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Insights from Kerner Report ignored

First published: February 27, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 26, 2015 at 4:45 pm

The judgment of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders regarding race relations in America hit those at the White House 47 years ago like a ton of bricks.

“This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal,” the group’s report warned.

The document that then-President Lyndon B. Johnson called for was provided to members of his administration on Feb. 27, 1968 in advance of its public release. The commission’s task was to examine rioting in inner cities across the nation the previous year, determine why it occurred and assess what could be done to improve conditions. The report did not mince words and did not spare feelings.

Johnson is said to have not received the news graciously. In his book “The Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson,” domestic adviser Joseph A. Califano Jr. claimed that the president declined to accept the report ceremonially and failed to thank the commissioners for their work.

Perhaps Johnson bit off more than he could chew when he decided to convene a group to study what was at the heart of the inner city violence. He was looking for some credit for the Great Society programs he had implemented years before. The report, however, bypassed such niceties and presented the stark truth about life for many black Americans.

“As soon as I read it, I knew Johnson would erupt,” Califano wrote.

“Reaction to last summer’s disorders has quickened the movement and deepened the division,” according to what has become known as the Kerner Report. “Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American. This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and press for a national resolution. To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.

“The alternative is not blind repression or capitulation to lawlessness. It is the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society. This alternative will require a commitment to national action — compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this Earth. From every American, it will require new attitudes, new understanding and, above all, new will.”

The commission was chaired by then-Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner. It seems that the initial sting of the group’s findings did not sever Johnson’s relationship with Kerner, as the president appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago a few months later.

Having already announced he would not seek a third term as governor, Kerner resigned early to take his seat in the bench. But he was forced to abandon his position on the court several years later after being convicted in a federal corruption case. Despite how this tarnished his reputation, Kerner stood by the findings of the commission’s report.

“At its initial publication, the report was dismissed by America’s emerging radical left as a bland affirmation of failed government policies and upper class hegemony. Conservative commentators accused the authors of pandering to rioters and proposing to bankrupt the country through welfare programs,” according to the book “Kerner: The Conflict of Intangible Rights” by Bill Barnhart and Gene Schlickman.

“Much of the condemnation fell on Kerner himself as the public face of the commission and its countless press conferences and other public appearances,” Barnhart and Schlickman wrote. “But he never backed away from its controversial findings and recommendations. On the contrary, his public statements after the report was published went beyond the commission’s carefully drawn language concerning racism in America. Well into his tenure as a federal judge, Kerner stumped like a political campaigner for the report that bore his name.”

In reading through the report, it’s startling to see how much hasn’t changed in the nearly five decades since its release. The report boldly proclaimed that white racism had contributed significantly to the conditions that robbed many black Americans of the opportunities to advance in society.

“Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans,” according to the report. “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it; white institutions maintain it; and white society condones it.”

Life for black Americans is not the same as it was in 1967-68. There is no denying that remarkable changes have occurred, improving conditions for many.

Each new generation has adopted a more enlightened view of race relations. We’ve reached the point where someone considered a social pariah in much of the country when he was born could be elected president by the time he reached midlife. As Barack Obama has declared, only in America is a success story like his possible.

There are, however, lingering problems highlighted in the Kerner Report that have not been resolved. In examining why the riots took place, the report listed the problems in three levels of intensity.

Under the first level, the factors listed were police practices, unemployment and underemployment, and inadequate housing. The second level listed inadequate education, poor recreational facilities and programs, and ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms. The third level listed disrespectful white attitudes, discriminatory administration of justice, inadequacy of federal programs, inadequacy of municipal programs, discriminatory consumer and credit practices, and inadequate welfare programs.

While the priority of each factor may have shifted since 1968, most of these problems still vex many black Americans. In assessing what’s occurring across the country as a result, it’s obvious we still don’t appreciate the lessons of the Kerner Report enough to ensure the kind of changes required to provide equal opportunities for everyone. It was shameful then; it’s shameful now; and it will be shameful in the future if we don’t eventually learn how to properly address these injustices.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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A pastor on fire for justice

First published: February 20, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 19, 2015 at 4:42 pm

There surely was something in the bloodline of the Johns family from Virginia that prompted rebellion.

Barbara Rose Johns led a student strike in 1951. The students were protesting the deplorable conditions at their all-black school in Farmville, Prince Edward County.

According to Taylor Branch’s book “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63,” the principal of R.R. Moton High School in Farmville left the building April 23, 1951, after being falsely informed that two students were on the verge of being arrested. With the principal gone, the school’s 450 students and 25 teachers were instructed to attend an assembly in the auditorium, Branch wrote. Standing on the stage when the curtain opened was the 16-year-old Johns.

“She announced that this was a special student meeting to discuss the wretched conditions at the school. Then she invited the teachers to leave,” Branch wrote. “By now, it had dawned on the teachers that this was a dangerous, unauthorized situation running in the direction of what was known as juvenile delinquency. Some of them moved to take over the stage, whereupon Barbara Johns took off her shoe and rapped it sharply on a school bench. ‘I want you all out of here!’ she shouted at the teachers, beckoning a small cadre of her supporters to remove them from the room.”

