Expert Voices

U.S. Resistance Returning Nazi Looted Art Resurrects Old Wounds

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

In a crowded media world the topic of Nazi looted art has taken comfort on the back burner of the national debate circuit. But things are changing and the push to return art plundered by the Nazis is gaining momentum and more of the world’s attention.

A ruling in July by U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC sided with Jewish heirs of the Welfenschatz art collection looted by Nazis in 1935. The ruling follows Germany’s attempts to dismiss the case claiming, among other things, immunity from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, (FSIA). Nonetheless, the district court rejected Germany’s arguments and denied their motion to dismiss the case.

And, hard to believe, Donald J. Trump played a small role in the push to bring justice to remaining Holocaust survivors. In the gloom of his support for American Nazis who marched in the Charlottesville rally, the president signed the Just Act into law in May of this year; about nine months after calling anti-Semitic, white separatists chanting “Jews will not replace us,” very fine people.The Just Act is another statute requiring the State Department to report on the progress of European efforts to return artworks stolen nearly 70 years ago.

Still, this question lingers: is the U.S. doing enough to return its own Nazi-looted art kept in high brow institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art? No, says Raymond J. Dowd, who serves on the Board of Governors of the National Arts Club and the Board of Directors of the Federal Bar Association. Sighting a 2014 report by the World’s Jewish Restitution Organization, (WJRO) Dowd says, “The United States is not in the group of countries that are doing the right thing.” He says despite established laws laying out the process and groundwork of returning art forcibly taken from Jews, even deeming the taking a form of genocide, only a small fraction of stolen art has been returned to its rightful owners.

Dowd, who lectures on legal and ethical matters related to Nazi art looting, represented the heirs of Fritz Grumbaum, a renowned art collector who died at the Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

“It’s still our public policy in the United States that this property should go back to the people from whom it was stolen. The Holocaust Victims Redress Act of 1998, Congress reaffirmed that.” So why did the U.S. end up with so much Nazi looted art in our museums? Dowd says, “We have to take a hard look at American museums and our cultural traditions to understand why.” He says it started with J.P. Morgan who, for tax purposes, refused to move his large European art collection to put in U.S. museums. Being one of the wealthiest men in America, Congress obliged and enacted the Payne-Aldrich Tarrif Act of 1909. “And that Act added imports of original artworks from Europe that were more than 20 years old to the duty free list. So, that paved the way for the creation of some of our greatest museums.” Dowd says even Andrew Mellon legally challenged his tax bill by pointing to the vast art collection he donated to the National Gallery as reason to reduce his tax obligation.

“Mr. Mellon’s victory is enshrined in today’s tax code that says you get a fair market value deduction for a work of art regardless of what you paid for it. The significance over most of the 20th century is that if you’re wealthy you could avoid capital gains tax by donating to a museum and thus shelter all of your income from taxation.”

Dowd says it’s an ethical and social choice being made to help rich Americans shelter their incomes in museums. And although it led to America acquiring extraordinary art collections, it’s an unjust system. “When we think about tax fairness, people who give to museums are not giving to others in our community; they’re not paying for schools or housing or roads and most of the things that other people in the middle class are paying for.”

The tax loophole may be legal but it becomes problematic when stolen art, which doesn’t get properly scrutinized, is donated. “Particularly when we see that today in America there are more museums than there are Starbucks and McDonald’s combined.” Despite early declarations of nations not taking part in stolen art transactions, Holocaust survivors and their heirs are still searching for their plundered art, many of which are hanging in American museums.

According to Art Law Gallery an estimated 300,000 Nazi looted artworks are still missing today.

 

Dear White House “Resister”: A Response To The Anonymous NYT Op-Ed Writer

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Here’s a perspective. Like Drake, I’m upset. The timing of this letter is suspect.

Never in the history of modern day America has a White House administration exhibited such disarray and dysfunction endangering the country and the world. The Trump administration isn’t just dysfunctional; it is downright dangerous.

And this anonymous “resister” wants it all; to not only eat the cake, but to throw it in the faces of the American people by way of being part of forcing one-sided legislation down our throats and help do the bidding for the most prosperous among us who don’t need more wealth in a country losing its middle class to poverty.

Pointing out the president’s “amorality” as the root of America’s problem is equivalent to telling us that water is wet. Was “grab them by the pussy” not enough to “resist” or help thwart his political advances? What about his long documented business practices of cheating hard-working people? Why speak out now when the world is watching us crumble within, fighting amongst ourselves, and showing us to be the fools destined to perish by not coming together like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned during the civil rights movement.

“I would know. I am one of them,” the anonymous “resister” boosts about the sabotaging of an American president as if he or she is a Marvel character in a super hero movie. Unfortunately, this is real life and the attempts to take away healthcare from the common man has real life consequences; giving “historic” tax cuts to the rich by taking more from the poor is the opposite of what a super hero would do; being silent when the president attacks minorities and shows support for racists is complicity in its true form; not writing sooner, you know, like when the president banned Muslims from entering the country, ripping Mexican and Latin American children from their desperate parents’ arms at our southern borders, calling Mexicans rapists, disrespecting the needs of those affected by Hurricane Maria, suggesting that black immigrants are less desirable in America because they come from “shit hole countries,” … I can go on but I think you get why I’m upset.

Your “dear America” letter is disrespect.

