Mr. Foxx Exits: But Not Before Kicking Off One Final Highway Project!

Last week, Anthony Foxx wrapped up his tenure as the nation’s 17th Secretary of Transportation. President Obama appointed him to the post; he was confirmed July 2, 2013.

Before taking on that post Mr. Foxx served 3 and a half years as Charlotte’s 54th Mayor. Foxx is a young star in the Democratic Party, and led the City’s successful bid to host the Democratic Party’s 2012 Convention, at which the Party conferred its nomination on President Obama, who went on to win a second term in office in November 2012.

Foxx, 45, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, graduated from West Charlotte High School, and attended and graduated from Davidson College, (located in Mecklenburg County, the county of which Charlotte is the County Seat), where he became the first African American Student Body President. After matriculating at Davidson, he attended New York University School of Law (NYU), where he earned a J.D. in 1996.

After graduating from law school, Foxx worked at a law firm in Charlotte, clerked for an Appeals Court Judge in Cincinnati, worked for the United States Department of Justice, the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, and in 2004, he served as campaign manager for Representative Mel Watt (NC).

In the process of honing his own political chops, Foxx ran for and was elected to the Charlotte City Council in 2005, and re-elected in 2007. In 2009 he upped his game, running for and winning election at Charlotte’s Mayor, a post to which he was re-elected in 2011.

President Obama announced in April; 2013 that he would nominate Mr. Foxx as Secretary of Transportation. Subsequently, June 27, the Senate confirmed Foxx’s nomination to the post by a vote of 100-0. He resigned as Charlotte’s Mayor and accepted the position. As an aside, Foxx served as the designated survivor during the 2015 State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015. Fox and his wife Samara, also an attorney, have two children, Hillary and Zachary.

Foxx, like other members of the Obama Cabinet wrapped up his official duties by noon last Friday, January 20, 2017. As the Secretary prepared to hit the road, figuratively, he initiated a parting gesture designed to pay homage to two North Carolinians who gained notoriety as civil rights icons. He signed proclamations sometime last week, asking the NC Department of Transportation to designate portions of I-85 in Mecklenburg (where the City of Charlotte is located) and Durham (where the City of Durham is located) Counties be re-named the Julius Chambers Memorial Highway, and the John Hope Franklin Memorial Highway, respectively.

The process is not yet complete, but it’s anticipated that it will likely go through. Secretary Foxx admitted:

“These kind of recognitions are rare, and they probably should be. But they are important symbolic statements about the history of the state and the various personalities who’ve animated the state’s history.

Frankly, there are not a ton of examples of African-Americans who have been recognized, and these two are two of the very best who graced us with their presence in North Carolina.”

When contacted to discuss the proposal, NC Governor Roy Cooper endorsed the proclamation. He said in a statement:

“John Hope Franklin and Julius Chambers were men of great vision and purpose who gave so much to North Carolina, and this would be a fitting way for our state to honor them.”

Attorney Julius Chambers played a substantial role in school desegregation across the United States. Secretary Foxx praised him for:

Advancing “the rights of minorities and low income people through his tireless advocacy in the forms of litigation, scholarly research, and grass-roots activism, and enhanced racial equality throughout the nation and from his home state of North Carolina.”

He also extolled Franklin, a renowned academic and historian, and his work, saying:

He elevated “the cause of civil rights and the study of black history in the United States and weaving into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.”

After signing the proclamations, one of the next steps Foxx took was to apprise relatives of the two icons. Franklin’s son, John Whittington Franklin, found about the honor via a text message Saturday morning. An employee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, Mr. Franklin expressed surprise. He further indicated he was pleased, and he thanked Foxx.

Chamber’s son Derrick indicated he’d learned about the proclamations Thursday, Foxx’s last full day as transportation secretary. A Charlotte resident, Derrick described it as a great honor. He added:

“I feel it’s long overdue for someone who made history. I look back at all the work that my father did in my lifetime and I’m proud that he is not forgotten.”