The teenage activist and her fellow students invited representatives of the NAACP to meet with them. The lawyers said they could not bring legal action for better schools but would sue to integrate them, and the children gave their approval. This was one of the cases — the only one begun by students — that became part of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that brought an end to segregated public schools.

Barbara Johns was not the only member of her extended family to make waves. Her uncle, the Rev. Vernon Johns, planted seeds of dissention as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1948 — sprouting the civil rights movement.

Johns embraced the prophetic tradition of preaching within the black church. He railed against racial injustice as well as the apathy that allowed atrocities to occur. Renowned scholar Cornel West describes this tradition as being “on fire for justice.”

Before studying at Virginia Theological Seminary and College, Oberlin College and the University of Chicago, Johns educated himself by absorbing classic literature and poetry while growing up. He had a photographic memory and was a voracious reader. One of his college professors admitted to being intimidated when Johns raised his hand in class because he feared Johns would point out any error in his response.

“Some know a little about everything, others much about a few things; but Vernon Johns knew a great deal about many things. Moreover, the authoritative and engaging way he had of pouring out his slices of erudition was more staggering than the fact that he possessed so much,” Charles Emerson Boddie wrote in his book “God’s Bad Boys.”

Members of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church considered themselves an elite congregation. Many of them were highly educated and financially affluent among black people living in Montgomery. They saw in Johns someone like them who valued academic and cultural pursuits.

But the farmer from Virginia shocked his congregants by hawking a variety of food products at a stand near the church. They thought such behavior beneath his dignity — and theirs.

Conversely, Johns extolled the virtue of manual labor. He chided church members for their pretensions.

Johns regularly publicized the topics of his pending sermons on a large board in front of the church, often with the most provocative language he could muster. He unnerved his black congregants and enraged white Montgomery residents with titles like “Segregation After Death,” “It’s Safe to Murder Negroes in Montgomery” and “When the Rapist is White.”

“His mastery of language, use of imagery and the breathtaking wizardry of his descriptions are characteristics which ever hold him in the memory of those who heard him, even when he was at his worst,” Boddie wrote. “Like Amos renouncing the lazy ‘kine of Bashan,’ like Paul lowering the boom on the prejudiced coterie gathered around Mars’ Hill, Vernon Johns excoriated, needled, cajoled angered, rebuked and thoroughly shook up his listeners.”

Johns not only spoke out about racial injustice from his pulpit; he became involved in the community. He persuaded black women to file police complaints against white men who had raped them.

Before Rosa Parks bravely defied the segregated system of public buses in Montgomery, Johns opposed the measure. Black people had to board the bus in the front to pay their fare, and then get off and re-enter in the rear to take their seats.

Johns once refused to exit the bus after paying and sat toward the whites-only front. After the driver declined to continue driving, Johns demanded his money back — and received it. He invited everyone on the bus to leave with him in protest, but no one else moved.

The uneasy relationship that Johns cultivated with members of the church often rubbed the board of deacons the wrong way, and the deacons made their feelings known. Frustrated with the resistance he confronted, Johns offered his resignation several times throughout his tenure, most of which the deacons did not accept.

“Had it not been for the fact that visitors were still coming to Montgomery from great distances to listen to Johns and to praise him afterward, church opinion might have solidified against him sooner,” Branch wrote. “As it was, the membership was divided over an exasperating problem: Johns was both the highest and the lowest, the most learned and most common, the most glorious reflection of their intellectual tastes and most obnoxious challenge to their dignity.”

Another disagreement with the board of deacons in 1952 prompted Johns to offer yet another resignation, his fifth. But this time, church members decided to take him up on his offer. With a new pastor, they wanted to take the church in a different direction.

“What (church clerk R.D. Nesbitt) needed, he said, was a more traditional pastor — an educated and trained one, to be sure, in the Dexter tradition, but someone more conventional than Johns in dress, manner and behavior, someone less controversial, perhaps a younger and less-established man who could not give the deacons such a battle.”

If church members wished to hire a new pastor who would keep a low profile and not challenge their traditions and sensitivities, they failed miserably. But we must be eternally grateful for their blunder.

For where Johns lit the spark of civil rights in Montgomery, his pastoral successor — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — fanned the flames nationwide and ingrained them onto our collective consciousness. Johns’s role in this campaign for human dignity has been forgotten by most historians, but I don’t believe that would trouble him any. Wherever work is carried out on behalf of freedom and justice, his spirit is present.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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From outlaw to statesman

First published: February 13, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 12, 2015 at 5:13 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES
Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, raise clenched fists Feb. 11, 1990, as they walk hand-in-hand from the Victor Verster prison near Cape Town, South Africa, following his release from prison.

There were whispers that a release was pending, but no one knew for certain. The rumored benevolence of a government drenched in blood must always be accepted with the requisite grain of salt.

But then on Feb. 11, 1990, the doors of oppression opened. Nelson Mandela walked away from bondage and embarked on a journey to transform his troubled nation.

We finally caught a glimpse of the man who had been a living legend in concept only up until then. He had not been seen in public in nearly 26 years. Based on earlier photos, news outlets created renderings of what he might look like.

On that Sunday morning, however, those of us watching events unfold on television finally took him in for ourselves. He was 71 years old at that point.

Many people start winding their lives down at 71. Mandela, however, was just beginning. He walked down the street that day with his wife, Winnie, to the cheers of countless supporters and the future that awaits him.