If your first duty is to this country, as you put it, why would you want Donald Trump to succeed in his efforts to “Make America Great Again” when all this campaign slogan embodies is a call to revive the atrocious history of a country still working to overcome it; a past that had black people in bondage and living as second class citizens in a country they built through slave labor. The extreme ideological platform you and your fellow “secret resisters” chose to build upon is exactly why America is in the pickle jar. From selecting Sen. Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice despite the warnings of Coretta Scott King, putting Scott Pruitt in charge of protecting the environment when he’s only shown that it’s for sale to the highest polluter, looking to Betsy Devos to lead our nations education system despite her lack of experience or ability to even identity with people who attend public schools or live below the billion dollar income line; blatantly disrespecting long standing federal bidding practices by grossly handing out FEMA contracts to well connected friends with no business managing natural disasters, and handing out pardons like Mardi Gras beads…Thank God Joe Arpaio didn’t have to show us his man boobs.

The list of corrupt behavior is long. How many times has Jared Kushner changed his answers on his security clearance form? Against federal rules, Ivanka Trump’s clothing and jewelry line is being pimped out on television by top advisors like Kelly Anne Conway, and Fox News has turned into a propaganda machine for hate and intolerance, something the president and his enablers feed and supports. The entire family is benefitting financially from the blatant nepotism taking place and costing Americans millions in tax dollars. Let’s not forget, you “top advisors” blessed Kushner, a wealthy out of touch and inexperienced realtor, to be the savior of the Middle East while birthing peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I’m upset; despite your letter full of regret.

You say the president shows no affinity for conservative ideas as if he hasn’t switched political parties before or shown the world his true colors. Just because you’ve enabled and made excuses for Trump along the way to this pile we’re now sitting on doesn’t mean majority Americans, decent and good hearted people, don’t see him exactly for who and what he is; a pathological liar and an all around terrible human being. Your house of cards is crumbling and like a rat you’re trying to jump a sinking ship. You may have changed your cloth but you’re still the being behind this new resister frock.

The same people that saw fit for then press secretary Sean Spicer demand the American people accept that their eyes were lying to them when he said Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Video and photographic evidence wasn’t enough to stop this perpetual lie; another attempt to cloud truth and blur the boundaries of right and wrong to appease Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States. And let’s not forget, Chief of Staff John Kelly has yet to apologize for lying about statements Rep. Frederica Wilson made about the president’s disastrous phone call with the wife of a fallen soldier and for insulting her using racially insensitive language.

Nonetheless, you want the American people to believe you all are the Space Force Avengers.

The disbelief of senior officials at the president’s words and actions is laughable considering Trump hasn’t changed since becoming president. He’s simply more powerful. And this is exactly what Trump’s base loves about him. “He’s not your typical politician” and “He speaks his mind” they excused no matter what Trump did or said. Even evangelicals found loopholes in their bibles to justify every sin Trump committed and turned a blind eye to every one of his hypocritical moves or ungodly behavior.

The adults in the room colluded with Russia to win an election and made Trump their messiah despite all the warnings and push back from the American people. And now, seeing a steady drop in his approval numbers, they want him returned to sender before the blue wave hits.  Ironically, the adults who stood silent while the president attacked the media as the “enemy of the American people” now turn to it for salvation.

 

 

Thanks Trump! The Global Shaming Of America

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

America is being shamed by the world. And it’s all thanks to President Donald J. Trump and his clan. It’s clear, we have an unusual leader at the helm. Unfortunately, the helm is leader of the free world and that’s terrifying af. It’s rare when the world speaks with one voice. And right now it’s chanting loud and clear across Europe, “We hate you Donald Trump, Go Away!” Even the State Department is cautioning Americans abroad to keep a low profile. And, believe it or not, the word Trump actually means Big Fat Problem Baby in Na’vi! That’s why they made a huge baby Trump float to “welcome” him. It’s true.

But, in all seriousness, the take away from this stance is positive and negative. It’s uplifting to know that most people, world-wide, don’t want to blur the lines that separate right and wrong for greed’s sake. This collective stance against Trump and all he represents—arguably, the worst of mankind—makes the negative response to his visit even more poignant, especially on the heels of countless terror attacks in the region and a wave of anti-immigration moves from the top down. I mean for God’s sake, Brexit happened!

On the other hand, it’s deeply disappointing to see the man who represents us as Americans not only behave badly in all social situations but is pushing to advance policies that divide and weaken us here and abroad. Rather than move us forward as a world that stands as one and beholden to goals rooted in humanity and prosperity, Trump is trashing his opportunity to make the world a better place for all of us. And that includes taking care of planet earth, allowing future generations to experience the miracle of life, nature and the universe.

With a decreased status as the world’s super power, thanks to China’s hot dragon breath behind our neck, America is perceptibly floating on “the Nile” River tap dancing away like Fred Astaire because the show must go on despite what’s at stake; nuclear war. President Trump’s performance at the G7 Summit in Europe didn’t go any better than his current visit across the pond. Remember the iconic photo of the G7 leaders looking down at the petulant child-man with all the power? I’m still embarrassed.

But seriously, is he that clueless and unprofessional?! Leaving the queen waiting? … Walking in front of her and just embarrassing himself and by default, the rest of us decent and good Americans? The. Queen. Of. England. Had. To. Stop. And. Go. Around. Him. While. He. Was. Puffing. His. Chest. And. Chin. Out. I cringed watching him walk with his chest inflated, chin up in the air and that ever present stupid, and spoiled, jerky brat look on his face. Keep in mind, Trump goes out of his way to treat women poorly. His lack of respect of the queen is right in line with what he embodies; misogyny. From refusing to shake hands with Angela Merkel, throwing skittles at her, insulting and rating women’s looks and boasting that he can get away with sexual assault. When it comes to modern social norms, Trump is revealing that manners and respect for others didn’t matter in his household when he was growing up. Only he did; shame on his parents.

