Sunday, May 29, 2022

At the Abyss


At the Abyss

Uvalde, Texas May 25, 2022


Nineteen children

barely adolescents

life evident in every step,

filled with

playful enthusiasm,

brimming with possibilities,

drinking in life through

every pour,

engaging every breath with

shimmering resolve,

the world the canvas

on which they painted

with vivid imagination and a

tapestry of color.


Suddenly and terribly negated

by the fiery discharge of a

cold metal gun,

bullets riddling through their young bodies

destroying hopes and idle dreams,

exhuberant ideas,

incipient joy and so many aspirations

terminated in an instant,

locked in the grip of absolute terror,

negating their future,

driving their families to the very edge

of corrosive despair,

turning off the light of existence

leaving a blackness steeped

in hollow silence.


Nineteen children

slaughtered by a young man

with madness in his brain,

delusional and beset by

the demons of explosive hatred and rage,

nameless passions unhinged and deadly.


The scope of this tragedy would not be

conceivable or even imagined

without weapons of such ferocity that

only a few moments intervened between

the living and the dead.


There is another madness present,

large, insidious and looming,

a madness resident within a social order

that formulated the idea that all

citizens have the right to be armed,

encouraged to be fearful and ever vigilant

prepared for violence and stoked with hate

for the sake of profit and greed,

for the sake of a

corrupt and deformed ideology.


A madness that pretends that

the corpses of children are

the price to be paid for a contrived

and ridiculous idea of freedom

devoid of any sanity,

empty of compassion,

dismissive of the common good.


A madness so cold that

it sees no need to

take such random and brutal

termination of young lives

to heart.


A madness infused with such stupidity

that it cannot see the

consequences of its own

barren and disastrous conclusions.


A madness that if unchecked

will bring only grief and

wreak havoc upon the future

for us all.




Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was a famous lawyer and jurist. Marshall first gained notoriety when he successfully argued and won the very famous landmark case that declared that a separate but equal education for people of color to be unconstitutional – Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954. He was the first African-American to be a Justice in the United States Supreme Court. His accomplishments were in no small measure due to his hard work and persistence; for, he had to overcome many of the obstacles placed in his way due to the color of his skin.
Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore Maryland in a political climate that was permeated with Jim Crow – the body of local and national laws and customs designed to deny African-Americans the full rights entitled to them as citizens. His parents were Willie and Norma Marshall. It would be of value to preface his story with a cursory view of race history in the United States.
Slaves were first brought to the colonies in 1670 and the institution of slavery flourished within the United States for 270 years until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Prior to this historic pronouncement, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, there were many instances of laws and rulings that were designed to deny African-Americans equal rights. For example, in 1705, the Virginia legislature passed a law that effectively equated Negro, Mulatto and Indian slaves as real estate with no legal rights or legal identity. This was in comparison to states like Massachusetts and Vermont that guaranteed the equal rights to all of its citizens. In addition, on a number of instances, Supreme Court decisions upheld the widespread belief in the inherent inferiority of Blacks.
The famous Dred Scott Decision of 1856 validated the belief that slaves were to be treated separately. Dred Scott was a slave who lived with his owner in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin. When his owner died in 1843, Scott sued for his freedom. The Supreme Court eventually heard the arguments and in 1857 decided that an African-American slave or free had no constitutional rights.
In the words of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, “People of African descent are beings of an inferior order and are altogether unfit to associate with the white race in social or political relations, and are so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and legally be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
To reclaim the inherent rights of all U.S. citizens, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution were passed beginning in 1868. They were as follows:

Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.
Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870.
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude--
These amendments were passed to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves during the post-Civil War era. It was Jim Crow that was effectively employed to subvert these newly-held rights. It was into such a racially charged environment that Marshall was born. His grandfather was born into slavery.
In spite of these additional guarantees written into the constitution, the Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of segregation. In 1892, Homer Plessey, one-eighth African-American, purchased a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad with the intention of challenging state law. He was ordered into a “black car;” he refused and was subsequently thrown off the train and convicted of violating the law. The Supreme Court heard the legal arguments in 1895 and during the next year voted 7-1 against his appeal. In the Court’s opinion, as written by Justice Henry B. Brown, “Legislation is powerless to eradicate social instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation.” In his descent, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, “…U.S. government laws must protect all citizens.” The nation would endure sixty more years of such racial discrimination and segregation.