Look what Mandela helped bring about. The white tyranny that brutalized blacks for decades under apartheid would dissolve within the next few years. The nation would hold its first truly democratic election in 1994 with Mandela the obvious choice for president.

It’s ironic that the world’s boldest experiment in self-government, based on the principles of liberty and equality, wouldn’t elect its first black president for another 14 years. What do the South Africans know about equality that we don’t?

Mandela also guided South Africa to a peaceful conclusion to its racial strife. Who else could have lent the credibility needed for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be taken seriously? Who else could have convinced the abusers to openly admit their crimes and persuaded the victims to move beyond the impulse for vengeance?

Mandela certainly did not accomplish these feats by himself. Numerous other people in South Africa and across the globe joined him in the struggle for justice and peace.

But he became the face of the movement, even when his face was locked behind prison bars for all those years. He embodied what this cause had become: the quest for freedom in the truest sense.

During his 1964 trial at Rivonia, Mandela (a lawyer by trade) gave an impassioned speech outlining his goals — as well as his offenses — along with those of the African National Congress. He closed with these words, which speak to every human instinct seeking civil rights:

“Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing and not work which the government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population and not confined to living in their own ghettoes.

“African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after 11 o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the labour bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

“Above all, we want equal political rights because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy. But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs, it will not change that policy.

“This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela, however, did not die. He survived his time in prison and became an international leader like none of us has ever seen. He died in December 2013 at the age of 95.

South Africa continues to struggle with serious problems, but it discarded the racial oppression that damaged its standing in the global community for decades. It took the first step toward becoming a model of freedom. And that step began 25 years ago when an outlaw dissident walked away from prison and became a world-class statesman.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Where living legends tread

First published: February 06, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: February 05, 2015 at 4:26 pm

You don’t always have to search the past to come across epic moments in history. Sometimes it occurs right in your midst.

I had that experience a few times while working in a former position in Chicago. Being the editor of a community newspaper provides opportunities to participate in some pretty incredible programs — and once in a while you’re privileged to meet a legend.

An administrator at a local Roman Catholic elementary school called me to request coverage of a special event being held. Students in several grades would be inside the parish church listening to literary icon Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black American to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Brooks at the time was the third poet laureate of Illinois, succeeding Carl Sandburg. She also served as the U.S. poet laureate in 1985-86. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1950 for her book “Annie Allen.”

Just prior to her presentation, I met Brooks and had her sign a copy of one of her poetry collections. I’m not an autograph hound by any means, but I eagerly made an exception in her case.

Brooks was part of a movement called the Black Chicago Renaissance. Other people affiliated with this cultural phenomenon included Elizabeth Catlett, Horace R. Cayton, Thomas Dorsey, Katherine Dunham, Lorraine Hansberry, John H. Johnson, Gordon Parks, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright and Frank Yerby.

“In the early 1930s, as the famed Harlem Renaissance of black cultural achievement was winding down, a new surge of African-American creativity, activism and scholarship began to flower in the South Side Chicago district then becoming known as Bronzeville. This new Chicago Renaissance was fueled by two unprecedented social and economic conditions: the great migration of Southern blacks to Chicago in search of economic opportunity and perceived security from lynch-mob rule, and the crisis of the Great Depression that followed,” according to an article on the website for the Chicago Metro History Education Center written by Michael Flug, Cynthia Fife-Townsel and Belinda Robinson-Jones. “Out of this crisis emerged new ideas and institutions, new political activism and a revitalized community spirit. … The cultural upsurge in Bronzeville in the 1930s and 1940s took a course distinct from that of its Harlem predecessor. From 1932 through 1950, (Chicago’s) black community witnessed and participated in startling developments in literature, in music, social science and journalism. In addition to the national impact of its creative achievements, one of the most distinguishing features of the Chicago Renaissance was the extraordinary integration or developments in the humanities and social sciences with each other, and with the heightened political awareness of the period. This extraordinary development was aided by the birth of community-based institutions which fostered the new cultural creativity.”

I met Brooks a second time a few years later during a daylong program on the Black Chicago Renaissance featuring scholars and some of the remaining figures of this period. Focusing on literature, it was held in May 1998 at the Woodson Regional Library.

This was the ideal place to host such an event. The library is named in honor of historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson, who began what has become Black History Month.

The library also houses the Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature. Flug, who wrote the text I previously referenced about the Black Chicago Renaissance, served as the senior archivist at the Harsh Collection until his retirement a few years ago. The collection was started by Vivian G. Harsh, who became Chicago’s first black librarian in 1924, and includes many little-known books on black history as well as the research papers of prominent black scholars.

To be in that library at that moment was truly special. Brooks and Walker shared the stage to discuss their roles in shaping this movement and read some of their poetry.

This was the first of six programs examing the significance of the Black Chicago Renaissance. The series continued until the spring of 1999.

Some of the organizers told me this would likely be the last time these survivors of this era would appear together publicly, and they were correct. Walker died in November 1998 and Brooks in December 2000.

Brooks demonstrated the value of her craft in a poem that really struck a chord with me. Titled “Beverly Hills, Chicago,” it centered on the South Side neighborhood in which I grew up.