And considering his hostile policies targeting immigration, you’d think his family never migrated here from one of the countries protesting his European visit; Scotland. His mother migrated to the U.S. from Scotland, paving the way for the life he now lives. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy that keeps him afloat is astounding. His current and third wife, First Lady Melania Trump is accused of lying on her own visa application… It’s hard to think back to her appearance on Larry King Live to support the birther movement to discredit Obama’s birth certificate. She clearly hiked Mount Audacity in Pandora…

The blatant racism, bad behavior, hypocrisy, bold-faced lying and shameful unprofessionalism from this family and the entire administration is astounding and dangerous because it sets the tone of normalcy and precedent for our nation, the world and future leaders.

From Britain to Scotland, people have taken to the streets to voice their disdain for Trump. And yet he doesn’t care that the world hates him and all he represents; American greed and culture. The world can literally see Trump … chosen “democratically”… grabbing America and the rest of the world “by the pussy” and we can’t move his little hand away.

Our democracy is hanging in balance and Trump, propped up by his supporters and enablers couldn’t care less. Why? Because they want to win; even though the prize is debasing American values.

The press plays a crucial role inflating the Trump blimp. Being their bread and butter makes coverage of him and his family increasingly disheartening. And, at times even laughable if there wasn’t so much at stake, making the laughter morph into instant pain and concern. World renowned expert on culture, Edgar H. Schein says culture is very hard if not impossible to change. But in the age of Trump one can argue that American culture is rapidly changing right in front of our eyes. Thanks Trump!

Partisanship is part of the fabric that formed our country. As a nation, we will never see eye-to-eye on how to govern ourselves or lead the world. But that’s what makes us innovative and progressive people. That’s why we have three branches of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights to ensure our cooperation and coexistence with one another; a diverse people working to overcome a painful past and striving for racial, civil and economic equality. Unfortunately, the hive that accompanies Trump are like biblical locusts dead set on destroying everything in front of them. Who knew Roe v. Wade would be in jeopardy after all this time?! Don’t be surprised when bible thumping conservative lawmakers call for segregation across the land as they work to weaken the working class.

The election of President Obama revealed a dormant racist underbelly anxious to rear its ugly head; an attempt to reverse racial progress. And everything was Obama’s fault. Even rain couldn’t escape being blamed on the man. The trend, “Thanks Obama!” became fodder. Lawmakers at the highest levels of government were more interested in seeing him fail than move the country forward together. It’s those race-obscured blinders that has us waste deep in Russian election meddling today. A serious national security threat. Trump deflecting his involvement with Russia in swaying the election by pointing fingers at Obama is not only par for the course, it’s telling of the continued partisanship that has crippled our democracy.

Trump shames us at home and he shames us abroad. And his party remains silently complicit while feverishly turning the wheel of progress backward to fit a country and world that only values those with golden toilets. The wealthy, the ignorant and the racists among us are the only ones benefiting from Trump. And, the indictment of 12 Russians accused of tampering with the 2016 presidential election won’t phase him or his supporters. This, despite publicly being asked by Trump to hack our security system. Sadly, their “Make America Great Again” slogan touting patriotism as their rationale for standing behind the antithesis of what a great American actually looks like, lives on. Josiah Gilbert Holland once said, “The soul, like the body, lives by what it feeds on.” Perhaps it’s Trump’s glutinous soul diet that needs an overhaul for him to become the human being this world needs. But, I won’t hold my breath while I cringe.  Thanks Trump!

 

Heraldry Blankets The Cradle Of Mankind’s Identity And Culture

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Ceremony, rank, pedigree, membership of a noble family, values and culture are the statements behind family crest’s, tribal totems, coat of arms and all forms of heraldry. Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and wife of Prince Harry had the distinct privilege to design her own crest or coat of arms when she became a member of the British royal family. This is significant. Here’s why: The practice of this tribal symbolism and identity dates back to the cradle of mankind. A crest is the emblem of a clan or tribe. Although Markle being biracial, a divorcee from America or any other ridiculous disqualifier one may add, shows significant progress as it pertains to tolerance and acceptance at the highest level of society’s totem pole. Creating her own emblem highlights the personal but also our collective legacy as black people. Royalty is not new in African culture but Markle joining the British Royals as a member of their family is progress we can all support, unless you’re a racist witch like Princess Michael of Kent who wore that awful racist brooch to have lunch with Markle. Her statement, using a brooch like First Lady Melania using a jacket, spoke loud and clear.

Although history points us to the medieval times when knights personalized their shields with a  coat of arms, the practice actually goes even further. Europeans aren’t the only ones who personalized their clan, family, unit, position or tribe. These kinds of symbolic statements can be traced back to ancient times before the fall of Rome and the birth of the middle ages. Symbolism has always played a vital role in society. There would be no society without symbolism. Human beings and their respective clans have used flags, totems and other forms of tribal and religious heraldry to distinguish themselves from each other since recorded history.

Markle’s crest had me thinking about my own family’s crest or heraldry. Luckily, after going through some family photos I found one. The image is of my great uncle and Paramount Chief of the Pamaka people of Suriname, Grangmang Forster. Pamaka people live on several islands within the country but our main island is Langetabetje. My grandfather, Nikolaas Forster, served as Captain alongside his older brother Grangmang Forster who is holding our tribes symbol or crest in each hand. In one hand he holds a pineapple and in the other a fire breathing dragon. These two symbols are the Pamaka people’s crest. It essentially says; we can either get along, or we can get it on. It represents who we are as a people just like Markle’s crest identifies her family and what she values.

