stub and the small family was reunited. Our family heard this story recounted by my Aunt Millie every Thanksgiving. As a child myself I remember being horrified at the tale and wondering how this could possibly have been done to a little girl. 

This mornings' news went directly to the memory of this story. Today as a mother and grandmother I struggle to imagine how my grandmother may have cried and screamed at being separated from her little sister in a strange and forbidding place after a long ocean voyage. My heart still cries for the little girl who never knew her own mother and looked to her sister for everything in her life feeling such panic and wailing at their separation. It is within this emotional space that I considered the stories of those detained at airports this weekend; many already extensively vetted, some holding 'green cards' as vetted resident aliens in the US who work here, own homes, have families and pay taxes.

On Saturday, January 28, when Brooklyn Federal District Court Judge Ann M. Donnelly upheld an action by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging detentions by executive order she wrote that such detentions could cause "irreparable harm". I can attest to the irreparable harm done to my dear aunt by her detention so many years ago. Each time I heard her anguished story I thought, "Thank God they don't do that anymore." How wrong I was.