Brooks once described how she felt driving with members of her family through the Beverly community as a child. The poem contrasts the quality of life enjoyed by all the whites there with that of the black people in Bronzeville. Here is an excerpt:

Nobody is furious. Nobody hates these people./

At least, nobody driving by in this car./

It is only natural, however, that it should occur to us/

How much more fortunate they are than we are.

It is only natural that we should look and look/

At their wood and brick and stone/

And think, while a breath of pine blows,/

How different these are from our own.

We do not want them to have less./

But it is only natural that we should think we have not enough./

We drive on, we drive on./

When we speak to each other our voices are a little gruff.

In a few verses of poetry, Brooks sums up the tragic disconnect between those of us who enjoy white privilege and those trapped by inner city poverty. The power of Black History Month for me is confronting how the wrongs of a bygone era persist today.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Speak ethics unto power

First published: January 30, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: January 29, 2015 at 4:38 pm
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Is he in the market for a new job?

“It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”

— Woody Allen, “Bananas”

When members of the College of Cardinals convene to elect a new pope, onlookers keep their eyes open for the smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel.

Black smoke tells them that a vote was taken but no new pope was chosen. White smoke, however, brings joy to the hearts of Roman Catholics throughout the world.

“Habemus papam!” (“We have a pope!”) declares the proto-deacon of the College of Cardinals from the main balcony of the Vatican. The new pontiff then appears on the balcony to offer his blessing to those amassed in St. Peter’s Square.

It would be interesting to know what political groupies will look for as they gaze upon the state Capitol while Democratic members of the Assembly decide next week who will serve as their new speaker. I imagine the appropriate sign would be billows of black soot coughing out of a chimney mixed with charred fragments of $100 bills.

“Habemus orator!” would be announced as a confirmation of the blessed event. But rather than breaking out in cries of joy like those gathered in Rome, the Albany faithful would start working cellphones to discover which lobbyists have tight connections to the new speaker.

Members of the state Assembly are expected to choose a new speaker Monday. Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, is facing five federal corruption charges, and the rank and file believe it’s time for him to go.

It’s not often we witness a changing of the guard like the one underway at the state Legislature. Why? Because the position of Assembly speaker is granted so much authority that any challenge to this leadership spot is done at a legislator’s own risk.

Mr. Silver has held the position for nearly 21 years. He easily survived an attempted ouster in 2000.

Michael Bragman, a Cicero Democrat who represented the 118th District in the Assembly, found out the hard way what it means to be relegated to Mr. Silver’s dog house. He led the charge to dump the speaker by relying on the support he initially had.

But when word went out that there would be repercussions, most of the anti-Silver sentiment vanished. The coup failed miserably, and the hammer quickly came down on Mr. Bragman and his few remaining co-conspirators.

Mr. Bragman lost his position as majority leader, which he had held since 1993. According to an editorial published in the Watertown Daily Times in October 2001, the staff for the veteran legislator was slashed from 39 people to two. And he was unable to get his legislation passed, drying up state funds that his district had relied on for years.

“One person can control what legislation is passed, what projects are funded, how the budget is drafted, how much staff you have. Everything,” Mr. Bragman told the Associated Press in 2001, according to the Times’ editorial. “The system itself dictated we were not to be successful. Since that time, it has become apparent that the system has failed even more.”

Mr. Bragman resigned from the Assembly midterm in January 2002. He cited his inability to deliver for his district as part of the reason for leaving office.

“It is not fair to my constituents for me to continue,” he said in 2001. “Their expectation level has stayed the same. People cannot understand, even though we have talked about it, that one person can control everything that goes on.”

Preetinder S. Bharara is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He and members of his staff took over the work of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which led to the charges against Mr. Silver.

During a Jan. 23 speech at the New York Law School, Mr. Bharara made an excellent case for what’s wrong with state government. He puzzled over the concept of “three men in a room,” where the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate president decide among themselves how the state will function.

“Allow me the indulgence of speaking a little more as a citizen than as a prosecutor,” Mr. Bharara was quoted as saying in a Jan. 23 article in the New York Observer. “It’s the concentration of power. Power in New York State, as far as anyone can tell, is concentrated in the hands of just a few men — some would say, just three men. …

“Why three men? Can there be a woman? Do they always have to be white?” he mused. “How small is the room that they can only fit three men? Is it three men in a closet? Are there cigars? Can they have Cuban cigars now? After a while, doesn’t it get a little gamey in that room?”

I hope Mr. Bharara’s quips elicited a few laughs because they are humorous observations. But the reality is that we live in a state where the whims of three power brokers pretty much control what policies will be enacted.

In an essay Monday in the New York Times, Zephyr R. Teachout described what’s going on in state government as “legalized bribery.” Ms. Teachout, who ran against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year in the Democratic primary, is an associate professor of law at Fordham University and author of the book “Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.”

“According to Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who brought the charges, the once seemingly untouchable Mr. Silver took millions of dollars for legal work he did not do,” she wrote in the New York Times. “In exchange, he used his official power to steer business to a law firm that specialized in getting tax breaks for real estate developers, and he directed state funds to a doctor who referred cases to another law firm that paid Mr. Silver fees.”

Part of the reason shady deals like this occur is that our political class has become oblivious to why they are bad, Ms. Teachout wrote.