America at the time of Marshall’s birth had a population of eighty-nine million and was composed of forty-six states. Ten percent of the population was African-American and in Baltimore, African-Americans constituted twenty percent of the population. Jim Crow was evident everywhere. Additionally, less than half the population of the country enjoyed full legal rights; this was before woman’s suffrage. In addition, child labor was very common with workers as young as seven or eight years old – making as little as ten cents per day.

The Marshall family valued education. Willie Marshall taught his children tolerance and pride in their black heritage. Norma graduated college – an unusual achievement for a woman, especially being African-American. There were limited expectations for a young black person seeking a college education. The most that could be hoped for was a professional career such as medicine, dentistry and teaching. Even within these professions, the graduate could not hope to serve the white community. In order to further understand the obstacles felt by African-Americans, especially males, in that era, it should be kept in mind that between 1889 and 1918 there were 2500 lynchings in the United States with 15 of those reported in the state of Maryland. There were race riots in Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 and Springfield, Illinois in 1908. This was the daunting environment into which Marshall was born.

In spite of these fierce and uncompromising racist attitudes, there were African-Americans courageous enough to stand their ground in opposition. One of these was W.E.B. Du Bois who founded the Niagara Movement for the purpose of opposing segregation and the oppression of black people. This organization ultimately failed, but he went on to merge with like organizations to found the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The Marshall family moved to New York’s Harlem in 1910. In this regard, Marshall vividly remembered a banner that read, “This part of 135th Street guaranteed against Negro invasion.” He started working when he was only seven years old. The family eventually returned to Baltimore where the racial tension was exceedingly high and the city was highly segregated. At that time, there were no toilet facilities of any kind available to African-Americans.

Marshall was severely impacted by these brutal realities as he was growing up. In particular, he remembered a story out of Washington D.C. in which two African-American males accosted a white woman and grabbed her umbrella. As a consequence, the woman’s husband and his friends decided to lynch the two men. The mob of white vigilantes roamed the streets indiscriminately attacking any blacks they found. The unforgiving nature of existence that Marshall had to endure as a child made him a “tough kid” by his own admission.

In response to these aspects of daily life, his parents emphasized black heritage and his mother, especially, inculcated the idea of standing up against racism. Marshall did not apply himself in school and often got into trouble. On one of these occasions, his punishment was to memorize the U.S. Constitution. By the time he left school he knew it by heart. Ironically, this punishment inadvertently exposed him to the egalitarian nature of the nation’s premier document and its potential to improve the social condition. He ultimately became its undying advocate.

Marshall entered Lincoln University in 1925 in Oxford, Pennsylvania. He was enamored of his social life and at one point was threatened with suspension. The famed poet Langston Hughes was a senior at the University at that time and intervened on Marshall’s behalf. He eventually decided to apply himself enough to pass.

On September 4, 1929, Marshall married Vivian Buster Burey. It was her influence that helped Marshall begin to apply himself. It was at this point that he developed an interest in the law and finally decided to enter law school. According to him, “My father never told me to become a lawyer. But, he turned me into one by teaching me to argue, to prove every statement I made and by challenging my logic in every point.”
He applied to the University of Maryland and was denied acceptance on account of race. He entered Howard University in Washington D.C. There, he was greatly influenced by Charles Hamilton Houston who brought to his class such notable figures as Clarence Darrow and Felix Frankfurter. The class also took field trips to police stations, courtrooms, and mental asylums. Houston emphasized that a lawyer wages battle in court and needs to be a social engineer. According to his mentor, “We’ve got to turn this whole thing around. And the black man has got to do it; nobody’s going to do it for you.” Marshall was ultimately convinced by this logic and understood where his professional life would lead him.

In 1933, he became a licensed attorney. His attempt at starting his own legal business; however, was daunting since the nation was in the grips of a Depression in which one out of three workers was unemployed. He did not even have access to the local Bar Association - he was denied membership on account of his race. Marshall was not deterred by these difficulties; instead, he used the court library to gain access to the legal books so essential in a lawyer’s career. Finally, in 1934, he was hired by the NAACP.

It was in this role that Marshall, as lead attorney, presented the evidence to Earl Warren’s Supreme Court to support the argument that a separate but “equal” education was unconstitutional in the renowned case of Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954. He was, of course, successful in this endeavor. Marshall and his team of lawyers had worked for four years to perfect their case.

On account of his illustrious career at the Bar and as an avid supporter of civil rights, Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1967. Marshall resigned from the Supreme Court on October 1, 1991 having resided on the court through six different presidential administrations. Ironically, his position was filled by Clarence Thomas appointed by President George Bush. Thomas, an avowed conservative, holds views on matters of social equality and justice that run counter to those of Marshall. Marshall was not terribly happy regarding this choice. He died on January 24, 1993.

In a commencement address delivered at the University of Virginia on May 21, 1978, Marshall demonstrated his profound commitment to the Constitution. The following is an excerpt from that speech.

“The democratizing aspects of the Constitution cannot be overstated. For me, its cardinal principle is that all persons stand in a position of equality before the law. The Constitution gives to each and every one of you an equal right to your own opinions and to participate in the process of your own governance. These are precious rights that we must continually strive to preserve, and whose promise we must seek to attain. There are still far too many persons in this country who cannot participate as equals in the processes of Government – persons too poor, too ignorant, persons discriminated against by other people for no good reason. But our ideal, the ideal of our Constitution, is to eliminate these barriers to the aspirations of all Americans to participate fully in our government and society. We have realized it far better than most countries, but we still have a long way to travel and we must continue to strive in that direction.”

Friday, May 20, 2022

Dag Hammarskjold


The United Nations (UN) was created in 1941 by the Allied powers during World War II anticipating the end of the war with the goal of maintaining the peace after the hostilities had ended. The one significant drawback regarding the makeup of this organization is the fact that it is essentially controlled by the powerful industrial nations through the Security Council that was originally composed of five members - the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France and England.

The UN is under the leadership of the Secretary General, who is voted in. The first Secretary General was Trygve Lie, who remained in that position until 1952. During his administration, many UN members had lost confidence in the international organization for a number of reasons. The Security Council had become known for its inaction. Furthermore, the Taiwanese government represented China on the Security Council after mainland China - People’s Republic of China (PRC) - had fallen to the Communists. As a consequence, about one-quarter of the world’s population was not represented. In protest regarding this exclusion, representatives of the Soviet Union boycotted the UN from January to August 1950; it was their absence that allowed for the UN-sponsored military intervention in Korea.

At that time, Lie had supported the Security Council’s decision to resist by force the invasion of South Korea by military forces from North Korea - a conflict that was first called a “police action” but eventually came to be referred to as the Korean War. The Soviet Union essentially ignored Lie after 1950 and right-wing elements of the United States were severely critical of his leadership. As a consequence of the Korean War, Lie came under intense political pressure. He ultimately resigned his position on November 10, 1952.

At that time, Dag Hammarskjold was Minister of State in Sweden’s Foreign Office. He was recommended for the post of Secretary General of the UN and was accepted by all with the exception of the Chinese. Hammarskjold was truly surprised by the nomination; he never expected it. After considerable personal deliberation, he accepted the nomination and on April 10, 1953, he was instated.

The following taken from a speech he made at John Hopkins University in 1955 sheds considerable light on his worldview and the principles that motivated him, “The dignity of man, as a justification of our faith in freedom, can be part of our living creed only if we revert to a view of life where maturity of mind counts for more than outward success and where happiness is no longer to be measured in quantitative terms. Politics and diplomacy are no play of will and skill where results are independent of the character of those engaging in the game.” He was a realist, but also was a man of strong ethics. He was a believer in the power of the mind, especially when operating through reasoned judgment. He deeply valued integrity and what he often referred to as “maturity of mind.”

To further illustrate the character of his thinking, I have included a number of his commentaries taken from his book entitled, Markings:

“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only he who listens can speak. Is this the starting point of the road towards the union of your two dreams – to be allowed in clarity of mind to mirror life and in purity of heart to mold it?”

“A heart pulsating in harmony with the circulation of sap and flow of rivers A body with the rhythms of the earth in its movements? No. Instead: a mind, shut off from the oxygen of alert senses, that has wasted itself on “treasons, stratagems and spoils” – of importance only within four walls. A tame animal – in whom the strength of the species has outspent itself, to no purpose.”

“Like the bee, we distill poison from the honey for our self-defense – what happens to the bee if it uses its sting is well known.”

“O how much self-discipline, nobility of soul, lofty sentiments, we can treat ourselves to, when we are well-off and everything we touch prospers – Cheap: scarcely better than believing success is the reward of virtue.”

“Only he deserves power who every day justifies it.”

“To preserve the silence within-amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens-no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.”

“The style of conduct which carries weight calls for stubbornness even in an act of concession: you have to be severe with yourself in order to have the right to be gentle to others.”

“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.”

“Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who “forgives” you---out of love---takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.

“The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.”

These comments offer, in my judgment, important insights into the character and persuasions of the man and inform us regarding the inner motivations that determined his actions.

Hammarskjold was born on July 29, 1905 in Jonkoping, Sweden. His father, Hajmar Hammarskjold, was involved in Swedish politics; he served as a delegate to the negotiations that led to the dissolution of the Swedish union with Norway. He was a severe man, fully entrenched in his principles. His father ultimately became Prime Minister in 1914. Over time, he became unpopular; his views were interpreted as essentially undemocratic and reactionary. During the First World War he proclaimed Sweden’s neutrality. In a joint note to both warring parties, Hajmar proposed that the Swedish government remain the guardian of international principles. He was chosen as chairman of the League of Nations Committee for the Codification of International Law and delegate to the Disarmament Conference. Hammarskjold felt that one of his father’s admirable qualities was that he believed in and actively sought justice. His mother, Agnes, was described as having clarity of mind and a radically democratic view of her fellow humans.

Hammarskjold was obviously influenced by both his parents. Given his upbringing, it is no surprise that he chose a life of public service. Those who knew him found him to have a quick and astute mind, a sense of humor, boundless curiosity and to be highly disciplined. These traits would serve him well as Secretary General of the UN.

At the time that Hammarskjold took over the Secretary General position at the UN, the international body was in disarray, especially in regards to its role in the Korean War in the midst of the Cold War. He realized that the UN needed reorganization; he set about this task with remarkable energy. The world community seemed to be pleased with his efforts and, more importantly, his results.

According to Brian Urquhart, author of Hammarskjold, “Hammarskjold saw as the primary function of the UN the day-to-day effort to control and moderate conflicts that were a threat to peace, through a system of mediation and conciliation developed on the basis of the sovereign equality of states. This primary function went hand in hand with a long-term effort to attain wider social justice and equality both for individuals and, in the political, economic and social senses, for nations. He believed that progress in this direction must be based on a growing respect for international law and on the emergence of a truly international civil service, free from all national pressure and influences and recognized as such by governments.”

He saw his role as Secretary General as a discreet, objective and relentless negotiator always acting with and through sovereign governments. He visualized his role as an embodiment of the hopes of mankind and for peace and justice. He felt that in this position, he should avoid pointing a finger of blame. It is a position that only assumes any semblance of authority when the situation becomes so tenuous and dangerous that the UN becomes the last hope for a peaceful resolution.

During his tenure as Secretary General, Hammarskjold had to employ his talents and abilities on numerous occasions. We will focus on one in particular regarding the issue of Palestine. With the collapse of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire during World War I, the colonial powers, especially Great Britain and France, filled the political vacuum left by the former empire. The post war arrangements that were a direct result of this shift in power and influence created the environment for future upheavals, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict that persists even to this day. When Hammarskjold arrived at the UN in 1953, an uneasy peace was maintained through armistice agreements and the Tripartite Declaration of France, Great Britain and the United States, signed in May 1950. Its purpose was to maintain the status quo and prevent aggression by any governments in the region against their neighbors. The inherent instability of the region came to a head in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. There were many factors that contributed to the de-facto end of the Tripartite Declaration including the growth of Arab nationalism, the increased influence of the Soviet Union in the region and the decline of influence of the waning powers of Great Britain and France. The failed Arab invasion of Palestine in 1948 exacerbated the underlying tensions.

To further exacerbate difficulties in the region, President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt refused to allow ships to and from Israel to pass through the canal despite UN resolution issued in 1951 that called upon Egypt to allow all ships to pass through the canal. In spite of his intransigence, Great Britain and France pulled their troops out of the canal. The enmity between Israel and Egypt and other neighboring Arab states in the region quickly deteriorated. Skirmishes and reprisals soon began to spiral out of control. Israeli raids into Gaza and raids of Egyptian-trained Palestinian fedayeen became all too common place. During this time, Hammarskjold made it quite clear that he would not intervene in any way; until, he was asked to do so. It was not long before the situation became so grim that he was called upon to get the offending sides to negotiate with one another. Despite the intense enmity and hatred, Hammarskjold managed to get Nasser and David Ben-Gurion of Israel to sit down with one another; this represented a significant first step in the negotiation process. Eventually, all sides agreed upon a cease fire. This was a truly amazing accomplishment. In spite of this success, Hammarskjold was too much of a realist to believe the situation was resolved, for he knew only too well that he was but one man. In fact, in just a few years the Suez Canal crisis would erupt, and, once again, he would be called upon to employ his remarkable skills.

Dag Hammarskjold had an illustrious career; until, his untimely death in a plane crash while trying to help bring peace to the troubled African Congo. He was a person of great courage and inner strength, who believed strongly in the cause of peace and the rule of law. He was driven by a strong sense of purpose, and an indefatigable willingness to serve. He dedicated himself to a selfless life of service for what he understood to be the greater good.

Monday, May 16, 2022

There is a Giant Elephant in the Room


There is a giant elephant in the room. This creature moves about clumsily and with little fanfare. The weight of its presence is unmistakable, yet it seems to be relegated to the shadows. Its impact is ponderous and fully compatible with its enormous size and girth. Wherever it moves, it by necessity creates a wake that is capable of extremely disruptive power. Wherever it is, it produces consequences that are readily and immediately apparent, yet is never given the credit that it truly deserves. It is capable of disrupting gravity and, on account of its mass, drawing everything ineluctably within it sphere of influence. What is the real identity of this “mysterious” entity?

 This creature is the sterling product of the economy of greed.  This creature is a devotee of social imbalance and instability.  This creature has been spawned by an economic system gone amok.  It has sculptured a social order in which a massive share of the nation’s wealth has been funneled into the outstretched hands of the very few.  Much of this overblown wealth has been squirreled away into offshore accounts that most likely add up to trillions of dollars.  This enormous disparity has led to the creation of a ruling class that controls the purse strings of power that effectively corals the formulators of public policy to do its biding and puts enormous restraints upon effecting change for the common good.

 This creature has produced many offspring that have been disseminated throughout the world.  The object of their cooperative endeavor is to maintain the status quo at all costs.  This creature possesses no discernible moral compass – anything or any process that delivers profit is totally acceptable.  If this means adding poison into the air and water at increasing and often alarming rates, well that is no problem, for within its distorted vision of reality that never was a concern to begin with.  If this means mass producing weapons that can kill and maim with stunning precision and making enough of these so as to arm every man and woman throughout the globe well than that is the way of things and, therefore, as it should be.  If this means injecting flotillas of satellites into near-earth orbit for the sake of amassing wealth, well let it be even it should rob the night sky of its inherent beauty and threaten the very future of space exploration.

 This giant elephant in the room happily transcends logic and makes a mockery of reason as it distorts reality, endangers perception, and undermines truth.  However, not unlike the parasite that ultimately kills its host, this creature cannot survive in a desolate world that may well be the product of its own making.