Christmas of Service

As we approach this year’s Christmas season, it is with the backdrop of one of the most devastating national disasters ever inflicted on the Region. Two massive category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, swept across the Region causing death and destruction in its path. Scores were killed, hundreds injured, and billions of dollars in damages.

But there is a Christmas lesson in all of this – a story of perseverance, compassion, neighborly concern and the boldness to face the disaster and to overcome.

Because the Christmas story is one of a family fleeing disaster, a despot who wanted to kill all male babies, a story of perseverance, a child born in a manger among the animals, and of faith in in the virgin birth. The true lesson of Christmas must not then be lost even as we face disaster. Prime Minister of Dominica, the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit told his people, “We bring to this Christmas a living experience and evidence of the widespread devastation and destruction that can be caused by climate change . . . Thankful for God’s gift of life, thankful for his call for a deeper review of our stewardship of the environment” With the experience of disaster foremost in our minds and some of our sisters and brothers are still suffering from this disaster, the true message of true Christmas should not be lost on us.

As we celebrate Christmas and the holiday season we need to contemplate the commandment that Jesus gave “to love your neighbor as yourself” – this powerful message is the great reminder of the birth of Jesus. The Angels said “I am bringing good news of great joy for all people” – this news of great joy especially includes your neighbor.

We are living in some turbulent times where consideration for neighbors are strange and at times absent; people especially, some of our leaders are definitely concerned about living and working together; it should be a definitely not concern about living and working together. It is a “me first” world and sometimes it is a “me only” consideration that drives action that is so pervasive in todays’ world.

The question of joy and goodwill – it is interesting to hear what the poet Rabindranath said -“ I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted ,and behold, service was joy.” If you extrapolate the joy and good tiding that’s at Christmas is service, the spirit of giving that is loving your neighbor. Christmas means forgetting self and remembering those who have no Christmas; Christmas means the bright eyes of little children made glad by demonstrations of unselfish love. This is a real lesson and a tough one that was taught by the hurricane disaster that hit the region. We all must pull together, we all must care for each other.

In the Caribbean, apart from the disastrous effect of the hurricanes, the region has been plague by headlines of crime and violence, with record numbers of murders in the various countries, human trafficking of increasing proportions, and domestic violence almost out of control, and reported economic setback calls for some introspection. We must reflect on where we are and what this Christmas message brings to us to those in need, to those who are less fortunate than ourselves and provide hope.

Christmas serves as a reasonable reminder that however hard, cruel, selfish, war-weary, crime plagued world, for this season we can contemplate the message of “loving your neighbor as yourself” and on Earth, Peace and Goodwill towards Men.

If we can take these messages and endeavor to live by them, in the spirit of love, the power of God’s love will be felt. There are evil people very much abroad in the world; but there are also kind and generous people, Christians and non-Christians, people of goodwill, spreading the simple Christmas message – “love one another”.

It is a simple but profound message that can be a lifetime mission. This doctrine, peace and goodwill is to inspire action; that action is giving. Christmas is a time for giving. For Christmas, a time for giving, we must reach out to family and friends, open our hearts to those that are in need, who are less fortunate than ourselves, and provide help. A wonderful story of giving was featured recently in the publication Saratoga Today –A Caribbean Christmas – Ballston Spa - Milton Terrace Elementary School students are in the giving spirit this holiday season. Each year the students participate in at least one community service project, usually focusing on providing community assistance to those in the local community. This year, the students decided to go a little beyond the community at large. In conjunction with The Giving Circle, Milton Terrance Elementary School students will be working on Operation: A Caribbean Christmas. This project asked students in grades K-5 to make homemade Christmas cards for kids in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas who were affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The work is done through the library instruction class taught by Sheila McIntyre, point-person at the school for Operation: A Caribbean Christmas. “As a Building Leadership Team (BLT), we have always looked for opportunities to help that reach far beyond Ballston Spa. A friend of mine who works with The Giving Circle approached me a while ago and asked if our school would be interested in helping them out with their Operation: A Caribbean Christmas project. I brought the idea to our BLT, and it was unanimously agreed upon that the students would love this,” said McIntyre.

A wonderful story of caring and giving Open your heart to the real joy of Christmas A Blessed Christmas to all!

Whither Party Politics in the U.S.A.

By Basil Wilson

What have we learned about politics in the South based on the Senatorial campaign that unfolded in Alabama on December 12, 2017? American politics is very much influenced by regional dynamics. Coastal cities like Los Angeles and New York City demonstrate different voting patterns that one may find in Birmingham, Alabama or in Miami, Florida.

In recent decades, the South has become literally a one party state with Republicans dominating state legislatures and locking in electoral college votes in Presidential elections. Thus, what we witnessed in the Senatorial race in Alabama was quite an anomaly and not necessarily a reflection of politics in the South in the immediate future. But there are generalizations that can be drawn when analysts disaggregate the data. There is an enormous amount of confusion among whites in America and this confusion is even more acute in the southern regions of the country. The white population still votes quite conservatively. There are still strong strains of white supremacy and fears of the growing diversity in contemporary America.

Forty-eight percent of the voters who participated in the Senatorial election on December 12, 2017 defined themselves as born again Christians. What does the love of God mean in America? Born again Christians are vehemently opposed to abortion and would like to see the roll back of the Supreme Court decision - Roe versus Wade in 1973- that made abortion up to six months the law of the land. But in the born again white Christian movement there is an absence of Christlike compassion for the poor or the sick or the downtrodden. There is the absence of class consciousness and a pre-occupation with race. The end of slavery and the defeat of the Confederacy still simmer and are an integral part of identity politics in the South.