“The former governor of New York David A. Paterson, for example, said that he had trouble understanding where the criminality lay in the allegation that Mr. Silver accepted payments from law firms for referrals, including referrals by a doctor to whom Mr. Silver funneled state health research funds. Mr. Paterson said, ‘in the legal profession, people refer business all the time. And theoretically, as a speaker, you could do that as well.’ …

“The structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians so that they can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day,” she wrote. “When you spend a lifetime serving campaign donors, it may seem easy to serve them when they come with an outright bribe because it doesn’t seem that different.”

Legislators must dedicate themselves to serving our best interests, not theirs. Perhaps our state government has become so vile that we actually need to hear “Habemus papam!” rather than “Habemus orator!” next week in Albany. Hmm, I wonder if Pope Francis is a Democrat.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Canada’s (John) A. game

First published: January 16, 2015 at 12:30 am
Last modified: January 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm
JERRY MOORE N WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES
Tricia Marwick, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, responds to a question posed to her Saturday following a speech she delivered in Kingston, Ontario, on the campus of Queen’s University. She was in Kingston this past weekend to participate in events commemorating the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

We commemorate past achievements because they’ve led us to where we are today and help navigate where we’re heading.

Our friends just north of the border have embarked on a yearlong celebration of the man largely responsible for Canada’s development as a united country. Sir John A. Macdonald was at the forefront of the cause of Canadian confederation and served as the nation’s first prime minister after this occurred. He was born on Jan. 11, 1815, and a series of events is marking this bicentennial.

It’s easy to merely look back at milestones and fawn at how much they inspire us all. But examining the life of a leader is most useful when doing so invites us to enhance his or her vision for the future.

In the several events I attended in Kingston, Ontario, this past weekend, this seemed to be the common thread. The merit of Macdonald’s efforts is argued again with each new generation: How will Canadians here today use what he bequeathed them to make their country better?

The first event I was at, the Empire Life Great Debate, addressed the issue of “Was Sir John A. the Greatest Canadian Prime Minister?” Moderated by Steve Paikin of Ontario television, the debate featured Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander arguing in the affirmative and former Member of Parliament Bob Rae arguing in the negative.

Alexander pointed to Macdonald’s work in uniting Canadian provinces under confederation and helping the nation grow in the following years. In terms of being an effective prime minister, who could possibly follow that, Alexander argued.

Rae said that while Sir John A.’s accomplishments were many, he had profound flaws. Canadians shouldn’t ignore the extraordinary things Macdonald did but neither should they overlook the pain he caused others through his shortcomings, particularly indigenous people. A more balanced approach is needed to capture his complex nature, Rae noted.

This lively debate gave both men the opportunity to share what they’ve learned about Macdonald in assessing the needs of Canada’s future. They contrasted what was best about his time in office and where things still to be improved.

Another event I attended was the Principal’s Forum at Queen’s University held Saturday. Macdonald helped start the university, particularly its School of Medicine. The school will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year — a fact that prompted Principal Daniel Woolf to remind audience members that the origin of the university actually predates the founding of the nation in which it resides.

And Queen’s University is steeped in the Scottish traditions that made up Macdonald’s background. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and moved with his family to Kingston when he was 5. As opposed to many other universities, Queen’s adheres to the Scottish custom of being led by a principal rather than a president, Woolf said.

The Principal’s Forum featured Tricia Marwick, the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament. She is the first woman to hold this title and has been a member of the Scottish Parliament since its founding in 1999.

Marwick’s talk on Saturday focused on the constitutional journey that Scotland has been taking throughout its history. Most of her discussion centered on the referendum for Scottish independence held Sept. 18. With an astonishing voter participation rate of nearly 85 percent, Scots chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom by 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent.

Marwick said that proponents of both sides of the independence question truly seemed to be informed about the issue. Although they viewed the potential ramifications differently, she said the people of Scotland were genuinely engaged in this debate and took the time to learn about what independence from the UK would mean for them.

Students of Queen’s University also benefited from Marwick’s insights the previous day. On Friday, she delivered a lecture titled “Young Women in Politics.” Given the historic course that Marwick is charting in Scotland, I would love to have been present for that event.

Kingston City Hall hosted a reception Sunday featuring speeches by a list of notables such as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Elizabeth Dowdeswell, lieutenant governor of Ontario; and Bryan Paterson, mayor of Kingston. Those in attendance included former Prime Ministers Kim Campbell and John Turner.

It was refreshing to see people so interested in each of these events. I felt a sense of excitement about how far Canada has come since confederation and where it is headed.

It’s not that our friends to the north don’t have their own set of challenges to overcome, but they appear to have a government that is more responsive to their call to get essential tasks accomplished. This contrasts sharply with the United States, where a portion of our electorate actually cheers more loudly when members of Congress do less.

It was a joy to witness these initial events in Canada’s celebration of one of its founding fathers. I look forward to keeping tabs on what the people there have planned for the rest of the year.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the work that Arthur Milnes is doing to revise people’s interest in their nation’s history. He is the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial ambassador for Kingston and was the ultimate master of ceremonies last weekend.

That Milnes arranged to have so many dignitaries come to Kingston for these bicentennial events was extraordinary. His enthusiasm for his country’s past is infectious and exemplifies the Canadian spirit to forge a brighter future.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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My family’s holiday miracle

First published: December 24, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm
PHOTO COURTESY OF JERRY MOORE
Jerry Moore, right, spends time with his brother Robert in Liège, Belgium, in late 1944. The two brothers from Chicago’s South Side were both members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, although in separate divisions. They had a chance meeting 70 years ago on Christmas Eve.

Christmastime can feel rather empty when you’re far from home.

Those in the U.S. military are all too familiar with this experience. Since the American Revolution, they have devoted themselves to protecting our nation’s interests at the expense of the holiday merriment the rest of us enjoy.

It’s one thing for service members to be stationed away from home at Christmas when there are no global conflicts. But fighting in a war during this sacred time is unfathomable.

Celebrating Christmas in wartime has long intrigued me, and my family has a cherished memento of loved ones juggling these conflicting ideas. The photograph accompanying this column shows my father, Jerry, spending Christmas with his older brother Robert a few months before the end of World War II.

Both my father and Uncle Bud (as everyone called him) were members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, although in separate divisions. They focused on building and repairing roads and railways. My father’s division, in fact, constructed a bridge over the Rhine River so Allied forces could pursue German troops.

My uncle was stationed at Liège, Belgium, in late 1944, and my dad had relocated into the area with his unit on Christmas Eve. He heard that his older brother was nearby, so he obtained permission to spend time with him.

My father tracked my uncle down, and I’m certain it was the most joyous reunion either of them ever had. Being faithful Roman Catholics, they attended midnight Mass together at a church in the area. My father had to leave, so they parted company on Christmas Day.

The photograph was taken sometime during their visit. It can be found in the homes of every member of my family and those of my cousins.

It’s special to us because of the story it tells and how it visually displays what we all know to be true: The most important thing in this life, particularly during holidays, is family.

Who could calculate the odds that two brothers from Chicago’s South Side, knocking around Europe during World War II, would bump into each other on Christmas Eve? What must have gone through their minds when they got together? And did they believe this could be the last time they would see each other — ever?

Like many families, spending time together is essential for my mother and siblings as well as our relatives. It’s where we experience the deepest love and draw the strongest support. As social beings, family is a lifeline on which most of us rely.

So it must have been an extraordinary moment for my dad and Uncle Bud when they reunited on Christmas Eve in 1944. The comfort of being in the presence of someone they knew so well could not have been sweeter for either of them.

While their primary jobs involved rebuilding infrastructure, my father and uncle were still in the middle of combat. And war is the breakdown of all civility. Regardless of what side of a conflict it’s on, any nation must carry out horrific acts to achieve its goals.

Yes, we fought a malevolent force bent on subjugating millions across the globe in World War II. This made stopping the Axis powers necessary. But it’s still war, and war involves human beings killing other human beings by whatever means possible.

I can’t help but believe that my dad and uncle were often haunted by the vulgar nature of war during their time abroad. Neither one spoke much about his experiences in the military, which is typical for many who see war up close. How can someone put into words the sights and sounds that stem from the worst human cruelty possible?

Toss the thought of celebrating Christmas into the mix, and you have a real dilemma. This is the holiday that helps us get over the doldrums of our everyday lives under normal circumstances. How can anyone consider promoting this season of peace when the world is at war and untold numbers of people are being killed every day by design?

I have never been in the military and have no clue what it’s like to be in the midst of an armed conflict. So I cannot imagine how anyone endures such state-sanctioned violence.

Perhaps celebrating holidays like Christmas is the only way to get through something like a war. It’s an excuse to feel joy at a time when this sentiment is in such short supply.

This is what happened 100 years ago during the acclaimed Christmas Truce of Word War I. In 1914, British and German troops took it upon themselves to stop fighting — albeit temporarily — to live out the spirit of the season and spread some good will.

They shared a common religious heritage and looked at each other as brothers rather than as enemies. This gave fits to commanders on both sides, and the holiday cease-fire was brought to an unfortunate end. But for a brief moment, these soldiers discarded the drumbeat of war and heeded the voice of peace.

This is why the experience our fathers had is so precious to at least two branches of the Moore family. A chance encounter 70 years ago represented what this season is all about.

The greatest gift the world received that Christmas was the knowledge this conflict was coming to an end. The greatest gift my dad and Uncle Bud received was the chance to spend the holiday with each other. And the greatest gift we as a family received was the memory of how they carved out a slice of Christmas peace in the midst of a world war.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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I’m a real klutz performer

First published: December 19, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 18, 2014 at 4:52 pm

In the midst of highly skilled singers who have devoted years of their lives to community choirs, I recently came close to throwing wrenches into two public choral performances.

I haven’t sung in a choir for more than a decade. Regardless, I decided to go for broke and participate in the yearly Christmas concerts put on by both the Northern Choral Society (Dec. 6 and 7 at Asbury United Methodist Church in Watertown) and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble (Sunday at United Presbyterian Church in Sackets Harbor).

Preparing for one musical presentation can be demanding enough, particularly if you’re easing back into singing after a long hiatus like I did this year. So taking on two different programs held within a week of each other posed some real challenges for me.

But somehow I persevered, and I’m glad that I did. Both programs were exceptionally operated and offered wonderful music. The people of the north country are fortunate to have these two choirs providing great choral events in their communities.

So leave it to me to come within a Christmas cookie of causing a major scene at a pair of the performances. That’s my specialty!

During the Northern Choral Society’s concert on Dec. 6, I wasn’t doing the best job at managing all the music in my folder. We were performing quite a number of songs, and I was switching pieces of music from one side of the folder to the other as we completed them.

Some people had made punch holes in their sheets of music and had the pages clamped in place, while others had folders with elastic straps across the bottom to help keep the music from slipping out. I didn’t have a folder with a strap on it, nor did I bother to secure my music via the punch-hole system. It was entirely up to me to ensure everything was balanced throughout the concert.

I failed.

At one point in the concert, I tilted the top of my folder too low. The music from the right-hand side of my folder tumbled out, some of it falling on one of the women in the row directly in front of me. Just in time for Christmas, my face must have turned Santa-suit red.

I had feared something like that would happen as I tried to move the music from one side of my folder to the other. It can be tricky attempting to hold the folder with one hand while securing the loose sheets of music with the other all the while needing to turn each page as we finished a portion of a particular song.

The only thing I had going for me when my music fell out was that it came from the side of my folder where I was storing the music we had already performed. So while feeling embarrassed that I let my music fly out, at least I still had the music coming up in the concert resting in my folder.

I don’t believe many people noticed. Or if they did, I never heard about it. The woman in front of me was gracious enough shortly after the mishap to pick up my music that had tumbled to the ground and hand it back to me.

I avoided this problem during the concert the following day by keeping only a few songs in one side of the folder and the rest of it in an enclosed space on the back of the chair in front of me. This way I could place music already sung in this area, therefore only needing to use my folder for a few pieces of music at a time. The Dec. 7 concert went ahead without incident.

To better prepare for the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble’s concert on Sunday, I bought a folder with clamps in it and went the punch-hole route. No sheets of music would fall from my folder this time!

And none did. It was very secure, so I was able to hold the folder and turn each page without worrying about needing to keep the music in place.

But then something else occurred, an incident that must plague singers everywhere. In between two songs, I began coughing and couldn’t control it.

My throat felt very dry, so the coughing was aggravating it — leading to more coughing. I muffled the coughing as best I could and don’t believe it caused much of a distraction (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

Again, I never heard from anyone about it being a problem. Perhaps it didn’t disturb any of the other singers, or perhaps they’re just too nice to say anything. No matter how you try and spice it up, coughing just doesn’t add anything positive to a terrific musical number!

My sincere apologies to directors Sara Gleason (Northern Choral Society) and Richard Probert (Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble), accompanists Carl Bingle and Kyle Ramey and all the superb singers for nearly destroying these annual holiday events. I hope the incidents caused only minor distractions, if any, and that I’m making mountains out of molehills.

All that aside, it was a tremendous experience to be a part of these Christmas programs. My goal is to do this again next year — provided I grow something on my hands other than thumbs!

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Keep arguments consistent

First published: December 12, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: December 11, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Oh, you gotta love double standards.

Last month, numerous Americans railed against President Barack Obama’s executive order shielding about 5 million undocumented workers from deportation. They criticized it as a betrayal of the laws he swore to uphold.

But now many of these same people are furious that Democrats in the U.S. Senate have released their report on the questionable interrogation techniques used during President George W. Bush’s term. What possible good can come out of reviewing stuff that we already know happened, they’ve claimed. Dredging all this up again may only fan the flames of animosity against the United States, putting us even more at risk — or so the argument goes.

Now, never mind that some of the measures employed in trying to extract information from suspected al-Qaida and Taliban operatives violated not only our own laws but also international law. And never mind that we as a nation have repeatedly denounced acts of torture committed by other countries as human rights abuses.

So let me get this straight. It’s unacceptable to offer help to some people, who have been making positive contributions to our society for years, get right with our immigration laws. But at the same time, it’s perfectly fine for us to overlook atrocities sanctioned by one presidential administration and carried out by people representing the U.S. intelligence community.

Does this make sense to anyone?

Critics of the Senate report claim that it’s one-sided and inaccurate. I’m not going to vouch for the specifics in the report or challenge the claims made by opponents.

I haven’t studied the report carefully enough to determine how truthful and fair it is. It could well be the partisan hack job that some have labeled it.

But there are some things about our enhanced-interrogation techniques that we’ve known for years.

For one, the United States has previously taken a dim view of waterboarding and considered it a form of torture. Waterboarding was one of the crimes that Japanese soldiers were charged with in U.S. military tribunals following World War II.

It’s also been reported that some terrorist suspects we held in custody were conveniently farmed out to other nations so they could be further questioned. And the questions often came with tactics that were even more brutal than the ones we used. But hey, our hands are clean; don’t blame us for acts of torture committed by outside agents.

Torture doesn’t necessarily provide accurate information. And from a legal standpoint, it wouldn’t matter if it did. We have outlawed its use because we consider it immoral, and so have many other nations.

It’s doubtful that the acts of torture in which we engaged provided any tangible information. And we shouldn’t sanction lawless behavior simply because some argue it may be effective.

Opponents of the Senate report are all over the place with their arguments. First, they claim that the tactics we used don’t constitute torture. Then they say that it doesn’t matter because we stopped using them.