Chambers died in 2013 at age 76. Over the course of his career he was involved as counsel in a number of celebrated cases as the lead partner in the Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, and Atkins Law Firm in Charlotte, North Carolina’s first integrated law firm. Among the cases he took challenging discrimination in education, employment, and government, included Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. The 1971 Supreme Court decision that arose from that case was pivotal in making busing a viable option for implementing school desegregation plans. During the most intense years of the civil rights movement, Chambers car was dynamited, his house was firebombed, and his office was torched. He later served as Director-Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (1984-1993).

Chambers enrolled at North Carolina Central University in 1954. He was the president of the student body at NCCU and graduated summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree in history in 1958. He earned a graduate degree in history from the University of Michigan. In 1959, he entered law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was the first African American editor-in-chief of the school’s law review and graduated first in his class of 100 students in 1962. Chambers also became the first African American to gain membership in the Order of the Golden Fleece, the University’s highest honorary society. In 1964, he earned his LL.M. from Columbia University Law School.

Franklin died in 2009 at the age of 94. He was a renowned African-American history scholar. In 1947, he authored “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” which is regarded as a seminal work on African-American history.

He served as legal researcher for the NAACP legal defense fund’s work on Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court case that led to desegregation of schools nationwide.

Franklin taught at a number of institutions, including North Carolina Central University and Duke University, both in Durham, NC. At Duke, he was a professor of history and a legal history professor at its law school. He was the first African-American to head the American Historical Association.

Then-President Clinton awarded Franklin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. Two years later, Clinton tapped Franklin to lead the President’s Initiative on Race, a panel that was created to foster a national dialogue on the sensitive subject of race relations.

While it’s likely the highways will be renamed, Secretary Foxx’s actions don’t mean that Chambers and Franklin highway signs will go up soon. Applications must be filed with NCDOT requesting the changes, and a good deal of coordination must still take place. It is actually conceivable that the road in Mecklenburg County that ultimately bears Chambers’ name could be I-77 rather than I-85, because there are several names already in the pipeline.

I am delighted to join Secretary Foxx in saluting these two amazing men, both of whom share an incredible legacy that includes membership in one of my favorite organizations, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Meanwhile, Mr. Foxx Exits: But Not Before Kicking Off One Final Highway Project!

I’m done; holla back!

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WWMD? (Reprised ’17)

It’s time to Break It Down!

This is another holiday week. While many may have moved on, I opted not to. I attended an MLK, Jr. Holiday Observance in a neighboring community. The program included public officials, minsters, choirs, teachers, students, a genuinely engaged crowd, and a personal friend who delivered the public address. It was a day that appropriately memorialized many of the ideals for which Dr. King surrendered his life.

I must note at first blush I was a little surprised that of the hand full of students who were afforded the opportunity to read their essays, none were people of color. As an aside, one of two students unable to attend the event had an Indian (as in India) surname, so perhaps… However, upon further contemplation, I concluded, if King’s aims are ever fully achieved, the deftness of the students’ writing skill and the content of their character should supersede the color of their skin. At any rate, in as much as I didn’t read the essays, I’m going to give the teachers and administrators a pass.

In reflecting on the many works of Dr. Martin Luther King, I decided to revisit a post I wrote and posted Wednesday, January 19, 2011, that examined both the advent of the King Holiday, and at the time, a controversy in local and nearby school systems. It’s been 6 years since that fateful snowstorm, 31 years since the initial observance of the King Holiday, and 34 years since President Reagan signed the MLK, Jr. Holiday bill into law. Now seems an apt time to take a look into the rear view mirror of time.

Monday was the 25th Anniversary of the initial observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday (MLK DAY). After a quarter century of inculcation into the very fabric of our society, it may be largely forgotten that the conceptualization, submission and continual resubmission of the idea, the enactment, and the gradual national observance, was not the product of universal acceptance of a grand and enlightened concept, but rather, was emblematic of the civil rights struggle itself; steeped in controversy, and the eventual victory of a relentless movement to achieve richly deserved, and long overdue social justice.

Several members of Congress, and a number of states, and even a President, using a host of creative means, sought to undermine, outmaneuver, sabotage, subvert, and otherwise derail the efforts of the measure’s proponents. Ultimately, the movement was consolidated, snowballed, and would simply not be denied.

The effort to create a King Holiday was started by U.S. Representative John Conyers, Michigan, shortly after Dr. King’s death, in the spring of 1968. It was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 1979, but fell 5 votes short of the number for passage in the Lower Chamber.