Roy Moore, the deposed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and the Republican nominee for the open Senate seat, personifies this sort of political backwardness. Moore thought America was great during slavery because the American family was still intact. Obviously, Moore has never read W.E.B. Dubois’ Reconstruction, a study that in part vividly describes black folks after the Civil War searching for family members who were sold during slavery. What the Senatorial bi-election vividly demonstrates is the crisis of conservative ideology. The Tea Party came into being in the 2010 election, two years after Barak Obama was elected President of the United States. The burning issue for the Tea Party insurgency was the debt. The Federal government has been spending more than the extant revenues. As a consequence, the Federal government owes over twenty trillion dollars in accumulated debt. The song of the Tea Party was not to raise additional revenues to reduce the debt but to cut government support for social programs.

President Obama increased the debt to pump prime the economy in 2009 to avoid another great depression in the wake of the housing bubble crash and the collapse of the stock market. This led to the agreed policy of sequestration in which spending would be curtailed and there would be a balance in military spending and social programs, the latter vital to progressive Democrats.Despite this conservative preoccupation with the debt, the Republican Congress in conjunction with deficit hawks like the Tea Party have agreed to tax cuts that will be financed by borrowed money, currently estimated to add 1.5 trillion to the debt in 10 years. The economy has been growing, employment is nigh full employment and there is no recession on the horizon. The Tax Cuts/Jobs Bill classically reveals the corrupt nature of money in politics. The evidence is overwhelming that in recent years there has been wage stagnation and in certain parts of the country like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, pockets of those states, communities have suffered a loss of good paying jobs and have experienced downward mobility.

There are tax alterations that could have been made to ameliorate some of the imbalances of the global economy but this tax bill that will be passed by the Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican President is not only rushed through without any hearings but a boondoggle for the wealthy. The tax bill will exacerbate income inequality and the dearth in federal revenues will create a Republican lynch mob to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs.

Who pays the piper calls the tune and the Republicans in Congress are dancing to the tune of the donor class. There was no genuine concern for the debt of the country. It clearly reveals the greed of the donor class.

Whither Bannon/Trump populism? Both Bannon and Trump ventured in the Alabama Senatorial race in support of the reactionary Roy Moore. There is not a populist bone in Roy Moore yet Bannon, who is against the establishment, wants to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. and replace it with new crocodiles like Roy Moore.

Moore who came to vote in his own election riding a horse can now ride into the sunset. The black vote in Alabama turned out in an unprecedented force of progressive unity and enabled the moderate Democrat, Doug Jones, to win fifty percent of the votes cast in that closely contested election. Even white college graduates, a majority voted for Roy Moore. As is customary and a reflection of their political ignorance, whites without a college degree voted overwhelmingly for Roy Moore as they did in the 2016 Presidential election when they voted for the billionaire. In the 2018 pending election, the black vote, the white college graduates, particularly women, will determine whether some degree of sanity can return to American politics and to temporarily de-fang the Trump Presidency. In one year, Trump has done immense damage to American democracy.

President’s Claim To Be Above the Law is “An Affront to the Very Principle on Which Our System is Built”

Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

“No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Third Annual Message, December 7, 1903 A claim this week by President Trump’s personal lawyer that “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” sparked immediate comparison to Richard Nixon’s notorious 1977 statement, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” While the Senate Judiciary Committee did approve a charge of obstruction of justice against Nixon in 1972, Nixon’s 1977 statement to interviewer David Frost referred to another article, considered but rejected by the committee: the secret bombing of Cambodia. The committee also rejected an article regarding Nixon’s personal finances and failure to pay taxes. Nixon famously resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on the three articles of impeachment – in addition to obstruction, the committee approved articles charging him with abuse of power and contempt of Congress. But it was widely accepted the House would vote to impeach.

In a memo prepared for Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, the legal team argued not only that “no man in this country is so high that he is above the law,” but the offense of obstruction was of particular concern.

“Failure to deal evenhandedly with the President would be an affront to the very principle on which our system is built. And this failure would be all the more severe because of the nature of the crime in question, a conspiracy to obstruct justice, the purpose of which was to place certain individuals beyond the rule of law. The result would probably be greater public disrespect for the integrity of the legal process than has already been created by public knowledge of attempts by the nation’s highest officials to put themselves beyond the law.” Twenty three years later, Congress would vote to impeach President Bill Clinton, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The special prosecutor investigating Clinton, Ken Starr, wrote in his report, “An effort to obstruct justice by withholding the truth from the legal process — whether by lying under oath, concealing documents, or improperly influencing a witness’s testimony — is a federal crime. There is substantial and credible information that President Clinton engaged in such efforts to prevent the truth of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky from being revealed in the Jones case.”

No President is above the law. Nixon and Clinton were not, and Trump is not. Nor is the President the chief law enforcement officer in the nation; the Attorney General holds that distinction. President Trump, of course, has not been charged with obstruction of justice or any other offense. But his lawyer’s claim represents a dangerous and un-American view.

Thomas Paine, in his revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, wrote “But where, says some, is the King of America? …. In America the law is king.” John Adams enshrined the concept in the Massachusetts Constitution with the often-quoted phrase, “a government of laws, not of men.”

It has been a common rhetorical device in modern American politics for rivals to accuse one another of placing themselves above the law, particularly when protesting some executive action or another. But with the notable exceptions of Nixon and Trump, it’s unheard of for a U.S. President to claim that privilege for himself. It’s disputed whether King Louis XIV of France really said “L’etat, c’est moi” – “I am the state” – on his deathbed in 1715, but it’s certain that the expression has consistently has been held up as the antithesis of American rule of law. There are nine current members of the Senate who voted to convict President Clinton of obstruction of justice in 1999. They would be hard pressed, now, to agree with Trump’s legal team that the offense does not exist.