When explorers were sent out during Europe’s great age of discovery they were slow to understand the customs and institutions of the people they came across, explained author Marvin Harris in his book; Cannibals and Kings. He writes, “Although the Europeans exaggerated their “savagery,” the majority of these village communities collected enemy heads as trophies, roasted their prisoners of war alive, and consumed human flesh in ritual feasts. The fact that the “civilized” Europeans also tortured people—in witchcraft trials, for example—and that they were not against exterminating the populations of whole cities should be kept in mind (even if they were squeamish about eating one another). Harris goes on to write, “Explorers encountered fully developed states and empires, headed by despots and ruling classes, and defended by standing armies. It was these great empires, with their cities, monuments, palaces, temples and treasures that had lured all the Marco Polos and Columbuses across the oceans and deserts in the first place.” It’s not hard to surmise what influenced knights to create their own coat of arms. In our modern times this practice would be called cultural appropriation.

From China to India and South America, explorers found a diverse people with their empires and worlds unto themselves, each with distinctive arts, religions and yes, even heraldry. To believe that heraldry, crests or coat of arms are solely a European invention started during the medieval times, is to deny the mere existence of the people they discovered across the oceans, deserts and jungles of the world. Markle’s crest, in many ways, is the return of the rightful royals of the world. A family crest is more than a pretty design, it’s a deep rooted cultural connection to our past and the cradle of mankind’s identity.

 

Op-Ed: The Reality Of Arming Teachers

 

Editor’s Note: Sandro Sehic, PhD is a Writer and adjunct Professor based in New York. Sehic’s writings cover an array of current events and topics that lead to national debates. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. He can be reached at: sandrosehicphd.com.

 

 

In response to the recent mass shooting that occurred at a high school in Parkland Florida, numerous ideas about preventing further mass shootings have emerged and came from many different individuals, groups, and organizations. Mass shootings are officially a top political issue. There is not a single day that goes buy without a shooting in America. And they have become very deadly. Sometimes victims are numbered in dozens and unfortunately they include the most innocent members of our society; school children. The members of our society who need to be protected the most are left alone with their teachers at the mercy of well armed mass shooters. This is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated any longer. Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, are some of the bloody places where dozens of young innocent lives were lost. And now we are the ones who should be blamed. We adults have failed to protect our children. A father whose daughter was killed in Parkland, recently stated that we protect embassies, airports, concerts but we don’t protect our schools. He also stated that mass shootings could happen only once and not anymore. One school shooting should change everything. After Columbine we should change the laws that would prevent mass shooters from committing these horrible crimes.

Similar to what we did after the 9/11 terror attacks. After 9/11 we changed the laws, increased security at the airports, created Department of Homeland Security, and destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and a similar attack has thankfully not happened again. Now we have to do the same thing to prevent further mass shootings especially in our schools attacking our children. Some political figures, including the President of the United States, proposed legislation that would allow teachers to carry guns inside the schools. They claim that teachers would be able to take down mass shooters and defend children. I’m a teacher working in public schools since 2007. I do not have my own children (yet). But I know that many of us have fatherly/motherly feelings towards all children that we work with. Our paychecks are extremely low but we do not hesitate to use our own money to buy lunches and food for those children who cannot afford it, we do not hesitate to use our own money to buy school equipment for those children who cannot afford it. And we can’t even claim those expenses on our taxes and most of us don’t complain about it. And in case of mass shootings, teachers are the ones who use their own bodies to shield students. In the case of fire alarms or lock-downs we’re the last ones who leave the building. Not because we have to but because it’s instinctive. It’s a teacher’s natural reaction to want to help, protect and safe lives. Even so, it seems we are at the cross road where teachers have to choose if they’re willing to secure and protect children with guns. That said, this is what lawmakers will have to know about us teachers and these guns.

  • What type of guns are we going to carry? It seems that mass shooters are using semiautomatic guns such as AR-15s. That’s a very powerful weapon. So, a pistol will most likely not be enough to stop a mass shooter with a semiautomatic gun. Just take a look at the police officers who had to apprehend a mass shooter with a pistol. A pistol against an AR-15 is like a butter knife against a sword. Therefore, you better provide teachers with powerful guns; guns that will make us equal or stronger than the mass shooters. In addition, we’ll need bulletproof equipment.
  • Teachers will need combat training. Yes, that’s right. We’ll need combat training, and not just a regular handgun safety training course. In the case of a mass shooting, teachers will have to take their guns and go out to the hallways and hunt down the shooter or shooters, (Columbine). Schools are like labyrinths full of hallways, rooms, corners, floors, stairs, etc. We’ll be in a similar situation as the NAVY Seals or Green Berates when hunting a terrorist. Also, we’ll have to be able to recognize a shooter and an innocent bystander. This is crucial because the goal is to protect the students that look like the typical school shooter(s). In essence, teachers will have to be trained like Special Forces. And the training has to be extensive because teachers will have to develop their new skills to be warriors with excellent marksmanship skills.
  • SWAT teams will have to be able to recognize the difference between teachers with guns and the mass shooter(s). As a teacher mandated to carry one of these supposed guns, I don’t want to be killed by the SWAT team when they arrive.
  • During a shooting, what happens with the students whose teachers had to pull out their guns and go after the shooter(s)? Are they left alone in the classroom?
  • Most teachers in elementary schools are females and I’ve learned that most of them hate guns and are afraid of them. So, then the question becomes; Do we want a female teacher to go after a mass shooter with an AR-15?
  • As far as the extensive combat training is concerned; will that be something that will be provided by the local school districts, or will that be a requirement of the institutions that educate future teachers?
  • Many times, students have turned against teachers. What are we going to do if the student tries to take the gun away from the teacher?
    These are some of the many important questions on this proposed option. I have personally interviewed 14 teachers from Upstate New York. Interestingly, only one of them said that she would be willing to carry a gun in school. Others seemed to be horrified by the idea. During my student-teaching seminar back in 2007 my mentor told us about political candidates from Wisconsin proposing laws to mandate teachers are armed in their classrooms. We laughed at the idea. But now, it may very well become our new reality. When school districts across the country are consistently complaining about low budgets, where will the money come from for the expensive guns and the expensive combat training? Guns aren’t cheap and neither is the training that will certainly be required for every American teacher. However, one thing that I find interesting is the fact that politicians who make such proposals don’t consult with teachers and educators; those who work in schools and educate children and know the situation first hand.