Don’t they see that the second factor casts grave doubts over the accuracy of the first? If tactics we used were legal, why did we stop using them — especially once their use became public? This is the tried and true argument of, “We didn’t do, and we won’t do it again!”

And as I’ve pointed out before, we as a nation have labeled these tactics as acts of torture. It’s very difficult to cram the toothpaste back inside the tube once you start squeezing it.

Critics also have questioned the value of releasing a report with so many details of what was done to suspects in custody. What can be gained by bringing all these up after so many years?

The benefit of doing so is to thoroughly examine how we got to the point where we sanctioned torture. That is not who we are as Americans.

Engaging in barbarism goes against our national principles, but somehow we found ourselves in this very spot. How did we allow this to happen, and what can be done to ensure we don’t travel down this road again?

As opponents have claimed, the Senate report may not be perfect. In fact, it may have some serious flaws based on the partisan way that the information was apparently pursued.

But it is a start to a serious conversation about how we abandoned our core values and sanctioned the use of torture. Opponents can argue for any revisions they believe need to be made.

We must have this debate because torture violates our laws and diminishes the moral authority we bring to the world stage. We need to examine this problem to see what led us to this point. We have to go through this process because it’s the right thing to do.

It mirrors how we’re engaging in a discussion about the merits of President Obama’s executive order allowing 5 million undocumented workers to stay put for the time being and complete the process of obtaining legal authority to remain here. This is as it should be. So for some people to urge one debate while ignoring the other is indeed perplexing.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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Give a holiday some space

First published: November 21, 2014 at 12:30 am
Last modified: November 20, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Black Friday may eventually go by the wayside, but not for an honorable reason.

The annual day of shopping madness has been a long tradition in this country. In fact, the official date for Thanksgiving was altered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to appease merchants by creating a slightly longer Christmas shopping season.

Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 establishing the final Thursday in November as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” But Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday in November. He recognized that some years would carry a fifth Thursday in November (as 1939 did), thus offering businesses an additional week to hawk their holiday wares.

Stores began opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday to capture the wave of consumer excitement. First it was 6 a.m., which gave way to 5 a.m. — and eventually, businesses started opening at midnight.

And within the past couple of years, the shopping season has begun encroaching on Thanksgiving night itself. This brought about a new phrase, Gray Thursday, with stores opening in the early evening.

It was hard to believe that so many shoppers would abandon this traditional family holiday by rushing to a store to buy Christmas gifts on Thanksgiving. Many thought it cynical that these businesses would infringe on a truly special and sacred time.

However, the open doors attract consumers by the droves. It’s grown worse as the opening times have been pushed back even earlier.

But just when I had resigned myself to the reality that a growing number of businesses will be open sometime in the evening on Thanksgiving, a few stores have to push the envelope further. Both Kmart and Meijer will open at 6 a.m. Thursday, with Big Lots following at 7 a.m.

The rationale for obliterating a beloved holiday is that many consumers are willing to shop on Thanksgiving with many employees willing to serve them. Seeing the crowds that show up at whatever time the stores decide to open, it’s hard countering this argument. As long as a business is open and it’s promising substantial deals, shoppers will come.

Businesses that open early make it sound like they are merely accommodating people with the hours that they want to shop. But it’s the stores that are pulling the strings, leaving consumers with the notion that they’ll be left in the dark this Christmas if they don’t make the trek to the malls as soon as they decide to unlock their doors.

People should realize that the period of Gray Thursday to Black Friday isn’t the only time that they’ll be able to take advantage of terrific deals. There is another month to go before Christmas, and stores will still want consumers to stop in. So they’ll have to offer something good for the remainder of the shopping season.

If enough customers insisted on waiting until at least Friday to start their Christmas shopping, businesses would eventually get the message. The stores are the ones manipulating people’s worries over losing out on fantastic deals. It’s time for people to reclaim the power and call the shots.

Stores won’t be so eager to open at 6 or 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving if people by and large don’t show up. Imagine if more of us chose to spend this entire day with our families reflecting on all the blessings we’ve already received rather than salivating over what we don’t yet possess.

Thanksgiving is my family’s most cherished time of the year. We don’t get a chance to be together at every holiday, so we make it a point to do so on this one.

And that’s the remarkable thing about Thanksgiving. Yes, there is a lot of planning, shopping and preparing that goes into the meal.

But as a colleague here in the newsroom reminded me, it’s remained for the most part uncommercialized. So it’s nice to have a holiday on which people don’t have to worry about spending enough money.

In fact, Thanksgiving nearly gets lost by being sandwiched in between Halloween and Christmas. These are two holidays that, by any measurement, have become overly commercialized. And that is the threat this cherished day faces from the economic drumbeat demanding ever-increasing consumer activity.

It’s true that many businesses rely on strong sales through the Christmas shopping season to balance their annual budgets, and I’m not suggesting that people give up on the free market. I’ve long advocated that residents support their local merchants as much as they can, particularly at Christmas. These businesses keep our communities vibrant and thriving.

But let’s not grow so rabid about saving a few extra dollars on a new television that we diminish a beloved tradition. You’ll still be able to find that TV somewhere after Gray Thursday. But you’ll never be able to recapture the time you could have spent with loved ones on Thanksgiving.

The decision is yours, so choose wisely. Put me down for quality time with my family.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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