High profile opponents to the measure included Senator Jesse Helms, NCSenator John McCain, AZ, and President Ronald Reagan. Both Senators voted against the bill, and Senator McCain publicly supported Arizona Governor Evan Mecham for his rescission of MLK Day as a State Holiday in Arizona. The campaign however, reached a critical mass in the early 1980’s. Spurred on by Stevie Wonder penning a song in King’s honor called, “Happy Birthday,” a petition drive to support the campaign would attract over 6 million signatures. It has been called the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. History.

Buttressed by what had become a wildly successful public campaign, Congress soon followed suit. The proposal passed in the House by a vote of 338-90, and in the Upper Chamber by a vote of 78-22. Given the dimensions of this overwhelming support, in the form of bicameral veto-proof votes, President Reagan signed the provision November 2, 1983, and it became Federal Law. The first observance under the new law took place January 20, 1986, rather than on January 15th, Dr. King’s birthday. A compromise in the legislation specified that the observance take place on the Third Monday in January, consistent with prior legislation (Uniform Monday Holiday Act).

Of course, that was not the end of the story. It would actually take more than 30 years after Dr. King’s death before the Holiday was fully adopted and observed in all 50 states. Illinois holds the distinction of being the first State to adopt MLK Day as a State Holiday, having done so in 1973. Twenty years later, in 1993, for the first time, some form of MLK Day was held in each of the 50 States. It was not until 2000 that South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges signed a bill to make MLK Day a paid holiday for State employees; giving the Palmetto State the dubious distinction of being the last of the 50 States to do so. However, Mississippi also sets itself apart by designating the Third Monday in January as a shared Holiday that honors the memory of Robert E. Lee and Dr. King…two fine southern gentlemen.

So with that extensive preamble, I give you the issue of the day. This year, the convergence of a series of perfect winter storm systems bludgeoned the South and Eastern United States during the weeks leading up to the King Holiday. Part of the collateral damage emanating from these storms was widespread school closings, especially in the South, including parts of Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

In an effort to reformat the remainder of the school year, while minimizing overall disruption to School Calendars, a number of School Administrators discussed, and/or chose to eliminate the MLK Holiday, and program the day as a school “Make-up Day.” The ensuing conversations, especially those that lead to decisions to cancel the Holiday proved to be controversial and highly charged. It does not help that in many Southern school districts, there has been a level of retrenchment that many parents, families, and human rights organizations believe is tantamount to re-segregating the districts.

So I ask you, “What Would Martin Do?” (WWMD?)

I am not going to indulge in intellectual hubris, and pretend I know the answer to the aforementioned query. Instead, I will apply a couple of basic pragmatic considerations, and share my version of common sense. First, it is no secret; the efficacy of the American Education System is in question. By most accounts, American students, our children, are in trouble. A web search of “Shortcomings of the American Educational System” yields 28, 400,000 results. Do not worry I am not about to recount them for you.

The point is from the White House, to the State House, to the School House, the calls for reforming the American System of Education resound clearly, loudly, and incessantly. Almost every depiction of what is required for America to regain its mojo and reach its potential includes some version of enhancing the level and quality of education that we provide to our students.

In that light, I believe we are missing, not only the larger point, but we are also missing a unique opportunity, if we allow ourselves to get “stuck,” quibbling over the alleged unfairness, inequality, or racial bias of administrators having declared MLK Day a school day. Even “if,” any or all of those notions were accurate, and I am not certain they were, our forbears prided themselves in rising above those challenges, and excelling in spite of them. Given all of our advantages, relative to our ancestors, it is incumbent upon us to do the same…and more!

We should have leveraged the construct of MLK Day as a Day of Service, and enhanced it to make it a Day of Service and Education. There are many studies that suggest the longer students stay away from their regular studies and study habits, the more ground they lose. Has it not occurred to anyone that such a result is the very last thing we, or they, need? It was both important, and apropos to have school on MLK Day because that was the next “First Day Available” to conduct the Make-up Day. By taking advantage of that option, the students, for whom education is designed, and whom should derive the greatest direct benefit, receive the highest and best use from a necessary evil; the inclusion of a Make-up Day.  Naturally, all of society reaps the rewards of their immediate increased potential.