 

Blackboard and hand making a sign with pointed finger

If they would ask me, this is what I would suggest:

  • I strongly believe that each school needs armed police officers that will protect schools in addition to regular security guards. That’s something that we can have without additional costs. The local government, the state, and even police departments can assign officers to guard their schools.
  • Each school will need “a security room” that will monitor hallways through cameras, answer calls from the teachers who need security assistance, and contact the local law enforcement agencies, ambulance, and fire departments in case of an emergency. This simple security system is used in many supermarkets, malls and other public institutions but not in public schools. The personnel and the equipment necessary for this security strategy/system are already available in most, if not all schools, but we just have to organize it better.
  • Each public school must have designated entrances that will consist of two doors. First door will allow visitors to step into the secured area with a metal detector and the second door will allow visitors to enter the school once they go through the metal detector. These days, people can just simply knock at any door on the school building and someone will open it and let them in. This will have to change in the future. This is something that can easily be done.
  • The first-floor windows will have to be barricaded so that no one can get in, but can get out in the case of fire.
  • Lockdown procedures are available in most schools. Children and staff usually go through those drills at the beginning of each school year. Now, what’s missing in these procedures is parent involvement. In some cases, and this is what I’ve experienced firsthand, is that some children refuse to cooperate in the case of lock-down procedures by purposely making noise and trying to attract the shooter. Yes, some children do not know how serious it is and therefore the parents should instruct their children on how to behave in case of a lock-down.

These are my expert recommendations as a teacher with a PhD in Education. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

 

Public Broadcasting In The U.S., The Changing Media Landscape And Its Impact On Global Policies

 

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

A visiting media scholar from Jagiellonian University in Poland, Dr. Rafal Kus, gave a poignant public lecture for the United Nations Association at the Unitarian Universalist Church in New Hartford on Thursday. Dr. Krus was invited by Utica College’s Communications and Media Department thanks to a grant from the Erasmus Program of the European Union. Dr. Krus specializes in the study of American television media.

The local United Nations chapter—Upper Mohawk Valley Chapter of the United Nations Association—is tied to a global network of UN supporters and educators dedicated to educate, inspire, mobilize and strengthen the U.S. system in order to achieve the goals stated in the UN charter. The talk, which aims to do just that, focused on public broadcasting in the U.S., media and politics, and the impact of media systems in the world.

Part of the goal, according to organizers is to learn how U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by the international media climate and how it relates to the United Nations. There’s currently a bill being considered in Congress that aims to slash funding to the UN And Greg M. Smith who serves as Vice President of the local chapter, UMVUNA, says the cuts are in addition to the UN reducing its own budget by $200 million. “Now the United States is saying an additional $250 million needs to come away. That’s problematic because if we do that then we’re going to lose some of the seats we have within the United Nations. And, without a voice or a presence in committees we don’t have a voice in what happens within the United Nations and very easily the UN could become the League of Nations which we all know didn’t’ do very well to prevent WWII.”

The full talk can be heard here:

 

Op-Ed: The Ugly Truth About The Alabama Senate Race

 

Editor’s Note: David Farhat, Jr. is an Attorney based in New York. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

 

 

 

I’m annoyed at the narrative being promoted regarding the Alabama senate election. Yes, I’m always annoyed. This ridiculous idea of a turning tide or America returning to morality or a victory for the Democrats is just a downright lie. The real story coming out of this and the presidential election is the fact that white people overwhelmingly voted for unqualified, morally bankrupt, mentally unhinged candidates because of racism. Make no mistake, the only logical reason to vote for Trump or Moore is racism. Furthermore, the numbers bear this out. You remove the non-white vote and both these people win by a landslide.

 


Also, the “victory” in Alabama had nothing to do with the Democrats. They were, quite literally, the lesser of two evils. Black people in Alabama went out to the poles in numbers because they realized that their white neighbors were so racist that they would elect a man that allegedly abuses little white girls before they elected a black sympathizer. Make no mistake; that is the difference between Democrat and Republican for those voters.

 

 

What drove Black people to the poles was sheer terror; Terror that hasn’t gone away because the reality hasn’t changed because Moore lost. The Democrats benefited from that terror and have done nothing to get rid of it. Why would they? They benefit from it. What other base do they have?! Remember this when you get the argument that there are more issues than race come 2018. The evidence says otherwise.

 

Lastly, I don’t care who you are regardless of race, politics, etc. if you are celebrating what happened in Alabama, I send you a strong condemnation because what you are celebrating is a desperate act of a terrified population. Ain’t no “we’s” down there. Those people came out to try to save themselves and we do them a great disservice by not taking that seriously.

