Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When fear wins we lose

I am proud to say that I lived for many years in the one community in the United States that welcomed 982 mostly Jewish refugees from
Nazi Germany, many of whom were orphans and children victimized by the German Holocaust in 1944. It was not an easy thing at the time to welcome such strangers, and indeed sentiment back then was very much against accepting Jewish refugees who were viewed by many as being "different" from us, or a potential threat to our homeland. 
    I am not proud to say , however, that for several years I lived in a state where the Governor, Sam Brownback of Kansas , has gone so far as to issue a proclamation against the acceptance of any refugees from war torn Syria. So much for "Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
    In that sense, Kansas is the loser and NY is the winner when it comes to standing up for heartland values. 
     Xenophobia is fed by fear, and fear is the stock in trade of terrorists, and by giving in to fear and abandoning our true traditional spirit of being the land where the teeming masses again breath free, we lose. When fear wins, they win. We can't let that happen, and we can't let these crazed religious zealots succeed in their mission of international terror. 

This is not to say that we need not be vigilant in the defense of the homeland. 
    To succeed in thwarting the evil advances of groups like ISIS, it is clear that we may need to employ certain methods which run counter to our tendency to protect people's privacy, but if that's the case, so be it. Better safe than sorry. There is no constitutional right to have an app on your I phone which is capable of encrypting I phone communications to shield perpetrators dastardly deeds and hide their covert planning for the worst. Without these tools to protect us against such plotters, we continue to be vulnerable. That needs to change, and quickly. 
    But to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the victims of civil unrest and war because of the remote possibility of  infiltration of the refugee population by insidious zealots hell bound for destruction of the west and all it stands for, would be an even worse choice. Rejecting Muslims on account of their faith would only play into the hands of those who seek to find new recruits for their Jihadist cause. 
     In the final analysis, we must stand up for our values as a nation, and not be deterred by those who fan the flames of xenophobia. We were right to accept those 982 refugees in 1944. As pitifully few as they were, it was the right thing to do to accept those refugees. We should and could have done more. 
     It was wrong to intern many Japanese citizens and emigrants in camps on the west coast during WWII. It would be doubly wrong for us to now refuse the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees because a group of crazed Islamic Jihadists from France and Belgium have acted so brutally as to scare the western world into submission to their terrorist aims. We can fight them. We can defeat them, but we must do so by standing up for our ideals and principles instead of cowering in fear. When we are true to our values in the face of such adversity, we win, and they lose. It's as simple as that. 

    ( The writer is a former Mayor of Oswego who lived for three years recently in Kansas, and taught government and politics at the university level).

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I didn't know Rev. Clementa Pinckney. I wish I had. He must have been a remarkable human being. He was a politician as well as a preacher. Those who actually knew him
seem greatly moved by his untimely demise. Those who  did not, not as much.
      It is clear that he was the main inspiration for the South Carolina Legislature to vote to remove the Confederate flag from in front of the Statehouse. He served there in the State Senate, and was apparently revered by all, from both sides of the aisle. Those in Congress who did not know him  did not ennoble themselves recently when they voted to keep the Confederate flag as a symbol in National parks and historic sites. They are attempting to lift back up what South Carolinians voted to take down. South Carolina for once is leading the way , but many of their Republican southern colleagues still haven't gotten the memo. 
     What is clear here is that when you can personalize the notion of oppression, it is much easier to oppose it. The importance of the message coming out of Charleston is that hate can't win,  grace is triumphant, and love , tolerance, and dialogue is the true answer for this country if we ever hope to return to being one nation, under God , and indivisibile, .
     . The tipping point in South Carolina was the tearful speech by State Rep. Jenny Hoyne, a Republican and descendant of Jefferson Davis ( Confederate President)  , who said it was time to take down this public symbol of hatred. It was a symbol of division,  not unity. 
     The lowering of that flag, which required a two thirds vote of the State Legislature , is a significant event. It only came about as a result of the actions of the victims of the church massacre in Charlestown, who responded to that tragedy with grace, charity , dignity and forgiveness, not hate and vituperation. The tragedy of the Emmanuel nine has given birth to a new spirit of cooperation and tolerance, in a way that hate never could.

     But, removal of the State flag is only symbolic. It is the hearts and minds of the supporters of that symbol that still need to be embraced by grace, hope, love and change. We saw how swiftly the walls of opposition to same sex marriage eroded when the debate was put in the context of being free to love who you love, and assuring equality for all under the law. In the same context, when the symbols of hate and repression are seen for what they are,  and not apologized for or papered over by justification of respect for history, real progress is possible. As Governor Nicky Haley said on signing the bill to lower the flag, reversing her original position on the matter, "
  ""We can continue to move forward in a country in a way that unifies people and that shows what real love looks like. That's what I want people to get out of this," she told Matt Lauer of NBC's today show.

"I don't want this to go away quickly. I want people to remember what today feels like and know that anything is possible with us."
My sentiments exactly, Governor.

Dead Right or Dead Wrong?

Dead Wrong? Or Dead right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. What part of wrong don't you understand? That is the message the American electorate needs to deliver to former VP Dick Cheney and his ilk, who were wrong in their assumptions of Iraqi nuclear development, wrong in their assessment of the costs associated with invading Iraq, and wrong in their assertion that taking out Sadam Hussein was a giant step forward for a stable and peaceful Middle East. Cheney et al were dead wrong then, and they are dead wrong now, in their opposition to the proposed Iranian nuke deal.

     If the Bush administration had not badly blundered, first in it 's decision to invade Iraq , and secondly in disbanding the Iraqi army post Sadam ( which set the stage for the rise of ISIS) , the Iranian influence in the area would have been held in check.   The Shia leaders who control Iran, and now much of Iraq as well,  would not be presenting us with such formidable challenges to peace.

    Actions have consequences. Bad actions have bad consequences. 6000 dead American heroes, and tens of thousands more maimed and injured with serious health challenges for the rest of their lives are ample evidence of that fact.

     We have experienced the result of bad policy, bad actions, and bad consequences by dead wrong political leaders who not only have not learned any lessons from their dead wrong doings, but are leading the charge of the less than right brigades to continue doing  dumb things which will redound to our national detriment. That goes for  the near term as well as the long run. How much wronger can you get?

    The doom and gloom crowd claims President Obama is dangerously naive and derelict in failing to use American military power to wright all wrongs . The problem is that it is they who are wrong and naive in their assumptions about the ability of military might to solve all the world's ills.

     Our military Is enormously potent and pre-eminent, but it cannot solve the centuries old rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims . It cannot
bring together the Turks and the Kurds , and it cannot guarantee peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It can,  however, protect and defend our homeland, and when used to intervene selectively on behalf of our allies and friends, be an enormous force for good in the world.

      It is not a universal panacea, but it can be effectively employed when selectively employed . Dead wrong politicians continuing to advocate for dead wrong policies, can only bring about deadly consequences. Our recent history, if nothing else , is a testament to that fact.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Tolerance is a virtue, generally speaking. Tolerance of hatred, oppression  and intolerance is not.
     That is why it is important for civilized society to affirm religious freedom on the one hand and condemn religious zealotry on the other. Especially when that zealotry is expressed in " Jihadist" like terms.
   There can be no room for the suppression of young Pakistani girls like......, who sought only to become educated. Barbaric beheadings belong to a long bygone era, and whether the challenge is ISIS or Islamic extremism generally, such insanity must be condemned and supressed itself.
    We need also to remember that ,  In the immortal words of Martina McBride, " Love's the only house big enough to hold all the pain in the world". Ghandi knew that. Hitler did not. Consider the difference in their legacies. One left a country finally independent of colonial rule, and building for the future, while the other left millions dead and a continent in shambles.
      That is what happens when hate triumphs over love. So it is important to be resolute in resisting hatred, and to listen to the better angels of our nature. Standing up to intolerance which is based on negativity is the only way the human spirit will endure and potentially triumph.
    Despair in the face of intolerance is not the answer. Love is, however, and when we can summon from within the strength to love our enemies, without tolerating their extremes, we will have advanced the cause of human civilization in an enormous way. Keeping our heart lights on in the face of the daunting darkness that surrounds is is a noble goal. Jesus Christ was no dummy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mario M. Cuomo

Mario M. Cuomo

    Giants are generally larger than life. They walk among the clouds and leave huge footprints in their wake. That's why they are called Giants.
      By any objective standard, we can count Mario Cuomo of New York as one of them. He was a giant. A true political giant , and the premiere political polemicist of our time. His rhetoric could set our hearts throbbing and our spirits soaring . He was unparalleled in the pursuit of political piety and profundity, and he could simultaneously appeal to our collective conscience and urge us on to nobler goals . He was an eloquent orator who appealed constantly to the higher angels of our nature, and he set a very high bar for ethical probity in governance .
    Mario Cuomo was a superb example of all that is best in our political system, and a man of deep and true conviction who could compromise when need be on matters of governance, but never compromise the fundamental principles on which
he built his successful legal and governmental career.
    I first met Mario Cuomo in 1974 in Niagara Falls, at the Democratic State convention, where he was campaigning for Lt. Governor.
We spoke in his small hospitality suite for about 20 minutes, and I was duly impressed. He was trying to parlay his success at mediating an ethnic housing dispute in Queens into the pursuit of higher office. He won the nomination to be Hugh Carey's running mate. He lost the primary to Upstate State Senator Mary Ann Krupsak , but became Gov. Carey's Secretary of State, and used that position to travel the state and build support, and four years later, became Hugh Carey's running mate for a second term. In 1982, I supported his run for Governor in the primary against NYC Mayor Ed Koch, and held a fund raiser for him at our large home in Oswego. I can still picture him speaking from the staircase to over 100 enthusiastic supporters. He went on to win the primary and the election, and two more elections after that. He even recorded a commercial for me when I ran for Mayor of Oswego. Our paths would cross many times over the years, and I always had the utmost respect for him.
   The last lengthy conversation I had with him was several years ago, over the need for a constitutional convention for NYS, a move he enthusiastically supported. He also talked at length and with great pride about his sons Andrew and Christopher, and their accomplishments. He was as proud a father as he was a Governor. He would invariably end most of his speeches with the NYS motto, one word, Excelsior ! Onward and upward. That word is a fitting. epitaph for his life and many achievements. Excelsior, Mario M. Cuomo. Excelsior!

John T. Sullivan Jr.

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, November 7, 2014

Leaders lead

 Elections  have consequences. , and
there are lessons to be learned.

         On issues of great national or local importance, tentative, hesitant and hedge your bets leadership does not cut it with the vast majority of American voters. Certainty, and leadership with a definitive thrust will trump  wishy washy , Mamby pamby,  maybe this,  maybe that,  leadership every time.
    In a crisis, Americans do not want our leaders leading from behind, from the sidelines, or the middle. They are unforgiving about a leader who gives a muddled message about our intentions and the future.
   If you have ever attended a political rally, you understand that equivocation is unacceptable as a motivator. Woe unto a politician who speaks at a rally and urges his or her supporters to go "sideways" or to stand pat. Haranguing the crowd with cries of forward works much better. Even "let's go backward" can be appealing to certain elements, but "let's just cogitate and dawdle" just doesn't cut it.
     This is the secret of NJ Governor Chris Christie's popularity. Love him or hate him, at least you understand what he's saying. Imagine if he had said to his heckler the other day, instead of "sit down and shut up", "please reduce the volume of your heckling and just squat" so others can see and hear me! What? How can you rally to a nuanced and muddled message. At a rally things have to be black or white, never gray. Gray is for the classroom, not the bully pulpit.
    This is a lesson our President, for whatever reason, refuses to learn . It is also why his poll numbers are so low , and why his opponents prevailed in the midterm elections. It didn't have to be that way.
     When Harry Truman was running to be elected President in his own right in 1948, he railed and rallied against the "Do nothing REPUBLICAN Congress". Not just "Congress". President Obama needs to full throatedly throttle his Republican opposition, and show he can stand up to the bullies, and he must do so in a clear and unequivocal way, lest his Presidency tumble further and forever downward toward the dustbin of history.
     Leadership matters . Americans are craving it, and the President's party is suffering not because it does not have issues and beliefs that resound with the people, but because it has a leader with a muddled message and whose bully pulpit microphone  is in need of a new battery. In the immortal words of ET, the President desperately needs to phone home, turn on his heart light, and lead, not follow. The question remains whether the Professor can get out of the President's way to achieve that objective. The next two years will define his destiny.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let's face it. President Obama has been ukered by his opponents after they hoisted him by his own petard when he accepted, with inappropriate hubris, the renaming of the affordable care act as Obamacare. I believe someone once said, "pride goeth before the fall!" Someone else ( Dutch political philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) also said '" if you label me you can dismiss me".

    Once he accepted the label, his opponents were able to focus the opposition to everything the President stands for by centering on  his signature achievement, health care reform.

     It matters not that the idea of mandating universal purchasing of health insurance plans was a Republican one. Obama actually took a chapter out of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts play book and implemented the idea on a national scale, much to his complete discredit by his unrelenting Republican opposition which decries anything and everything associated with this President . As my father used to say, “When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.

     The Republicans  have adopted as their motivational mantra the need to repeal Obamacare. They claim it is responsible for sluggish job growth, excessive national debt, and almost everything else including tooth decay. This is now in addition to their original cries of "socialized medicine" and "death panels".  The problem is the sheer unending incessance of their anti Obamacare chants have blurred the ability of the average voter to focus on the positive accomplishments of this same President. That is a shame, but it is Barack Obama's shame because of his  own unwillingness and/or reluctance to fight back. In his world,  facts matter,  and rationality prevails. Unfortunately,  in the world outside of  Harvard Law review circles, repetitive ridiculizing is more potent than  professorial probity.

     Let's face it. The last time a US President was as vilified and de -legitimized as Barack Obama was nearly seventy years ago, when Harry Truman couldn't catch a break with the Republicans,  even if he bought them all winning lottery tickets. Then again, governmentally sponsored lotteries didn't exist back then. We actually funded the national government through a system called the Progressive income tax, which forced the well to do to pay their fair share of the bill. Sadly, that system too has fallen on such hard times, and become prey to so many loopholes that people are even crying out for a "fairer" flat tax.

     The only solution to regain his lost footing and to get back into the game is for Barack Obama to sprinkle himself with the fairy dust of a Harry Truman persona, and "Give 'em hell", not hieroglyphic histrionics.

     Former Vice President Dick Cheney recently opined on the Fox News Channel that President Obama in proposing cutbacks in the post cold war military budget was not driven by world circumstances as much as by budget considerations. “He’d much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops”, said Cheney.  That type of delusional diatribe must not go unanswered.  Barack Obama , should call a press conference, and call out Cheney directly on his duplicity and demagoguery.  He should demand an apology , and hold Cheney’s record up for examination at the same time.  There comes a time when you just can’t take it lying down anymore, and that time has long since arrived.  Would that Obama would show some sense of indignation, and/or downright anger and antipathy toward his less than civil critics.  They continue to label him and dismiss him, and should no longer do so with impunity.

     He needs a strong defense, as well as  a good offense, politically speaking, both of which seem to be lacking as a result of his ponderous temperament. Long boring factual dissertations simply do not cut it in this facts be damned Fox News saturated world of pious platitudes, pungent sarcasm and pontificating punditry. Obama needs to sharpen his rhetoric and his elbows if he is to get back in the game and make a real difference. The other option is to keep sliding into the dustbin of history and to leave a lackluster legacy in place of the luminescence that might have been. Here's hoping the President will saddle up and ride out the rest of his term with the roughridering bravado of Teddy Roosevelt and the common man,  common sense courage of Harry Truman. It's worth a try.