Since I am not a medium or a spiritualist, I do not profess to have conducted a séance with Dr. King; nor am I an educator, and I have not polled teachers or administrators. I am just a guy who is a perpetual student…of life, and that is how I see it. So if you were to ask me, “WWMD? (Reprised ’17),” My answer is, in his most Reverend voice, Dr. King would implore us not to get “stuck,” quibbling over the alleged unfairness, inequality, or racial bias of administrators having declared MLK Day a school day. He would add, “I Have A Dream” that one day, down in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina, black boys and black girls will join with white boys and white girls, and with Latino boys and Latina girls, and with Asian boys and Asian girls, and they will all get the quality education that they deserve, irrespective of their color, or their culture, or whether January 17th is a School “Make-up Day.” That was my take then and now. What’s yours?

I’m done; holla back!

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POTUS’ Farewell Address: Obama Out!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Last night, President Obama stopped by McCormick Place in Chicago to bid adieu to a mostly grateful nation. After eight years, only nine days remain in the Obama Presidency. In today’s America, that’s good news or bad news, depending upon which side of the ideological chasm you find yourself. Over the years, I’ve learned that there are all kinds of people on both sides of that divide. There have been other posts that dealt with that subject in depth; there will be more…some day.

Just not this day. Today’s post is all about 44, and his fond farewell. In fact that’s all it’s about. No preamble, no postscript, no scintillating analysis. In the event you missed it, or had a question about the phraseology around one or two particular points, or you simply want a keepsake, I am sharing the transcript of President Obama’s remarks last night in Chi-town.

If you saw it, or you didn’t care to see it…and you don’t care to now, feel free to sign off. I’ll be back next week with a new post. For now, enjoy.

Here’s the text of President Barack Obama‘s farewell address Tuesday at McCormick Place in Chicago, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:

It’s good to be home.  My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well wishes we’ve received over the past few weeks.  But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks.  Whether we’ve seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people – in living rooms and schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant outposts – are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going.  Every day, I learned from you.  You made me a better president, and you made me a better man.

I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, and was still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life.  It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills.  It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and come together to demand it.

After eight years as your President, I still believe that.  And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.

It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

This is the great gift our Founders gave us.  The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, it’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot, it’s what powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.

So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional.  Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.

Yes, our progress has been uneven.  The work of democracy has always been hard, it’s always been contentious and it’s sometimes been bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history … if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11 … if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens … If I had told you all of that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that’s what we did.  That’s what you did.  You were the change.  You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy:  the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next.  I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.  Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

We have what we need to do so.  We have everything we need to meet those challenges. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth.  Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours.

But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works.  Only if our politics better reflects the decency of the our people.  Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That’s what I want to focus on tonight – the state of our democracy.

Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders argued, they quarreled, eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened that solidarity.  The beginning of this century has been one of those times.  A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism – these forces haven’t just tested our security and prosperity, but are testing our democracy as well.  And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future.

To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.  Today, the economy is growing again; wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are rising again; poverty is falling again.  The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records.  The unemployment rate is near a ten-year low.  The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.  Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years.  And I said, and I mean it, if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.

That, after all, is why we serve – not to score points or take credit, but to make people’s lives better, not worse.

But for all the real progress we’ve made, we know it’s not enough.  Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class.  That the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles.  While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind – the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who is barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills – convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful – a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

There are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.  I agree — our trade should be fair and not just free.  But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas.  It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible.  We can argue about how to best achieve these goals.  But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves.  For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself.  After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America.  And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.  Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.  Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics. You can see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

But we’re not where we need to be.  All of us have more work to do.  After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an  undeserving minority, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.  If we’re unwilling  to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children -– because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.  And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system.  That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require.  But laws alone won’t be enough.  Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes often take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – not only  the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our Founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.

So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.  The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.  And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.

And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy.  Look, politics is a battle of ideas; that’s how our democracy was designed.  …  But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.

And isn’t that part of what makes politics so dispiriting?  How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?  How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?  It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating.  Because as my mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

Take the challenge of climate change.  In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve doubled our renewable energy, and we’ve led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet.  But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem.  But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

It is that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but built on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.