 

 

 

Las Vegas Massacre Is A Wake Up Call For Reasonable Gun Control In America

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

If the latest mass shooting in Las Vegas has shaken you to your core, you must have just crawled from under a comfortable rock. Because, mass shootings are becoming as emblematical of America as apple pie, racism, obesity, the glorification of sex and just plain ol’ bad behavior; burying the eloquent hopeful words inscribed in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and even on the Statue of Liberty, meant to capture our ideals as a people.

To understand our culture one simply needs to look at the things we value and worship like the golden statues described in the Bible right before God rains down terror from the sky on the frolicking heathens below. We’re so deeply conflicted as a people; we contradict ourselves every chance we get. We go to war in the name of democracy, while engaging in the same oppressive deeds that we supposedly abhorre. We pretend to value those who fight for our country—even using Veterans, our Military and Law Enforcement as an excuse to attack a peaceful protest by Colin Kaepernick to end police brutality and social injustice in America—but live comfortably knowing that Veterans are suffering a great injustice at the hands of their own government when they return home from war. We claim to have the greatest power on earth but yet are powerless to enact real change in our culture and society. The “big, big ocean water” surrounding Puerto Rico kept our President from acting swiftly to help the devastated island hit by Hurricane Maria, but he threatens to annihilate “Rocket Man” with all our American might. We claim to want to “Safe the Planet” but are one of the worst polluters and violators of Mother Earth. The list of contradictions goes on and on.

We hold a Bible in one hand, an automatic rifle in the other, a bottle of whiskey under one armpit, a naked woman in a headlock in the other, all while standing on a pile of broken black and brown bodies. Oh, and a photo of a sex symbol—naked with exaggerated lips, breasts and butt—on a stained t-shirt with the confederate flag on it. To complete the image of a typical main stream media American today, picture this person wearing short shorts, cowboy boots decorated with the American flag with spikes at the heel. The word; ‘Merica!’ is prominently featured on the back of the confederate flag t-shirt. Of course, there’s more to an American than what I just described. However, this is the demographic making the most noise since the election of former President Obama and now President Trump, as most decent-minded Americans that fit the description of all kinds of people, (the melting pot) are either hiding their head in shame or taking to the streets to protest the confederacy of dunces we are all witnessing.

 

 

We claim to hold the highest ground of morality and the blueprint of democracy despite the reality on the ground even Stevie Wonder can see. And, if one dares to point out the blaring truth that is plain as day, prepare to be met with gnashed teeth, foaming at the mouth, red blooded “real Americans” with tiki torches yelling; “FAKE NEWS! SNOW FLAKE! NOTHING BURGER!” When the president of the United States brags about walking on to NY’s 5th Avenue, shooting someone dead and getting away with it, what do Americans expect from the average Joe or Jane? Many gun lovers and 2nd Amendment fanatics still excuse this comment as political fodder, refusing to see the significance of it as our cultural norm when it comes to our attitudes about guns.

You’ll hear the argument; it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Other than the police, where were the good guys with guns to stop the Las Vegas shooter? Instagram celebrity and gun fanatic Dan Bilzerian was there. He fled. Not to grab his weapons, but to safe his own rear-end. He didn’t live up to his Instagram muscles to stop the shooter with the stockpile of high-powered weapons he loves to show off on social media. What a tough guy, (Insert eye-roll here), until it’s time to actually be that good guy with a gun to stop the bad guy with a gun. On his show on Fox News, Sean Hannity stuck to this strategy too saying, “This guy’s got a machine gun, OK. How are they going to take him on without a weapon? Or, if it’s happening within a crowd, if you’re in San Bernardino, do you want Sean Hannity who’s trained in the safety and use of a firearm in that room when they drop the clip, and they start to reload, you got a shot, you got a chance?” Of course, if life was being played out on a Hollywood movie set where we can have multiple takes and do-overs, Hannity and Bilzerian would be heroes! But, this is real life. 59 people were indiscriminately murdered by a madman who purchased his powerful weapons legally. He exercised his rights as an American to arm himself to the teeth. And, as white privilege in America goes, and according to some Fox News talking heads, we can’t hate him, label him a terrorist or talk about gun control.  Not yet, at least.

Unless you’re in an active shooting situation, you can’t know what you’ll do or how you’ll react. So, why not make it harder, and in some cases impossible, for people to get their hands on these high-powered weapons? What’s the real harm in waiting weeks for a full background and mental health check, instead of days, before handing over such lethal power? Who knows, maybe a zombie apocalypse or another revolution is eminent! Many point to mental illness as an excuse for this latest tragedy however, other countries like Australia, Britain and Canada have citizens with mental illness too and these countries were able to reduce gun violence by enacting strict gun laws. Why can’t America follow suit? It’s apparent, we need policy solutions, but unfortunately there is no movement on the federal level to enact tougher gun laws; just the opposite. As a matter of fact, House Majority Leader Paul Ryan was ready to bring a bill up for a vote that would have loosened access to gun silencers. But, in the wake of the massacre, they shelved it; for now.

 

 

And, earlier this year, President Trump reversed an Obama era law that kept the mentally ill from getting guns. H.J. Res 40 passed the House and Senate, and nullifies the, “Implementation of the ‘NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007’ rule finalized by the Social Security Administration on December 19, 2016. The rule implements a plan to provide to the National Instant Criminal History Background Check System the name of an individual who meets certain criteria, including that benefit payments are made through a representative payee because the individual is determined to be mentally incapable of managing them.”

Why stricter gun laws aren’t more tantalizing to leaders at the policy level has to do with fear and money. Fear of not just losing the right to bear arms as stated in the 2nd Amendment, but fear of losing all the money being poured into political campaigns by the powerful National Rifle Association, (NRA). Despite evidence showing stronger reasonable gun policies are warranted, it seems that any kind of gun policy is perceived as an attack on the 2nd Amendment. Most Americans would support reasonable restrictions on guns, especially semi-automatic rifles like the ones used in the Las Vegas massacre, but the NRA will say background checks, even for the mentally ill, is one step to taking our guns away. Fear is a clear motivator but so is money and profit. Mass shooting incidents boosts the NRA’s profit margin. Gun sales increase every time there’s a mass shooting incident, (or the election of a black president.) It’s clear that the NRA uses fear, not data, to galvanize its base. And, unfortunately, opinions and fear outweigh the statistics and research on gun control and violence in America. How ironic that the crowd at Route 91 Harvest, a 3-day Country Music Festival, sang America the Beautiful an hour before the shooting.

 

Dear Philando: The Senseless Killing Of A Law Abiding American

By JEANETTE LENOIR

 

My heart is heavy. Not from joy but from the pain that overwhelmed me with the senseless killing of Philando Castile. He wasn’t killed once when it was live streamed across Facebook, but twice when a jury of his supposed peers made a conscience choice to not punish the police officer charged with his murder. And, a piece of America was killed too.

Castile was tremendously loved and good. This sentiment came across loud and clear from those who were touched by his love, gentleness and kindness after his life was mercilessly ripped from him. He died a terrible death. What made his killing incredibly painful is that the world watched him slip away gasping for air. Speaking his last words…”I can’t breath.” We all watched in horror as his precious life seeped out of his body like a wilting flower sped up for real time viewing like they do on the National Geographic channel.

I’m very angry and deeply sorry at the same time. These emotions aren’t new anymore. I felt the same anger and helpless feeling when I watched other black men and women brutally killed by those sworn to serve and protect We The People. But with each senseless killing it is becoming painfully clear, We The People is a subjective concept. How can we—black people—be part of the “We” described in the Constitution that upholds our laws and is meant to blanket us as a nation of one people under God when we—black people—are targeted like animals deserving of extinction?

Since the inception of this country, black people have been brutalized, terrorized, marginalized and blatantly mistreated. The Invisibles, a book about the untold stories of African Americans in the White House, written by Jesse Holland, states that the very first African slave to be inducted in this tragic archive of our history was named John Punch. …John Punch. The writings on the wall are revealing. We, as black people have been feeling this theoretical punch since the creation of America. We marched peacefully, protested passionately, sat-in bravely, walked hand-in-hand staunchly, and continue to fight hard for the freedoms those that don’t look like us enjoy in the same country we call home. A country built on the backs of our ancestors. And yet, here we are hundreds of years later still feeling the sting of the master’s whip on our backs. How can this be? Still, after all that’s been done to make this country a better place despite our shameful past.

Dear Philando, your death has broken my heart in so many pieces that I fear I can never pull them back together. Where do we go from here? Who’s next? What else can be done to change the blatant and systemic racism that plagues this land of ours? How many more hymns can one sing? We Shall Overcome has lost its tune as its purpose has fallen on hateful bigoted ears that refuse to see you, me… Us. “Who Is Next?” is a real slogan felt by a people tired of the targets on their backs. This country, built on the backs of slave labor is being choked to death by the good ol’ boys on capitol hill and all those who subscribe to their way of thinking and living. This includes the powerful NRA whose silence is deafening. And, Wall Street doesn’t see us either because to them we represent numbers to be calculated for financial projections and worth. And, what is an American life worth? It depends on what you look like and where you come from despite how the odds have been stacked against you since the beginning of America.

Trevor Noah hit the nail on the head when he called out the NRA for their silence on the killing of an American upholding his Second Amendment right. Using their own rhetoric, this issue lands squarely in their lap of gun toting luxury. They should be up in arms at this senseless killing and see it as an all-out attack against all Americans united against tyranny.

Americans are armed to the teeth. We love our guns and will fight tooth and nail to protect the right to arm and defend ourselves. And, these days, many are so obsessed with the gun rights issue that they’ve carried their automatic weapons to fast food joints and openly carried them in other public places. Some have been bold enough to openly carry their automatic weapons to a police station. Nonetheless, the question remains; where is the NRA? I dare to say, the organizations silence does speak. It says what black people in this country have lived with as a chain around their necks for hundreds of years. Their silence speaks to the blatant racism black Americans still live with. Their silence whispers like a dog whistle in the wind saying black people don’t matter. We don’t exist equally. Black people are only deserving of second class citizenship. The Second Amendment is meant to protect white Americans and the privilege they’ve become accustomed to. Even though that privilege was born on the backs of the black slaves that built this great country.

Black people being terrorized and discriminated against isn’t new. The method in shining a light on these injustices is what’s exposing the underbelly of a humanity I don’t understand or accept. One Nation Under God must mean more than just a sound bite. It must be real if Americans want to avoid an increasingly divided nation edging towards a cliff.

Land of the free, home of the brave? In the words of the great orator and Civil Rights icon James Baldwin: I don’t believe what you say because I see what you do.

Technology is the medium responsible for wiping away the stain that covers this great American motto as it shines a light on the blatant injustices committed against a group of people in their own country. We are simply seeing more of what many black people have become accustomed to. And, it’s going to take all of us that believe in a sense and understanding of humanity to continue to fight to change our racist culture. It’s time to vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

Dear Philando, watching your callous murder on video makes it all too clear that the words that describe what it means to be an American is lip service to those not lucky enough to be born white, or have a badge that protects them when they commit crimes against humanity. This, even though myself, like other black people, love all of my blackness, my culture and human design. When I look in the mirror I don’t see what the hateful bigoted among us see. I see life, beauty, culture and all that is good in this world. Why can’t they see what I see in myself and in those that make up my culture and identity? Why didn’t officer Jeronimo Yanez see you…? This is my struggle…as I wait for the next black body to fall.

 

I Am Not Your Negro Challenges White Americans To Confront An Ugly Truth; Racism

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

James Baldwin spoke from the grave in this searing and poignant piece of storytelling of our American culture and shameful racist history.

This film is not merely an entertainment piece to add to our collection of artful imagery to fill our heads and occupy empty and bored pockets of the mind. No, this piece is to wake our collective conscience that is rooted in a basic understanding of humanity. The difference this time is that the “our” Baldwin and the creators of this powerful piece of historical and cultural storytelling is directly aimed at is white people; American white people to be exact.

I Am Not Your Negro is a soul shaking and profound message. It forces viewers, especially American whites, to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. It forces them to address the largest elephant in the middle of the cultural room we call our United States. Keep in mind, there are other elephants to content with, like immigration, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and indigenous people’s rights; however, the biggest one—institutionalized racism—is threatening to release a level of aggression like musth across the country. The film’s aim seems to push white Americans, yet again, through more modern and powerful means, to face the truth of life in America for black people, or “Negros” as this film appoints as another searing and thought-provoking label of brown-skinned Americans.

One can’t deny the uncomfortable truth staring, screaming, whaling, hanging, running, begging, pleading, fighting, marching and confronting them…right in front of their eyes. Closing your eyelids, seeking refuge in indifference, won’t change this stark truth. Black people, since the beginning of our country, have suffered tremendously at the hands of white people. Thankfully, not all white people. There are examples in this film of whites entrenched in the struggle for racial justice and equality too. This truth can’t be separated from the black American struggle. Even so, time has yet to heal these wounds as this film so justly brings to the forefront of a national dialogue. The images on the big screen aren’t new. Most of us have seen them before; either in a class room, a movie theater, books, pictures and essentially through all forms of media and communication. Bob Dylan singing of the callous murder of Medgar Evers stings, and moves a compassionate soul to tears. It seems that each new generation requires a different and more impactful way of forcing much needed societal change. That’s what this film represents in many ways too.

I Am Not Your Negro is the incomplete work of the most dynamic, clear, passionate and unapologetic orator of our young culture and democracy; James Baldwin. Baldwin expresses himself in ways that are still stirring in our current society. If America is to sustain its good fortune—if one can call it that—of not having to experience what has been laid out in Baldwin’s other writings in The Fire Next Time, a populous movement coming to a bloody and tragic head, underway even before the days of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., which this powerful film draws upon, than the time for real change is upon us. Baldwin lays it at our feet. His words, and those of Samuel L. Jackson further tattoos it on our conscience, reminding us all of our responsibility and role in creating a new nation that honors its people, regardless of creed, color, or sex. What we do with this forewarning depends on each and every American that yearns for all that this country pretends to be. But first, we must face the ugly truth that despite the “perfect” images of American lives that has shaped our thinking and understanding of ourselves and fellow countrymen, the reality on the ground is completely detached from the true lives and experiences of black Americans.

Baldwin expresses this as clearly as any man can or could, especially when he states that the image of America we grown up with looks ideal in movies and pictures…for white people. Unfortunately, the portrayal of black Americans is not only false, but morally damaging and despicably demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor. He makes it expressively clear that black people are not the big lipped, lazy sub-human buffoons as consistently portrayed in the old footage shown as a historical reference in I Am Not Your Negro.

This film diverts our attention back to the reality on the ground. And just when you think that the racial narrative of our country placed in front of us in this powerful film is unrepresentative of our current state of being, you’re hit with images of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Terence Crutcher… the list goes on and on, just like the struggle for equality and basic human rights for all Americans… not just for those who have benefited from oppression, slavery and brutality, to maintain a grasp on the heavy crown called power. Undoubtedly, as it comes across in this film, power equates to might but real power embraces the responsibility of humanity.

America, throughout its short history, has failed to reconcile its racist past adequately enough to settle these burning issues that keep us bound in a discombobulated ball of spaghetti. It’s not a coincidence that the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture only came to fruition in September of 2016. That was 6-months ago… after years of black civil rights leaders and other activists working to persuade mostly white politicians that it’s the right thing to do. There are numerous examples of unjust treatment of blacks, and stark examples of our evolving police state in this film that has primarily impacted black people in America. For this to change, America must change. Specifically white Americans, according to Baldwin and many others like him who have paid the ultimate price pushing for this change to occur.

Throughout the film, this sentiment is expressed eloquently by Baldwin in this uncomfortable but crucial piece of cultural and racial perspective. Baldwin, from the grave, is targeting our collective conscience as Americans. “We’re in this together,” he seems to shout from an impenetrable divide. America is not a white country. America is a multicultural phenomenon brought about by all who built, fought for and shaped her. Black Americans have an equal stake and root in this land and its identity. If white Americans—especially those in powerful positions to shape and govern us as one nation—accept this unyielding truth, we will come together as one people. In our relatively short history, this has yet to happen, making I Am Not Your Negro a reflective piece of art that imitates our real lives. This film is a must see. But, prepare to be confronted with an uncomfortable truth.