That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, and open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power.  The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile.  They represent the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever.  We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden.  The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory.  ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe.  To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

But protecting our way of life — that’s not just the job of our military.  Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.  So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.  And that’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing.  That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.  That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are.  That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem.  That’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression.  If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid.  ISIL will try to kill innocent people.  But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.  Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.

Which brings me to my final point – our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.  All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.  When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote.  When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service.  When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our congressional districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.

And remember — none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift.  But it’s really just a piece of parchment.  It has no power on its own.  We, the people, give it power – we the people give it meaning with our participation, and the choices we make and the alliances that we form.  Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms.  Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law.  America is no fragile thing.  But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken … to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;” and so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety”; that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.

America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent.  We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.  Because for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: citizen.

So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands.  It needs you.  Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.  If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one in real life.  If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.  If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.  Show up.  Dive in.  Stay at it.  Sometimes you’ll win.  Sometimes you’ll lose.  Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you.  But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire.  And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

Mine sure has been.  Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.  I’ve mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in Charleston church.  I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I’ve seen wounded warriors, who at points were given up for dead, walk again.  I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks.  I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us of our obligations to care for refugees, to work in peace, and above all to look out for each other.

That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change – that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined.  I hope yours has, too.  Some of you here tonight or watching at home were there with us in 2004, in 2008, in 2012. Maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.

You’re not the only ones.  Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side – for the past 25 years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.  You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and with grit and with style and good humor.  You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.  And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.  You have made me proud.  And you have made the country proud.

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women.  You are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion.  You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily.  Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.

To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son:  you were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best.  Not just because you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother.  We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.

To my remarkable staff:  For eight years – and for some of you, a whole lot more – I’ve drawn from your energy, and every day I’ve tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: heart, and character, and idealism.  I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, and start incredible new journeys of your own.  Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. You guarded against cynicism. The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we’ve done is the thought of all the remarkable things you are going to achieve from here.

And to all of you out there – every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change – you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will forever be grateful.  Because you did change the world. You did.

That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started.  Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.  Let me tell you, this generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.  You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.  You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.  I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.  For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

 I am asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune

That’s it…”POTUS’ Farewell Address: Obama Out!”

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2017 is Here: Before We Completely Turn the Page

It’s time to Break It Down!

It’s 2017 and the dawn of the Trump era is upon us. That, in and of itself, means different things to different people. Of course, I’m mindful that the New Year arrived Sunday of this week, so while I am picking a contemporary topic, I promise to keep it brief.

Trump partisans argue their hero will be good for business, that he will put an end to stifling regulations that not only make it more difficult to do business in the first place, but that cause manufacturers and businesses to inflate prices to offset/cover the resulting cost of doing business, that he will lower corporate taxes and reduce the overall number of tax brackets to three, and of course his number one campaign promise, “Make America Great Again (MAGA)…among other things (such as build a wall at the Southern Border).

Many of the rest of Americans, including individuals who voted for Hillary (some would contend she had very few fans), those who voted for the Libertarian, Green Party, or Independent candidates, or those who simply opted out of voting, regardless of the reason, are prone to see the situation somewhat differently. Most of the people who actually bothered to vote did so out of abundant concerns about both Mr. Trump’s visible character traits, as well as most of the policy prescriptions he promised, or depending upon one’s point of view, threatened, to implement.

The list is long, and includes the following as a representative few:

  • Repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare)
  • Build a wall at the Southern Border of the United States (Mexico); make Mexico pay for it
  • Temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States
  • Bring manufacturing jobs back
  • Impose tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico
  • Renegotiate or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
  • Renegotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Leave Social Security in tact
  • Cut taxes
  • ‘Bomb’ and/or ‘take the oil’ from ISIS

One thing that causes concern for many is not just what he claimed he would do, but that over the course of the campaign, he took so many positions that he subsequently reversed, abandoned, or outright denied. In effect, they came to view Mr. Trump as a well-heeled charlatan. Unarguably, Trump has managed to navigate the universe that is the business world and find success. Nevertheless, his methods on the campaign trail clearly revealed his charlatan-like tendencies.

And it was not just Mr. Trump. His surrogates and supporters were called upon almost daily to react to his hyperbole, his reversals, and his flatly wrong assertions and assignations. Inexplicably, most of them were as oily and unreliable as he when it came to addressing the issues with which their candidate had played so fast and loose. They deflected, dissembled, and when necessary joined the big guy in positing the flimsiest of denials. Mostly, they simply changed the subject, or spoke of some historical moment or action they deemed a viable equivalent.

It is fair to say that a deep and wide chasm has emerged, and divides our political hemispheres. This very vexing habit, which Trump supporters see as no big deal, or more pointedly, usually no deal at all, strikes the folks on the other side of the chasm as one gigantic deal-breaker after another. Moving forward, this poses issues that should concern all of us.

Back to the voters, 62 million of whom voted for Trump, 65 million of whom voted for Clinton. Let me be clear, this is not an anti Electoral College spiel. It is the system we use until it’s not. As of now, it is, so Mr. Trump assumes the Office of the Presidency at noon January 20th. Having said that, let’s put to rest the idea, and the argument in some corners, that Donald Trump has a compelling, or any other kind of mandate. He does not. What he does have is a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress, somewhat like President Obama had in 2009. As I recall, Republicans then not only didn’t believe Mr. Obama had a mandate, irregardless of the fact that in addition to both Houses of Congress having Democratic majorities, he also won the Electoral College AND the popular vote. Still, on Inauguration Day, at least 15 members of the GOP leadership met that evening and committed to oppose every initiative Mr. Obama proffered. This was a tact they employed virtually without fail. They did this for 8 years…which means all the way up to now.

This is a critical piece of information because as Mr. Trump and First Daughter, Ivanka, are headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Washington, DC), at least when he is not at 721 Fifth Avenue in New York (also known as Trump Tower), his adoring fandom has alternately urged and excoriated those among us who are skeptics to give Trump a chance. Or, as some say, the election is over, get over it. Yes, ironically, these are some of the same people who spent the last 3,033 days denigrating, demonizing, and denouncing President Obama. I am so motivated to get on board with that request…or excoriation. Whatever. Not!

There are 20 million people who now have health insurance who did not have insurance prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. To paraphrase Vice President Biden, that’s a big eff’n deal. And yes, there are problems with the program. However, let us not lose the lessons as we consider the narrative. Key lesson points include, the program:

  1. Added tens of millions of Americans to health insurance rolls
  2. Eliminated the pre-existing conditions standard
  3. Allows children to stay on their parent’s policies until they reach age 26
  4. Resulted in subsidizing most premiums
  5. Created more paying customers for insurers
  6. Slowed the increase in healthcare costs
  7. Amassed more plusses than minuses

I say all that to underscore the fact that even though the GOP members of Congress have spent years attacking Obamacare, and have voted more than 50 times in an effort to repeal the program, they have still not crafted a plan to seamlessly replace the program. One might think for something the President-Elect has named one of his top priorities, and for a program Congress has devoted so much time and energy trying to rescind, given all the ways in which it has insinuated itself into the lives of so many Americans, there would be a grand or other design to replace it. There is not. For all but the pathological Obama haters, this is acutely problematic.

There are similarly weighted issues with a number of Mr. Trump’s other MAGA priorities. Among them, building a wall and “Making” Mexico pay for it, which the Mexican President has repeatedly said will not happen, to adding tariffs to trade pacts with China, which most experts conclude would ignite a trade war, to ending Obamacare, which many in Coal Country now admit (despite having voted for Trump), they rely upon to offset the cost of care for the diseases they contracted while working in the mines. The list goes on.

So while one side is getting its euphoric swag on in eager anticipation of the much ballyhoo’d Trump Reign, the other busies itself citing a seemingly endless litany of reasons why this was an epic bad idea. The chasm is firmly, if not irrevocably, in place. Certainly, there are factors you may want to consider…”2017 is here: Before We Completely Turn the Page!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: Find a new post each Wednesday.

To subscribe, click on Follow in the bottom right hand corner of my Home Page at; enter your e-mail address in the designated space, and click on “Sign me up.” Subsequent editions of “Break It Down” will be mailed to your in-box.

For more detailed information on a variety of aspects related to this post, consult the links below: