Monday, January 29, 2018

We may throw away the dreamers...

...but the judgment of history will be severe

If Congress cannot reach agreement on legislation that will save the Dreamers from deportation, the consequences will include existential and psychological trauma for hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families. It will create real economic and social disruption in the communities where the Dreamers live (by and large, they are concentrated in a few cities and states around the country, where they work, raise families of their own and pay taxes). And most of them will be deported to countries where they have never lived and where, in many cases, even the language is unfamiliar or seems foreign.

But it will also be only the most recent example of legislative or court action by a majority to throw away a treasure of human resources, both untapped and already developed. Of course, there are plenty of monumental precedents for such action; a constitution that formally enshrined slavery, for example, or the Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson decisions by the Supreme Court, or centuries of legislation limiting or denying women's rights. All such formal decisions to limit the life and work possibilities of women and people of color came at a huge cost both to them individually and to the collective benefit we might have shared had we opened the way for their fullest participation in our economic, social and cultural life. And an equally strong argument could be made for the social costs of witch hunts, lynchings and both the ad hoc and systemic abuse of excluded or marginalized groups.

But what will be clarified in the moment that Congress and the President make the final decision to fail the Dreamers is that the United States will continue its historic commitment to throwing away human lives and talent regardless of the price we pay individually and collectively. An estimate of the abandoned investment in the Dreamers based on the cost of education alone suggests that we are talking about deporting a minimum of 700,000 people in whom the country has already invested tens of billions of dollars.

 The average cost of elementary and secondary public education is upwards of $10,000 per year. That means that we have spent more than $7 billion annually for 12 years--$84 billion total--to get the Dreamers through high school and into college or the work force. That estimate goes way up if we assume that there are another 300,000 to 500,000 individuals across the United States who might have qualified under the Dream Act who didn't even bother to apply, but have also been educated in the public schools. Even assuming that a bare minimum of those, say 50,000, were further educated at community colleges or state universities our investment in the education of the entire Dreamer cohort is well over a hundred billion dollars, perhaps much higher.

Now, as the moment arrives for the Dreamers to begin and/or advance their full participation in the workforce, we are poised to throw them away. When we do, we are throwing away not only the money we have already invested but also the economic value of their future careers. That number is likely on the order of, say, two or three million dollars per Dreamer; spread over careers lasting a minimum of forty years, perhaps much more. During those careers, they easily would earn more than $2 trillion dollars and pay at least $350 billion in local, state, federal and social security taxes.

The total value  of the collective benefit from what they might have invented and created that may not materialize without them is incalculable. How, after all, do we calculate the value of the things we fail to achieve? Of the hardware and software and art that might have been?

All that we will know for certain after Congress and the White House conspire, once more, to undermine our collective American Dream, is that our long national nightmare of racism, sexism, homophobia and persistent wastefulness is manifested once more. How does it happen that inexhaustible bigotry, and the waste associated with that bigotry, turns out to be an organizing principle in American life? How does it happen that a majority of American citizens endorse (or acquiesce in) that outcome?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Washington-Epton, 1983

Harold, Bernie, Timuel, Chicago and me

I had lunch with Timuel Black last month.  Tim will be 99 years old in December. But it's a young ninety-nine. No, he doesn't hear very well. And he's got macular degeneration, so he reads slowly and definitely favors material with big print and big images. He doesn't lift his feet very far off the ground when he walks, but he walks. He doesn't use a cane, either, though it strikes me that he should. But Tim still has things to say, memories to share, an acute grasp of how far along the arc of human liberation we have travelled, and how much more ground there is to cross.

Author of Bridges of Memory: An oral history of Chicago's first wave of black migration, Tim claims that he's too old, at this point, to be limited to telling only true stories. Having made that point clear, he proceeds to tell me the story of his family's migration in 1919, part of the first wave of southern black folks headed north. In his family's case, the journey was from Birmingham, AL to Chicago. He was a baby at the time, so he doesn't remember much about the trip north. But he does remember that life in Birmingham had gotten intolerable for his family. Tim claims that he was the one who insisted that it was time to get out of town.

"I told my parents that I was done with the south. I'm headed for Chicago," he says. "My momma said, 'he's not even old enough to change his diapers, so I'm going with him.'" And, he says, his daddy had to come, too.

He finishes his story and looks at me, like, maybe, I'm going to argue with him. But I can't argue with the proposition that when you're an activist and a storyteller, there's a variety of ways to capture truth. Nor will I argue with Timuel Black, who is, for my money (and along with fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel) one of the finest American oral historians of the last century.

Getting one-on-one time with Tim is a privilege that I may not have earned, but for which I qualify for a couple of good reasons.  Mr. Black, as I knew him at the time, was my U.S. history teacher when I was a Hyde Park High School junior. That was in 1963, back in the day when I didn't have anything but a faint idea about all that he could teach me. But it turns out that teachers, the dedicated ones, anyway, will always welcome us back whenever we show up. Some 50+ years later, I can confidently claim to have been schooled by him many times since I left his classroom behind me.

A better reason for the access Tim permits me may lie in the fact that he and my father, Bernie Epton, were old political comrades. Given the combination of Tim's lifelong record of speaking humanitarian and progressive truth to power and the memory of Bernie running against Harold Washington for mayor of Chicago ("Epton, before it's too late"), the thought of Bernie Epton and Timuel Black as political allies might sound like an alternative fact. But it's gospel according to Timuel.

During an earlier visit with Tim, 15 or so years ago, Tim told me that he and Bernie had started the Chicago-area Henry Wallace for President committee in 1948. In the early days of the Cold War, that was no small thing.

Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt's vice-president from 1941 to 1944, was more deeply committed to the New Deal than Roosevelt himself. But for his 1944 reelection campaign, Roosevelt replaced Wallace on the ticket with the far more conservative Harry Truman, the choice of "the [Democratic] party's conservative, pro-business and segregationist wing."

During the 1948 campaign, Wallace took explicitly leftist positions, advocating for national health care, for protecting and extending New Deal programs, and for an end to segregation. Somewhat predictably, Wallace didn't fare well as a third party candidate, finishing fourth behind Truman, Republican Thomas Dewey and Dixiecrat and arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond.

For Tim and Bernie, the Wallace campaign was an early taste of politics for keeps. Tim said the first few years after World War II were heady days for activists, especially in the black community on the south side of the city. "During the war, I was a staff sergeant in a logistics unit supporting the American advance through Western Europe. In Germany, my unit saw one of the concentration camps at Buchenwald," Tim said.

It was both a horrifying and motivating experience for him. "Many of us returned to the U.S. believing that it was up to us to change the country and the world," he said.

Multi-racial and multi-ethnic activist groups formed in Woodlawn, Englewood, Hyde Park and South Shore after the war, Tim told me. "Your dad was one of us," he said. "In those years, we moved forward together."

In 1950, Bernie ran in the Republican primary in the Second Congressional District against Dick Vail, a former member of the House of Representatives, who had lost his seat two years earlier to Democrat Barratt O'Hara. Bernie ran as an advocate for open housing and as an opponent of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which had been established by Congress in 1930 for the explicit purpose of investigating communist influence across the country.

In the upshot, Bernie lost, though he continued to be active on the south side, working with community groups, serving on the board of directors of the Jane Dent Home for the Negro Aged and Infirm (a facility created to address the fact that sick and elderly people of color were barred from most private nursing and retirement homes). Once he passed the bar examination, Bernie also joined the Lawyers' Decalogue Society (the Jewish bar association) and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Though he never discussed it with me (or anyone else, to my knowledge), I suspect that the witch hunts of the McCarthy era had, at least, a subtly transforming effect on Bernie. Long after Dad died, in the process of sorting through boxes of family memorabilia as we moved from Washington, DC back to Chicago, I discovered a piece of campaign lit from 1954 that Bernie had kept, but never shared with me.

It wasn't from any of Bernie's 10 campaigns for the Illinois state legislature or for Congress or for mayor of Chicago. It was a piece circulated by the Citizens for Vail Committee during Dick Vail's campaign for reelection to Congress. Remarkably, it doesn't focus very much at all on Vail's achievements as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and seems to focus on Thomas Lewis, Vail's actual opponent in the upcoming primary, only to assert that Lewis was really the second coming of Bernie Epton, the real target at which the piece aims. And does so in the extreme red-baiting and race-baiting style of the time, making this point, among others:

"The contents of this circular may seem at first glance to border on the indelicate. However, fire must be fought with fire. The venomous Sun-Times which supported EPTON in 1950, has endorsed LEWIS in the present campaign. The Daily News also preferred EPTON in 1950 and the News supports LEWIS in the present campaign. VAIL carried all Wards and the District despite the Left-Wing Press by an enormous majority. VAIL saved the District from Epton. You can now help him save it from Lewis. Watch the recommendation of the Chicago Defender, out this week. You can be certain that VAIL will not be the Defender choice."

Imagine that. In 1950, Dick Vail saved Illinois' Second Congressional District from left-winger Bernie Epton. And tagging Bernie as a leftie is not done lightly here. In fact, the details of Bernie's program and his associations with prominent, south-side Negro leaders are elaborated elsewhere in the circular:

"Epton ran on a 'Liberal' platform of Civil Liberties, FEPC [Fair Employment Practice Committee], Public Housing, abolition of the Committee on Un-American Activities, etc.; and an aroused and indignant Eighth Ward Republican electorate marched to the polls and buried him under an avalanche of votes cast for RICHARD B. VAIL, who had been the target of antagonistic blasts from the Chicago Defender for years."

A picture of Bernie flanked by Major Euclid Taylor and Archibald J. Carey, two influential black leaders of the time, pulled from the Defender, ran next to that text. It's worth noting that the Chicago Defender was, from the beginning of the 20th Century on, a successful Black-owned, journalistic enterprise, dedicated to advancing the status of African Americans in the city and the country. In The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America, author Ethan Michaeli wrote this about the years following Harold Washington's
victory in the 1983 election:

"It was long past the time when any one newspaper, television or radio station could claim to speak for an entire people and the Defender was struggling to hold on to its remaining readers, rather than expanding its audience. Nevertheless, the Defender continued to punch far above its weight, a resolute voice of conscience in a city rife with hatred, fear, and greed, and in a nation that was not nearly done expiating its original sin."

Plainly, it is a matter of record that early in his political career, Bernie Epton pursued political objectives and played a role in the affairs of the south side and of the city of Chicago that allied him with people like Timuel Black, Archibald Carey and Major Taylor, and won him the endorsement of the Chicago Defender and other publications, like the Chicago Daily News, literally a red-flag to witch hunters like Richard B. Vail. In that light, it is a great irony that Bernie's role as Harold Washington's opponent in the 1983 mayoral campaign was a significant contributor to creating a Chicago that, in Ethan Michaeli's words, had become "a city rife with hatred [and] fear."


In returning to Chicago this past January, after 10 years in Washington, DC, I find that the city has a familiar feel. There is so much to love here. It's easy to talk to people on the street, on the bus and in stores. Of course, there's crankiness. After all, we are two and a half million strong and the odds are always good that one will run into someone who has woken up on the wrong side of the bed. But in random encounters with ordinary Chicagoans, there's an equally good chance of establishing a sudden intimacy that affects the heart and lingers afterward.

The city is sometimes stunningly beautiful, as well. The lakefront offers a variety of compelling looks in any weather, excluding those times when the wind blows so fierce and cold that one can't help worrying about freezing up and toppling over.

But some of Chicago's biggest problems are nearly as obvious as Lake Michigan's vast horizon and downtown's architectural grandeur. Except in a few neighborhoods, the city's racial divisions are damningly large and at the root of huge inequities in wealth, opportunity and life outcomes. The public school system and its teachers are overwhelmed by waves of social crisis. And too many human beings wander Chicago's streets with few places to go and nowhere to spend the night.

Of course, the dimensions of such problems ebb and flow with the passage of time, but since Harold Washington died in office in 1987, there has been little persistent optimism about fixing those problems, and a growing feeling that, collectively, we have no idea how to go about doing so.

All of those problems were manifest to various degrees in 1983 when Washington was elected mayor and Dad, having lost, sunk into a despair from which he never recovered. Much of his sadness in the years that followed the election lay in the knowledge that his reputation as a civic-minded, socially progressive politician had been destroyed in the rancor of the 1983 contest.

Bernie knew that he was widely, if not universally, perceived as a hater in the city that had been his home for all of his 60+ years. That he, himself, had played a major role in destroying that reputation might not have been a thought that he routinely entertained. But it seems to me that in the 1983 campaign, Dad took a hammer to the principles that had mattered to him most during his 40+ years as an activist and politician.

A recent event at the Beverly Arts Center included a showing of a documentary about Washington's life with an extended focus on the '83 campaign and his almost five years as mayor of Chicago. The documentary was followed by a panel of high-profile people who had been significantly involved in urging Washington to run in the first place, in the campaign that followed, and in his administration. The panel, including Jesse Jackson, Dr. Willie Wilson, and radio personality Cliff Kelley among others, was facilitated by Salim Muwakkil, an old-friend and former colleague at In These Times.

Salim's questions steered the panel toward a consideration of the factors that made Washington a uniquely qualified candidate, created a grassroots movement that would both persuade Washington to run in the first place, and win a difficult campaign that turned out more voters in Chicago than any other election, before or since. The question of why activists have not been able to build a progressive multi-racial campaign capable of again winning the mayor's office haunted the panel that night, as it routinely haunts many other gatherings of Chicago progressives.

Salim did me the great honor of inviting me onstage to participate as the seventh member of the panel. I don't have any direct experience of the campaign to bring to any such discussion--I was running for city council in Ann Arbor, MI at the time--but Salim's question to me had a different focus. Introducing me as a former colleague of his, a genuine progressive, and Bernie Epton's son, he asked for my perspective on the campaign and my father's role in it.

In response, I pointed out that Washington and I were both contributors to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and that, like Washington, I was a campaign that emphasized development in previously neglected neighborhoods, called for building a city workforce that reflected the diversity of the city's population, and outlined a more community-based approach to policy, including policing. In a 1983 radio interview with Alex Kotlowitz, then working for a Lansing, MI- based NPR affiliate, I had noted the similarity between Washington's political positions and my own.

I also told Alex that Dad loved the city of Chicago, would be a skilled administrator, and that serving as its mayor would fulfill his life-long ambition. When he asked who I would vote for if I were a Chicago resident, I told him that I guessed that would be an instance when I wouldn't know for certain until I was in the polling booth and making a final decision on that choice.

Dad heard that interview on the radio and was deeply shaken by it. The incident created a rift between us that endured for months.

I told the audience at the Arts Center that I didn't want to distract from the panel's focus on what strategy might build a Washington-style campaign that could take back City Hall, but that I could make some further brief comment on the '83 campaign and Bernie's role in it. Even from Ann Arbor, and focused on my own campaign, it was clear then that the Washington-Epton race was tearing the city apart. It was an adrenaline-soaked campaign that I have always believed had much to do with the fact that only a little more than four years later both Harold and Bernie were dead.

They had been allies in the Illinois State House before Washington moved on to Congress, and they died within three weeks of each other in November and December of 1987. They remain close together today, buried at the same south side cemetery. I could also add, from close observation, that the campaign, itself, and its aftermath, were devastating to Bernie's sense of himself as a principled politician. "Epton, before it's too late" became, and remains, a call to racial division.

Never mind that, as Bernie insisted in subsequent discussion with me, the slogan had been developed during the primary season, before Washington defeated Jane Byrne and Richie Daley, and was intended to highlight the fact that the city was in dire financial straits and that he was the fiscal manager to fix it. Whatever it was intended to mean, it didn't have that meaning when Chicago voters and election observers heard it. Instead, "Epton, before it's too late" took on a meaning Bernie never intended, a call to hold the line against a Black takeover of the city. Dad's real mistake in regard to the slogan was to resist acknowledging what was immediately obvious to everyone else, to resist acknowledging the only reasonable interpretation of the slogan and to immediately stop using it.

Why couldn't Bernie hear what happened, see that his campaign was going to enlarge the already existing racial rift in one of the country's most segregated cities? Certainly, Bernie's belief in the principles that had driven his political career forward and his sense that he had never been anything but a racial healer and uniter contributed to his tone deafness. But I've always believed that in the '83 campaign, a campaign that drove every single political participant forward with urgency and feverish anticipation, that kept people sleepless at night, eager for or dreading the next day's events, that Dad, closer to victory than he had ever imagined or hoped for, could persuade himself that he was still Bernie, and that his eventual triumph would be the best thing that could happen for the city of Chicago.

He was wrong, of course, and that's what I told the audience of some 1,200 or so Washington campaign veterans, that Bernie was wrong and in the aftermath, in his heart of hearts, he knew that he was wrong. That knowledge, I said, would be a major factor in his death shortly afterward.

When I was done speaking, Jesse Jackson spoke up. Don't be ashamed of your father, he said, adding, in what struck me as a rather awkward attempt at consolation, that there were Black folks who didn't support Harold and had caused even greater damage than Bernie had.


I didn't get to respond to Jackson's comments that night, but it should be clear that I am not ashamed of Dad. I am proud of him. I am proud of the good he did in his life and of the forthright positions he took for racial justice and for equal rights.

I am proud that my father supported the public school system with great fervor, that he didn't move out of the neighborhood when my older sister and I graduated elementary school and moved on to Hyde Park High School, which at the time was more than 90 percent African American. Other families moved out of the district or sent their children to private schools. Of the 56 white children that graduated my all-white elementary school only 12 went on to Hyde Park.

Three years after I graduated high school, Martin Luther King was assassinated while in Memphis to support striking city sanitation workers, Bernie and my brother Mark travelled to Memphis to join the sanitation workers at a memorial march for King. The Bernie who went to Memphis in solidarity with the values King espoused was the Bernie I knew him to be. I am proud that he never sat back and left the duty to engage to others.

But I also believe that his legacy includes a lesson about how we can all miss what matters most when a decisive moment comes along in our lives. If Bernie had not been a candidate himself in the '83 election, I believe that he would have been an outspoken supporter of Washington's candidacy. But that wasn't how things played out for Dad.

Indeed, when he became the Republican nominee for mayor, his campaign strategy was focused on building a coalition of minority voters and liberals who could no longer abide the tyranny of the city's Democratic machine, or the way it appropriated the wealth of the city, and encouraged division and inequity. In that light, "Epton, before it's too late" makes sense. But Dad's failure to recognize and respond appropriately to the way Washington's victory changed the meaning of the slogan is a mistake for which he must bear responsibility.

There are still some folks out there, including some members of my own family, who contend that when Washington won the primary and it became clear across the country that a Republican could become mayor in a racially divided northern city that it was national Republican party types who conceived of the slogan and meant it to be a clarion call for white people. But Dad, himself, told me otherwise more than once, and though we didn't discuss his feelings about it at great length after the election, it seemed clear to me that he knew what he had done.


Harold Washington spent the weekend before the vote in the kind of sleepless frenzied activity that typifies the schedules of committed candidates in close races. Bernie didn't follow suit.

"With a razor-thin lead in the polls, Washington today raced through a full schedule of appearances. Epton, who made only a few routine appearances, hopes to pull an upset in this heavily Democratic city, which hasn't elected a Republican as mayor in 52 years," wrote reporters Kevin Close and Bill Peterson in an April 12, 1983 article in the Washington Post.

So, what of the difference between how the two candidates spent the last days of what had been a divisive and hotly contested campaign? Washington's approach needs no explanation. He did what was required of him. But in those last days, Bernie was more absent from the public eye than one would have expected. He couldn't have thought that victory was assured. Every poll showed that the race was close.

Harold had trailed Bernie somewhat in the last month of the game, but in the last week he finally closed the gap, even pulled ahead in some polls. [Note: This piece, by Marilyn Katz and Bill Zimmerman ran in In These Times in May 2013. It tells the story of how two ads, "Pledge" and "Shame," produced by Katz and Zimmerman, were instrumental in turning the race for Washington in the last days of the campaign.]

Why did Bernie virtually stop campaigning before the campaign was over? Maybe he understood, somehow, that Harold had pulled ahead, that he would lose by almost 50,000 votes (about four percent out of a total of almost 1.3 million votes). Perhaps Bernie had also concluded not only that the election was lost, but that his political reputation was badly damaged, that the final vote count wasn't going to fix what had been broken.

It may not be possible to pick the point in time when Dad first realized that the campaign and decisions he made in the process would be decisive in how he would be perceived in the years to come. During the summer after the election, he did little other than contemplate his defeat and the way the world seemed to have collapsed around him. During my subsequent visits to Chicago, in occasional discussions about the campaign, he seemed mostly wistful and remorseful--talking about maybe running for mayor again in '87, the possibility of reconciling with Washington and even being appointed to some sort of city commission--but he was mostly lethargic and almost incapable of sustaining a discussion about his future.

Post-election, Bernie rarely ventured out to public events, even though he and my mom had spent nearly 40 years worth of weekday evenings campaigning, attending fundraisers, and showing up at civic and political events, sometimes as headliners. Years later, Tim Black told me about an encounter with Bernie at some sort of civic affair a couple of years after the election. There was time during the evening, Tim said, for Bernie and him to spend a few moments in private conversation.

"Your dad seemed very sad," Tim observed. "He came to me and said, 'Tim, all my friends abandoned me.'"

In a gesture of what I consider to be extraordinary tough love, Tim responded, he said, with "No, Bernie. You abandoned them."

The thought of these two old comrades whose paths had so unfortunately diverged spending that painful moment together nearly breaks my heart. But I much admire Tim for both loving my father and for responding to Bernie with the hard truth.

Like Jesse Jackson, Tim has told me that I must not be ashamed of Dad. "We accomplished so much together," Tim said. "The group we were part of, the work that we did, paved the way for the election of Carol Mosely Braun as a United States Senator, for Harold Washington to be elected Chicago's first black mayor, and for Barack to be elected president. One mistake doesn't change that."

Old as we may have suddenly become--Tim nearly 100, now, me about to turn 70--I know I'm not done learning from Tim Black. And I'm not done learning from the lessons Dad left behind, either. But one of those lessons was always to acknowledge the mistakes that we make and to move forward more wisely because we understand what went wrong.

Another lesson is to love this great city and make it better.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Miss Washington, but love Chicago,

deplore the Donald and, oh, three cheers for Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union

Our recent move from Washington, DC to Chicago is still in its transitional phase. We left very good friends behind in DC and we'll miss them all. Our challenge in Chicago will include developing a network of close friends as diverse and sustaining as the group of friends we left behind.

But I am optimistic about the possibilities. Our friends in Washington were often quite accomplished people, and some of them were native to the DC area, but in Chicago even the transplants from elsewhere seem to grow very deep roots here. I don't know what to make of that difference just yet, but the potential for movement-building seems more real here than it is in Washington. Yes, Chicago is a very segregated city, but the demographic diversity is astounding. There simply is no racial majority. If you want to make change here, coalition is the only way to go.

It is reliably colder in Chicago than in Washington and that does take some getting used to, but the solution is layers, lots of them--and not hunkering down. One has to live outdoors with vigor here or settle for hiding from the weather.

Another noteworthy difference is how big the sky seems in Chicago and how far away the horizon appears to be. That's a good thing. A great thing, really. At the lakefront one's eyes simply bask in the glory of unobstructed views. Yes, Chicago is flat and that's not so good, but the payback in being able to see the skyline, to watch the lake rage in the cold wind, to scan open vistas, like the green midway running through the University of Chicago, is a nice tradeoff. The eyes can't help exulting.

I have to say that back in DC, the Washington Post used to piss me off more often than not. The frequent failures to call out official spokespeople for their meaningless drivel, to call the powerful out for their nonsense, could often drive me to rants that Marrianne must have found tiresome. But the Chicago Tribune seems at least an order of magnitude more hapless than the Post. The Trib has some stalwart opinion writers, like Eric Zorn, Rex Hupke, Mary Shmich and Clarence Page, who still favor evidence-based journalism, but they are book-ended by right-wingers who make Jennifer Rubin and George Will look like moderates.

Of course, here and everywhere Donald Trump's election victory seems to have upended reality. Steven Chapman, a regular columnist for the Trib, has always been too right-wing for my taste. I used to marvel at how predictably he would find fault with Bill Clinton and applaud George W. Bush. Admittedly, Clinton was a person with numerous faults, whose instinct to parse political positions, appease critics and develop compromises that pleased no one is, or should be, legendary. Chapman's inclination to distrust Clinton, to believe that he was a liberal wolf in a moderate sheep's skin, made sense, but his willingness to refrain from strong criticism of Bush while he launched ridiculously expensive wars and failed in fundamental leadership ways, like rebuilding New Orleans, seemed to be a perfect example of abandoning conservative principles in favor of rooting for the home team.

But here comes Trump, who has turned out to be so extreme that he has created opportunities for compromised conservative thinkers to get past partisanship and return to principle. Chapman's column in Wednesday's Trib ("Trump the Weakling and his latest surrender") thoroughly indicts Trump for numerous offenses, all of which fall under the category of buckling in the face of resistance. "Backing down is not a departure from [Trump's] usual style. It is his usual style. Trump is not a guy who can be counted on to stand his ground. Often, he crumbles under the slightest pressure."

Trump, Chapman noted, responded to a federal court order blocking his first travel ban with, "see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake." But instead of going to court in a presidential effort to protect the "security of our nation," Trump, seeking to avoid another judicial rebuke, modified the travel ban. We'll see how that goes.

But Chapman wasn't finished. He noted that Trump defiantly took a call from the president of Taiwan, ignoring the long-standing one-China policy that has guided U.S. policy for more than 40 years. But he backed down and reaffirmed the one-China policy when Chinese premier Xi Jinping refused to speak to Trump "until he agreed to eat his words."

Trump, Chapman added, didn't even bring up the idea that Mexico would pay for a border wall when he visited with Mexican president Pena Nieto, but "only when he was safely back across the Rio Grande did Trump dare to repeat that our neighbor will foot the bill."

There's more, and if one is looking for an enjoyable moment with a right-wing columnist who is essentially calling Trump out for cowardice, just follow the link above. In any case, I'm not saying that I suddenly have warm feelings about Steven Chapman, but I am encouraged to see that for some conservatives, partisanship really does not compromise every principle.

Nor do I think that Chapman is the first right-winger to find a way to resist the siren call of partisanship at any cost. The Post's Jennifer Rubin, for years an inveterate critic of Barack Obama and constant flatterer of Paul Ryan, has begun routinely denouncing Trump's behavior and policy nonsense for at least the last six months. Check out Jonah Goldberg in the National Review, also.

"By now you may have noticed the difficulty many conservatives have defending everything President Trump does and says. I’m not just referring to the big policy moves, most of which conservatives can support fairly easily (so far). I mean the whole whiplash-inducing spectacle: the unfiltered, impulsive tweeting, bizarre interview non sequiturs, glib insults and distractions.

"If you honestly have no idea what I’m talking about, you may need to be de-programmed from a personality cult," Goldberg wrote in a piece for USA Today ("The Right can't defend Trump's behavior"). Of course, one reflects, these things are entirely clear to virtually all of us--except that they are not. A recent Suffolk poll finds that Trump is unpopular with the majority of Americans, but still somehow more popular than Hillary Clinton, who actually hasn't done anything to offend any of us for months now. I will therefore take the piece by Goldberg, the editor of the National Review, and others he has written that are also deeply critical of Trump and Republicans who cannot seem to separate themselves from Trump politically, as a good sign.

After all, every democracy not suffering from complete gridlock needs conservatives and liberals who can hear each other think. I'm not saying a few columns prove anything one way or the other, but I am encouraged by conservatives who are writing "I'm not with him."

Anyway, back to good-bad things about Chicago. I am definitely going to go to more performances/art exhibits/concerts/slams/whatevers here than I ever went to in DC. Washington certainly had a vital grassroots culture of its own, but the high-end, high-culture stuff often seemed to dominate. But everybody and her cousin seems to have some street-slam culture thing going in Chicago and I aim to be close by when some of that stuff goes off. I will concede, though, that I've only briefly sampled thus far and am only talking (or writing) about good intentions. We shall see.

Not surprisingly, serious urban problems and an apparent inability to solve them are among the things Washington and Chicago share. They also both suffer under a federal government that shows no signs of a willingness or ability to help. Given its druthers, the Trump administration will do its best to further damage public education, an agenda that will harm black and brown America first, but ultimately take down white America, too.

Of course, Trump, himself, volunteered to intervene to make Chicago's gun violence problem worse than it already is. But given his obviously short attention span, it appears likely that the city will avoid being wounded by that particular stray bullet. Not that there aren't plenty of others around who can't help barking both fruitlessly and endlessly at the sound of gunfire.

"It is time for a radical response. Time to stop talking and start doing. Time to take steps to clear the air of gunshots so our lofty plans for more police and more jobs can seed and grow rather than wither from the spray of automatic weapon fire," wrote former prosecutor Donna Moore in a March 8 column in the Trib (Stop the indifference: Bring in the National Guard).

Arf. Arf. Arf.

"...the city should ask that [the National Guard] be deployed, along with local police, to the South and West sides, not to militarize them," Moore recommended, "but to restore public safety and save lives."

Moore's single argument that her plan will work rests on an example of "one blessed weekend in November 2016," when "Chicago police, Cook County sheriffs, state police and federal agents saturated the three most dangerous police districts in the city...The strategy worked. The killing ceased. That weekend there was exactly one shooting--one--in the area under patrol."

This is nonsense. Dare we ask what causes such high levels of violence in the first place? How does a show of force address the underlying causes of violence in Chicago (and elsewhere, for that matter)? Moore cites a weekend of intensive policing during which only one shooting occurred. Are we to believe that focussing on a specific-area did not have adverse effects outside those limited boundaries? What were the patterns and frequencies of violence and crime before and after the weekend under examination? How is it possible to patrol streets, alleyways and parks with uniformed, heavily armed personnel without militarizing the area? What would be the downside consequences to the communities under lockdown and to the city, in general?

Arf. Arf. Arf.

Because the Trib routinely favors harsher punishments and longer prison sentences for the perpetrators of violence, the paper's willingness to accommodate opinion pieces that advocate counter-productive tactics like increased armed occupations of poor and minority neighborhoods comes as no surprise. Nevertheless, more thoughtful perspective pieces do run in the paper from time to time. One such piece, written by Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis ("Invest in schools, teachers to reduce violence"), ran in the paper on March 7.

Lewis's piece, a sustained and effective argument that advocates spending on social service interventions that reduce the traumatic effects of ongoing violence in neighborhoods, and in the process, addressing the causes of subsequent traumas, merits reprinting in its entirety here. But the link above will take interested readers to the full piece. In the meantime, here's an extended quote:

"While we are not typically thought of as first responders to violence, teachers and school staff are often the first responders to the trauma that violence brings, especially when it happens to the very students entrusted to our care," Lewis wrote.

"At Henderson Elementary School in West Englewood, teachers helped students write notes to Kanari [Gentry-Bowers], their classmate, before she died in the hospital. Since November, seven Henderson students or former students have been killed or injured by gun violence.

"Every shooting of a child brings confusion, sorrow and fear for their classmates. Left untreated, these emotions cast a dark cloud, affecting young people's ability to learn and focus — and, in the worst scenarios, leading them down the path to violence.

"That's why CTU members held out for crucial violence-prevention provisions in our most recent contract. Our new contract expands counseling and supports staffing community schools with clinicians, restorative justice practitioners and wraparound services to help break the cycle of violence.

"At the time, Mayor Emanuel claimed that there was no money to pay for these demands. And even after signing the contract, the mayor has continued to starve our schools, with help from [Illinois governor] Rauner. Carson Elementary School, down the street from Henderson, will lose more than $200,000 in the millions of cuts just announced.

"We live in one of the richest cities, in one of the richest states, in the richest nation in the world. Elected officials who line up to mourn the latest shooting while claiming that 'there is no money' to pay for prevention, or that the wealthy already 'pay too much,' are really saying that they care too little.

"Enough with the talk.

"CTU members were willing to strike to ensure that all Chicago's children get the resources that they deserve. We've forced the mayor to put our tax dollars toward young people, instead of into developer slush funds.

"But if Takuya [Holmes], Kanari and Lavontay [White Jr.] are to be more than just names on an endless list, then we will need to do much more.

"We must eradicate the conditions that create violence. That means policy change and resources: fully funded schools and thousands of new jobs that pay a fair wage.

"The members of the Chicago Teachers Union show up for our students when the cameras are off. We need our public officials to do the same."

Can I add Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union as two more of the really great things about Chicago?

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Lesson from Everfair

Decisions of when to fight, and where to fight, and how to fight, are never automatic; however decisive and clear an unjust incident may be, why does the responsibility to respond always fall on the shoulders of those we think are the most aggrieved?

Nisi Shawl's Everfair, proposes an alternative outcome to the late-19th, early-20th century genocide in the Congo perpetrated by Belgian King Leopold on the way to thoroughly expropriating the valuable resources of that African land. Mark Twain, who wrote several polemics denouncing the genocidal Belgian attack on the Congo (including King Leopold's Soliloquy), believed that Leopold ranked as one of the most villainous figures in all of world history.

"In fourteen years Leopold has deliberately destroyed more lives than have suffered death on all the battlefields of this planet for the past thousand years. In this vast statement I am well within the mark, several millions of lives within the mark. It is curious that the most advanced and most enlightened century of all the centuries the sun has looked upon should have the ghastly distinction of having produced this moldy and peity-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster whose mate is not findable in human history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there--which will be soon, let us hope and trust," Twain wrote in the post-humous Mark Twain in Eruption.

In Shawl's alternative history novel, a diverse collection of demographically distinct groups, including faith-based, back-to-Africa, American blacks, European socialists, and native Africans, unite and eventually establish their own free state on parts of the Congo wrested by force from Leopold. The book is full of singular characters, important resurrected history, and subtle moral lessons. I haven't yet reached the end of the book, but before I do, I'd like to highlight one of those lessons.

One of Shawl's major characters, Lisette Toutournier, is a bi-racial Frenchwoman. She is smart, passionate and apparently fearless, a set of characteristics that makes her appearance in the Congo as a dedicated opponent of Belgian colonialism unsurprising. As the resistance to Leopold grows and the utopian Everfair begins to take shape, Toutournier finds enough free time to pursue a number of love affairs.

At a critical point in their affair, one of her lovers, a white European woman who has come to occupy a revered position in Everfair's pantheon of heroes, cluelessly insults Lisette's racial heritage; an incident that leaves Lisette both speechless and unwilling to continue their affair. But though the affair has ended, Lisette's lover cannot begin to guess the reason why.

Perhaps, by the end of the story, Lisette will have shared the pain and anger that she felt at the moment her lover so casually and ignorantly derided one of the central aspects of her identity. Regardless, the reader knows that Lisette's lover, a respected leader of Everfair, is nevertheless a product of the racism of her time and place. The reader also knows that it is not possible for Lisette, however gifted and disciplined she may be, to address and remediate all insults and the racism that underlies them.

This brings us (or me, anyhow) to #blacklivesmatter and the growing refusal of African Americans and their allies to stand aside in the face of police brutality and police killings in black communities nationwide. Huge numbers of white Americans seem surprised by the growing militance, though both that surprise and the number of white people who pretend or allow themselves to be surprised seems to be diminishing in the face of the persistence of #blacklivesmatter, North Carolina's Moral Monday Movement, and similar local and national groups.

The surprise white folks seem to feel is a fundamental manifestation of white privilege, which is ultimately the privilege to ignore the realities of one's surrounding community, or country, or world. It is more than a little ironic that white folks, who have for generations reaped the benefits of exploiting the black community, seem to need those same people to do one more thing for them; to clarify with endless patience what racism is, how it permeates our society, and how it is manifested and sustained in feigned shock at acts of black resistance and rage.

That white folks need such remedial instruction from black folks is outrageous. Fundamentally outrageous. After all, African Americans live every day with insults and assaults simply because of their skin color, and must decide to ignore so many of those insults and assaults so that they might instead both live their lives and maintain their sanity. Who has time in the face of the daily demands of life and the tactical demands of resistance to racism to also scrub clean the souls of white folks? 

That Sisyphean tasks reminds me of a truth I stumbled upon some years ago when I first wondered how many times a gay friend of mine needed to come out in order to best take care of himself and to move forward in solidarity with comrades organizing to resist homophobia in all its manifestations. Eventually it became clear that the question of coming out to new people in new places was an endlessly repeating requirement that he was forced to reconsider under constantly changing conditions.

It struck me then and seems equally clear to me now that addressing homophobia and racism are not primarily the responsibility of gay men and lesbians and bisexuals and transgender people or of African Americans. Indeed, if we are to rid the world of racism and homophobia, the main responsibility for rooting out such scourges belongs to those who carry those diseases in their most virulent forms. Straight people and white folks.

Postscript: I cannot resist adding that Shawl dedicates her book to Octavia Butler, whose books offer many lessons that complement Everfair. I reviewed one of those books, Parable of the Sower, a few years ago. To fight back in Parable's dystopian world, which shares many characteristics with our own, Butler develops a tool, a new religious "faith that that has no supreme being, only a profound and Buddhalike understanding of the world that humans must embrace, sharp points and sharp edges, notwithstanding. 'All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change,' she writes. In other words, there is nothing for it but to live in the world, and to see oneself as both responsible for what the world becomes and subject to its conditions at any given time. People are most present in the world when they are growing and changing.

I have to say that with Everfair, Nisi Shawl establishes herself as Octavia Butler's spiritual heir.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Follies: Medical bills and insurance

Always good for a laugh

Jeff Epton
3735 17th Place NE
Washington, DC 20018

June 30, 2016

Laboratory Corporation of America
PO Box 2240
Burlington, North Carolina 27216-2240

Re: Invoice # 00356327

To whom it may concern,

Over the last nine months or so, my son, Brendan Epton (17 years old at this time), has periodically received collection letters from your subsidiary, LCA Collections. Being a minor, Brendan is not actually legally liable for a medical debt. His parents, Marrianne McMullen and I, who reside at the above address with Brendan, are, in fact, the liable parties.

In light of the above information, it seems that if you continue to feel the need to send dunning letters in regard to the outstanding bill, you should address those letters to Marrianne and I.

But, perhaps before you do so, you should make an honest effort to identify and address the obstacles that might be delaying payment for your services. May I submit the following as suggestions and/or information that might guide how you proceed?

First, though I have no actual knowledge of why Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina refused to pay the bill you submitted, I have been told that they needed a formal affirmation that Brendan was, indeed, a qualified dependent on Marrianne’s BCBS insurance policy.

If that is the case, and we have received notification from either LCA or BCBS that they wanted us to speak up and affirm, then it is definitely our bad for failing to do so. However, if neither you nor BCBS followed up by asking us to make such an affirmation, or repeated the request as often as might have been necessary, than one or both of  you was certainly being sloppy about the whole matter, if not negligent.

Still, as it happens, some months ago I did contact NC NCBS and made that affirmation. And so the matter was settled. Not.

Another two or so months after my long, long, long phone conversation with BCBS (punctuated, as it was, by repeated and demoralizing hold messages), Brendan (still a minor), again, began receiving collection letters from LCA Collections. Again, I contacted NC BCBS to ask what difficulties might be keeping them from processing your bill.

I can’t help asking what you were doing meanwhile to address the problem, other than, perhaps, preparing to send out another of your stunningly effective collection letters. But I digress.

In any case, NC BCBS told me that they did not have a physician’s authorization for the tests on record. I will not outline precisely what followed, as it is described in detail in the message reprinted below that I just minutes ago e-mailed to NC BCBS, but it should suffice to say that I stayed on the line for even longer this time while the NC BCBS representative contacted Brendan’s doctor (Laura Hofmann, (202) 797-4950) to obtain that authorization, retroactively.

That done, I assumed that when and if we again heard from LCA, it would be to pay whatever balance remained after BCBS finally processed your bill.

But, much to my surprise, Brendan (still a minor) recently received yet one more collection letter from you. You must be so proud.

Finally, I will add that the LCA facility where the tests were conducted is based in Dr. Hofmann’s office! How hard could it be for LCA and NC BCBS to figure out how to put this matter to rest?

Sorry. I know it doesn’t help to shout. Below is the message that I sent to North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield today.

Please don’t get the idea that we are tired of dealing with you guys. As we all know, into every life a little rain must fall. Nevertheless, you people at Laboratory Corporation of America (and Blue Cross Blue Shield) ought to improve your business practices, particularly billing, bill processing and collections. After all, you are in business to get paid and, if you don’t do better than you are currently doing, you ain’t ever gonna get paid.

Jeff Epton


My message today (verbatim), to North Carolina Blue Cross Blue Shield:
“The member ID is actually for Marrianne McMullen, Brendan's mother and the person to whom I am married. We live in Washington, DC and are enrolled in the Federal Employee Program.

“I am writing in regard to a bill for laboratory tests ordered by Brendan's doctor, Laura Hofmann (202) 797-4950) in the fall of last year. The bill was submitted for payment to the NC Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) by the Laboratory Corporation of America (LCA), apparently because LCA is an NC-based company.

“The bill has never been paid or, to my knowledge, properly processed. After receiving collection notices from LCA for Brendan (a minor, who cannot be legally liable for the debt), I contacted BCBS to ask why the bill had not been paid. I was told that was because there was some NC regulation that required that Brendan be identified annually as a qualified dependent on the insurance plan. When I spoke to an NC BCBS representative and formally claimed Brendan as a dependent, I was told that the bill would be processed.

“When some time later, LCA resumed sending debt collection letters, I again spoke with a representative from NC BCBS who told me that there was no record of a doctor ordering the tests for Brendan. After I explained my frustration with the process to that point (some six months or so after the tests were conducted), the NC BCBS representative kept me on the line while she contacted Dr. Hofman's office directly to complete the record. At the conclusion of that call, the representative told me that everything had been taken care of and that the bill would be processed.

“Now, some two months later, I sit here with another collection letter sent by LCA to Brendan, who is still a minor. I am writing you now because I have absolutely no desire to spend another minute, let alone an hour (which is how long I was on the phone last time) with an NC BCBS representative.

“It strikes me that this whole situation is no fault of anyone in our family, but a consequence of an insurance company's failure to conduct its ordinary business in an appropriate fashion, but what do I know?”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

If I were a teacher, this is the reading comprehension test I would give:

Part A
In which the reader reads,
and makes an effort to understand what is written.

Say you were a thirty-something and had worked for a decade with the same large company. You are a marketing specialist and well-respected by your closest colleagues who, at this point in their careers, are already so jaded that they don’t otherwise respect much of anything or anybody else. You work this job about 35 hours a week and commute round-trip in your car about two and a half hours everyday.

You hate the commute, but you do look forward somewhat to the drive home, which is the occasion for smoking a joint and listening to Isaac Hayes, Pat Benatar and the Decembrists, among others. You don’t mind cooking and, upon arriving home, generally spend an hour or so in the kitchen, smoking another joint and preparing dinners with more than one course.

After dinner you usually watch TV for a bit, though quite frankly there’s not much on that makes that feel like time well spent. Sometimes, you call your boyfriend who lives about two hours away. Sometimes, you call your girlfriend who lives about the same distance away, though not in the same direction.

As it happens, your boyfriend and girlfriend know and like each other, though you are somewhat hazy about how they actually met. Neither of them seems aware that you have an intimate relationship with the other. You’re not really hiding that fact from them, but the subject never seems to come up. Ironically, you think the two of them would make a great couple.

You grew up in a pretty religious household, but you and God drifted apart a long time ago. You still always capitalize God’s name, but only because that’s his name. You capitalize Shani’s name for the same reason, but don’t capitalize tyson’s name because he doesn’t do so. Needless to say, you don’t go to church.

You spend about one weekend each month at Shani’s and she stays one weekend a month at your place. You have the same arrangement with tyson. Though these arrangements mean you drive an extra 8 hours and 400 miles, or so, every month, at least it’s not rush hour traffic. Also gas prices are pretty low right now and your probably saving about $125 this year on what it cost to get laid every other weekend last year.

You used to go on long bike rides every Sunday, but you just recently decided that the bike rides are part of a routine that helps you to not think about the parts of your life that you don’t really like anymore. Lately you’re thinking that you need to spend Sunday afternoons figuring out what needs to change. That’s a little scary because you’re afraid that the answer is everything.

Part B – Multiple Choice
In which the reader walks in the shoes
of the thirty-something described in the text and begins to respond.
This may not be as easy as it seems.

A.  I am a person of color
B.  No, I’m not
C.  I am ambidextrous
D.  I am bisexual
E.  No, I’m not
F.   I am a fugitive in hiding, a witness protection program, perhaps
G.  I should be in hiding
H.  I am a marketing expert
I.   That’s what I do for 35 hours each week, not what I am
J.   I also drive about 60 hours a month, give or take, but that’s not what I am, either
K.  I can’t decide whether I drive too much or too little
L.  I should be able to figure that out
M. My neighbors are worse off than I am
N.  What difference does that make
O.  I spend about 24 hours every week with lovers—that’s a good thing
P.   I am completely indifferent to the fate of others
Q.  No, I’m not
R.  Yes, you are
S.   I am something other than what has been described here
T.   It’s written in the second person singular, if this is not you, who are you?

Part C – Essay
In which the reader chooses one
of the following topics,
and writes until he or she cannot endure any more

 1.   Explain yourself. 
2.  Explain someone else.
3.  Explain nothing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Activist passion sometimes subverts peace and justice

More than thirty years ago, Richard Cleaver, a colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, led me to the realization that as a peace and justice advocate, I ought to have an elevated concern for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Ever since, I have maintained a focus of sorts on the issue.

After twenty years of some sort of activism on the issue, Henry, an old Ann Arbor friend--also Jewish, like me--signed on with a heightened concern of his own. After Sept. 11, it became his soul focus and, over a period of time, he and I began to develop diverging perspectives on the issue, on root causes, on strategic considerations, on tactical steps. Five years later, we had a pretty complete falling out. It has been about ten years since we last talked. 

A couple of months back, a journalist working on a story about Jewish activism on behalf of justice for Palestinians contacted me about Henry. He was trying to flesh out a story about Jewish activists facing considerable pushback from their own communities.

For part of our discussion, I went off the record. I think now that I did so because I still hadn't worked out an understanding of my conflict with Henry that satisfied me. But going off the record was a mistake. It was safe, I guess, because I wasn't sure exactly what I thought. But it was lazy, too, because it was my way of putting off careful reflection about why I had fallen out with Henry and the important lessons that could be learned from the experience.

But now, in the form of a letter to the journalist whose piece ran in al-Jazeera at the end of January, I've tried to get a handle on the whole episode. At any rate, the letter below captures what I'm thinking now.

Dear Dien,

Thanks for sending the link to your January article, "US Jews struggle in the fight for Palestinian rights." Nice piece.

I especially like the part that focuses on Rabbi Brant Rosen, whose support for Palestinian self-determination cost him his job as the leader of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill. Rosen's experiences as a political activist and his continuing efforts to share his justice commitment with his Jewish co-religionists makes his experience a perfect example of the conflict between  Jewish belief and mainstream Jewish support for the state of Israel.

In one of our recent e-mail exchanges, I mentioned that I did have a bit of an argument to pick with the article, in particular the way in which my relationship with Henry Herskovitz is portrayed. Simply put, Henry and I did not fall out with each other because I, as a Jew, was somehow offended by his pro-Palestinian beliefs. In regard to an article about the way the Jewish community sometimes penalizes Jewish dissent, this is a crucial point, I think.

Unfortunately, I have been slow to follow up with an explanation for my objections. That, I have concluded, is because my problems with the article are really based in my own failure to explain my perspective on Henry properly. I have also repeatedly postponed writing my own full version of Henry's evolution as a pro-Palestinian activist and my perspective on his journey.

In our exchanges, I did not provide you with sufficient detail about how Henry and I grew apart politically. And, worse, I insisted that we discuss certain points off the record that should have been part of the story. Perhaps, if I had spoken entirely on the record, I might have had an improved grasp of exactly what I thought and needed to say.

Given the limits that I created, I have to acknowledge that you told our story as thoroughly as you could. I give you props for respecting those limits.

But when it comes to the question of Palestinian human rights and the way some elements of the mainstream Jewish community police the boundaries of "acceptable" political perspectives, it has become obvious to me that everything I have to say about Henry and his advocacy for justice for the Palestinian people should be on the record. So, here, without restrictions, but as briefly as I can put it, is the version I wish I had shared with you.

Henry came to political activism after he retired from his nearly career-long employment as a research and development engineer at a brand-name manufacturing firm. We had become close friends years earlier in Ann Arbor in the late '60s. But though I was politically active against the Vietnam War, and continued to focus on social justice issues for the next 40 years, our intimacy was primarily based on our shared social life. We hung out together, we played in municipal softball and basketball leagues together, we partied together, travelled together, and I sometimes lectured him (at unbearable length, I'm sure) about why he needed to come off the sidelines and join the fight for social change. But during most of our friendship, though he seemed to be largely sympathetic to left perspectives on the country and the world, Henry was apolitical.

Then, in a few short years after his retirement, and with the Bush threat to launch a war against Iraq in 2002, Henry suddenly found himself a vocal advocate for peace. With his hands-on, engineer's soul, he decided that he needed to visit Iraq and see what the people and the place looked like to him. So, he went. By himself. Less than a year before the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

I don't remember how long Henry was there, or know where he went in Iraq, but he talked to Iraqis in Baghdad and elsewhere about the threatened war and about how they perceived America and Americans. He discovered that they were happy to meet him and welcomed him as a visitor to their country.

Some were freely critical of Saddam Hussein, but quick to point out how a decade of U.S. sanctions against Iraq had done little to hurt Saddam, but much to harm Iraqi civilians. A number of Iraqis told Henry that U.S. policy toward Iraq was most certainly a cause of the anger that fueled the 9/11 attacks, but many also noted that another important cause was Arab and Muslim anger over U.S. support for the Israeli state and the occupation of Palestinian territory.

In point of fact, the message that Henry heard repeatedly--that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a significant cause of anger at the U.S. and the West--inspired Henry to take another trip; to go to Israel and the West Bank in order to better understand why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict loomed so large in the geo-politics of the Middle East and the world.

Henry visited a number of different Palestinian towns in the West Bank, enjoyed a great deal of Palestinian hospitality, and had several frank conversations with Palestinian political activists. Again, he discovered that the people who he talked to seemed unaffected by the fact that he was Jewish, except for their insistence that as an American Jew, he might have an opportunity to influence other American Jews to rethink their apparently absolute support for Israel and Zionism. During his visit, he listened to Palestinians who argued that if the American Jewish community was less generous towards Israel, and more critical in its support, the Israeli state would be more likely to seek a peaceful and productive resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Henry returned from that trip intent on discussing the conflict between Zionism and Palestinian self-determination with other Jews in Ann Arbor. Though he had always identified as a Jew, he had never been particularly religiously observant. In fact, Henry was one of those Jews (not uncommon) who show up at temple only during high holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Regardless, his emotional connection to his identity as a Jew was crucial to him, and he was certain that there would be no significant resistance to his effort to open discussion of the conflict within the Jewish congregations on which he initially focussed.

He quickly discovered that he was naively optimistic. At Beth Israel, the congregation that he eventually targeted with a continuing public protest, Henry made an initial approach to the rabbi. Their first private conversation was cordial, and included the rabbi's observation that his concern with and dissent from mainstream Jewish support for Israel and Zionism was well within the boundaries of tolerable opinion. But by the time of their second conversation, it was obvious that the rabbi would refuse to schedule a forum at Beth Israel.

Henry made further efforts to engage a broader portion of Ann Arbor's Jewish population. He went to Hillel, the leading University of Michigan organization for Jewish students, to see if he could rent space for a public forum. His early contacts with Hillel were positive, I think, but as the moment for commitment approached, Hillel representatives became uncooperative. Henry's other efforts to reach out were similarly stymied. He came to believe (rightfully so, I think) that some people within the mainstream Jewish community were letting it be known that the community should neither engage Henry or allow him a forum.

We talked a lot in those days about what was happening, and about our shared certainty that ending the silence within the Jewish community about the illegal Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people and the illegal occupation of their land could lead to a more vigorous American Jewish opposition to Israeli policy. Though I had always believed that Zionist organizations, and many leading Jewish figures, as well, actively and effectively narrowed the possibilities for dissent within the Jewish community (see my blog post "Adventures with Zionists," for instance), Henry was experiencing the phenomenon for the first time, and in excruciating detail.

But the resistance served only to inspire him to seek other ways to make his point. It was then that he conceived the idea of beginning a silent vigil outside Beth Israel congregation's Saturday morning services. Henry showed up wearing a suit at that first vigil, a kippah (skullcap) on his head, holding a sign that read, simply, "End the Silence." On his car windshield, parked nearby, another sign said something like "End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine."

That first Saturday, Beth Israel congregants responded in a variety of ways. Some were incensed. It was the Jewish sabbath, they reasoned, and Beth Israel a house of worship that ought to be off-limits for political protest.

Other congregants, who shared at least a portion of Henry's political perspective, acknowledged his presence and, in some instances, spoke with him. Though Henry was careful to stay on the public right-of-way, one congregant turning into the synagogue driveway went out of his way to drive as close as he could to where Henry stood. It would be only the first of dozens of angry gestures and implicit, or explicit, threats aimed at him over time. Such extreme hostility was an over-the-top response to the moderation of his early protests, and likely contributed to how adamant and hardline Henry became subsequently.

Regardless, Henry kept showing up on Saturday morning and the vigil grew. Among the first to join him were other Jews who believed as he did that the Jewish community was generally closed to discussion of the most perplexing ethical issue the community faced. Area peace activists, who felt that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a major cause of a number of political conflicts in the Middle East, also joined the vigil; some of them becoming regulars.

Meanwhile, within Beth Israel, itself, some members argued that Henry should be allowed to convene a forum on the issue within the temple. Others agreed that the issue needed to be widely discussed. But most of the congregation remained strongly supportive of Israel. Some accused Henry of being an anti-semite or, at the very least, an enemy of Israel.

Though disputes grew within the congregation, a new unity also began developing around the idea that the divisions in the congregation were largely Henry's fault and that the protest at Beth Israel was inappropriate. Some argued the Henry's protests should be declared illegal on the grounds, however dubious constitutionally, that it was a violation of the congregation's religious freedom. Even some of those who were critical of Israeli policy began to call on him to stand down.

But that was the last thing Henry was willing to do. The vigil and the signs condemning Israeli policies and Israel, itself, began spreading beyond the side street entrance to Beth Israel and on to the side walk bordering the four-lane road that ran along the property in front of the temple.

As the attitude of Beth Israel congregants became almost exclusively hostile or coldly indifferent, people driving by began to honk in apparent support of the growing and increasingly visible protest, which at some point had become an official activity of the new political group, Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF), formed by Henry and his most enthusiastic supporters.

Though I was living in Chicago for much of this time, I had lived in Ann Arbor for more than 20 years and my daughter still lived there. This made me a regular visitor to the city and allowed Henry and I ample opportunity to discuss his activism and political strategy.

As a former member of the Ann Arbor City Council, I had a sort of limited celebrity in the area that Henry wanted to exploit to better promote the vigil. Though the characterization of me as a "celebrity vigiler" made me mildly uncomfortable, solidarity with Henry and the announced perspective of the vigil--to foster open discussion within the Jewish community--encouraged me to show up when I was in town. But when I did so, I was always careful to hold a sign like "End the Silence" or "End the Occupation;" phrases that I believed were simple, clear and not obstacles to further discussion between people with differing viewpoints.

But the protest signs, like "End Israeli apartheid," or "Boycott Israel," became more openly critical, often stridently so. The orientation of the protest away from the temple and towards passers-by became points of contention between Henry and I. We would often disagree about whether or not it made good tactical sense to rely on slogans that suggested that Israel was an apartheid state, or that Israeli policy was the first steps toward a Palestinian holocaust, or that Israel had no right to exist.

I believed that the truth was more nuanced than the slogans suggested, arguing in a subsequent piece on my blog (Painful Truth: Israeli Apartheid") that "if anything defines the difference between the South African and Israeli apartheid states, it is that the South African version named itself. Israeli apartheid is the apartheid that dare not speak its name. It is understandable that large numbers of American Jews cannot concede this truth, Richard Cohen among them. Israel was created at a moment of celebration and hope for Jews around the world. Freshly scarred by the Holocaust, and still fearful that history might repeat itself, [the vast majority of] Jews were inclined not to notice that their [joyful achievement] might be the occasion for the suffering of others."

Though it took me many years to get to that sort of a full articulation of my own position on the question of Israeli apartheid--a position much influenced by Henry--I maintained that phrases like "End Israeli Apartheid" were an obstacle to open discussion, that they provoked stiff opposition, and polarized the discussion. That result, I observed repeatedly, would lead to a vigil that never ended and, ultimately, render it ineffective.

Indeed, by that point, when I would ask Henry what his endgame was, what it would take to end the protest, he would respond that it would end when the congregation voted to join the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement. Henry was fully aware, of course, that the congregation would never take such a position. I expressed strong objection to a strategy that publicly advocated dialogue, but privately had no real commitment to further engaging Beth Israel congregants, the ostensible audience for the vigil.

In response, Henry argued that the vigil's effectiveness could be measured by the fact that some drivers going passed would honk, raise fists and flash peace signs in obvious support. Henry began, then, to formulate the notion that it was actually American Christians, opposed to Israeli policy toward Palestinians, but silent because they were afraid of being branded as anti-semites, who could play an even more pivotal role in changing U.S. policy toward that favored the Jewish state at the expense of justice for Palestinians. That, he concluded, meant that maintaining the vigil at Beth Israel served the larger goal of justice for Palestinians, even if the idea that the vigil was a sincere attempt to open discussion within the Jewish community became nothing more than a pretense. Such insincerity, I contended, meant that Henry's strategy was flawed and that he could not be an effective advocate for justice for Palestinians on that basis.

In a 2009 blog post (American Jews and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"), I followed up on this disagreement with Henry:

"It is a further irony that the polarization in Ann Arbor has come to resemble the deadlock in Palestine. But both situations seem a symptom of a larger problem in the politics of the US. Our inability to move toward reasonable and just outcomes in virtually all policy areas, health care, climate change, quality public education, market regulation, reliable public transit and reduced dependence on fossil fuels to name just a few, seems endemic. And ultimately traceable to the politically expedient marriage of religious fundamentalism and corporate interests. When oil companies, weapons manufacturers, Big Pharma, insurance interests, hospital corporations and the Southern Baptist Convention find themselves working together against broader social interests, we are all in trouble."

Ultimately, those disagreements with Henry marked a turning point in our relationship. But we remained in contact, and continued to spend time together when I visited Ann Arbor. I should note that our growing disagreements did not keep me from appreciating both the intensity of Henry's commitment and how extensively educated he had become about the history and politics of the conflict. Though I had always been an advocate of the two-state solution to the conflict, his position persuaded me to look harder at the realities, the facts-on-the-ground, of Palestinian disenfranchisement.

By then, it was clear to me that after 40 years of occupation (and the continuing forcible takings of occupied Palestinian territory) that a Palestinian state created on Israeli terms would not be viable, but I had not backed off of support for the two-state solution. Discussions with Henry eventually convinced me that it made no sense for me to continue to support a non-solution masquerading as the way to resolve the conflict; the creation of a Palestinian state, with borders enforced by Israel and with limited access to water and other resources, would only cement the injustices that Palestinians had suffered since the creation of the Jewish state.

These conclusions moved me to advocate an eventual, single, secular state that would be the home of Arabs and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians. But even then, it was impossible for me to go forward with Henry.

To me the path to a single state had to begin with a two-state solution with equal access to resources, like water, and with borders guaranteed by an international force, not by Israel. This would not be a process with much to assure the eventual outcome, but to Henry it was a simple sell-out.

Though I had sometimes been characterized as a "self-hating, Israel-threatening" Jew (a web-based "S.H.I.T. list" had once named both Henry and I as enemies of Israel on that basis), Henry's feeling that I was a sell-out wasn't new, either.

At a Detroit teach-in on the conflict, I had been on a panel with filmmaker Michael Moore, whom I had known from his days as an activist and publisher in Michigan. Based on my experiences and discussions in Israel and the West Bank at the time of the first Palestinian Intifada, I advocated an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and a repurposing of those funds toward joint Palestinian-Israeli development projects, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza. But Moore blasted me directly for suggesting that there was a gradual way to wind down the conflict, characterizing my position as "constructive engagement," a phrase that Ronald Reagan had first used to describe his policy toward South Africa, which emphasized working with the white South African government to "phase out" apartheid. Coming from Moore, the suggestion that my proposals were simple appeasement resonated with the audience (and to some extent, with me) as a stinging indictment.

But criticisms like Henry's and Michael's notwithstanding, the stipulation that I supported a single state in the area was a position that I believed had to be nuanced by a concern for both the process and the speed by which the goal was reached. Though I maintained that the privileged position of Jews in Israel must also change, and that Israel had to become a truly democratic, not a theocratic state, this could never happen without an open and continuing discussion among Jews in both the U.S. and Israel. Adopting such a position without acknowledging how threatening the idea was to both Israeli and American Jews would make it impossible to move further, I believed.

Yes, my perspective had and has a distinct air of unreality, but then so does every other proposed solution to the conflict that began brewing more than one hundred years ago during the days of the British Mandate in Palestine and almost a half-century before the Nazi holocaust. The idea that Israel can continue to exist indefinitely as a Jewish garrison state in the Middle East (without the eventual elimination of the Palestinian people as a national group) ought to be regarded as at least as fantastical as my notion that an Israeli state can cease to be a theocratic state and that Jews would have a secure future in a democratic Palestinian-Israeli state that evolved over time.

As Henry began seeking ways to work around American Jewish resistance to his message, he came across Norman Finkelstein's controversial book, The Holocaust Industry, in which Finkelstein makes a distinction between the historical event that he refers to as the Nazi Holocaust, and the subsequent use that Israel and major Zionist organizations made of "The Holocaust." Finkelstein contends that major Jewish figures in the United States and the organizations they led used the tragedy to obtain settlements on behalf of Holocaust survivors with Switzerland and other European countries, while actually enriching their own organizations and positioning themselves to more powerfully influence U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The book is a well-documented and persuasive read, written by the son of Holocaust survivors. But as Henry began to see how powerful the Nazi holocaust was as a tool in defending and advancing Israeli interests, he began to question historical accounts of how and, particularly whether the Nazis had proceeded with genocidal intent. To me, Henry's entire discourse on the issue reflected how he had become emotionally captured--at a high cost to his ability to proceed strategically--by the idea of fighting all comers on behalf of justice for Palestinians.

Because Henry had the sense not to embrace Holocaust revisionism publicly, I had always believed that it was not up to me to "out" him and would only talk off the record about that to you. But I take that step now because I have reached the conclusion that a journey that began with the honest belief that American Jews could have an awakening to the injustices suffered by Palestinians beginning with the creation of the Jewish state morphed into a devotion to the Palestinian cause that no longer required him to believe what he was publicly proclaiming.

I believe that effective dissent requires dissenters to proceed ethically precisely because lies and misrepresentation are frequently the tools of those who defend the status quo. As Henry became increasingly focused on tactical effectiveness, he lost perspective on the social justice goals of the struggle he had engaged. To me such a disconnect between devotion to principal and tactical success (measured, for instance, by Henry's belief that he would be "...even less popular the next time you talk to me...") made him willing to embrace any position that undermined support for the Jewish state. Thus, his embrace of "Holocaust revisionism."

My point in sharing that information off the record was to further drive home my argument that Henry faced virulent opposition from the Jewish community not because he was a dissenter, but because he attacked the community and made it a prop in his Kabuki play of political activism; unlike, say, Brant Rosen, who had lost his job within the Jewish community precisely because of his advocacy for Palestinian self-determination.

Unfortunately, my decision to do so left you in a position where you had to choose between telling a story based on on-the-record sources, about a Jewish activist who has taken plenty of flak from the Jewish community, or not telling the story merely because I maintained that the secrets I wouldn't allow you to share should be sufficient reason to leave Henry's story out of your piece. My bad, I know, and I apologize.

I take the central point of your article to be that activist American Jews who think that true justice is best served by vigorous opposition to Israeli policy toward Palestine and Palestinians (and American support for that policy) often face significant challenges from fellow Jews, in some cases becoming pariahs in their own communities. Of course, this is often the fate of dissenters. To persist in the face of that opposition frequently requires a sort of heroism that deserves our respect. But, as I have noted, I do not consider myself (or the withering of our friendship) as an obstacle that I created and that Henry had to overcome. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if I was an enabler, encouraging Henry as he went through a transformation so rapidly that balanced response to setbacks became increasingly difficult.

Henry's commitment to justice for Palestinians and his persistence in that effort may be heroic, but I would contend that his political immaturity exacerbated confrontations, escalated conflict, polarized discussions, and defeated the goal of productive debate. If, in the face of such a debacle of action/reaction, Henry's persistence required courage and inspires admiration, so be it. But that seems to me to have led to a situation where the fate of the Palestinian people is no longer the central question.

In that respect, Henry's decision to go to virtual war as a way to create justice for Palestinians reminds me of the fatal decision by a small percentage of anti-war activists to choose violence as a strategy to end the Vietnam War and to defeat the foreign adventures of the American war machine. Groups that resorted to violence at the time also linked their fight to the domestic repression of African Americans and other minority groups.

The perception that only violence, a left revolution, could overthrow a corrupt American government serving the interests of the wealthy, was shared by a significant part of the anti-war movement at the time. But only a tiny minority of them ended up advocating "armed revolution."

The decision by that tiny minority to resort to domestic terror, helped instigate a repressive counterattack by the authorities at activists of all sorts, including non-violent activists. Certainly, there were other factors at work in provoking the counterattack. Black nationalists, militant workers within and outside of unions, feminists and counterculture organizers were, indeed, threatening corporate control of the economy, and work and social life.

But I have to say that the decisions people made then, to abandon dialogue and advocate confrontational strategies at the expense of smaller victories that could be won and could be the foundation for further victories, seemed ego-driven to me. They had ceased to be about the goals of progressive social change and became about the delusions of people who considered themselves to be working-class heroes.

Henry calls the end of our friendship "the 'most painful break-up' as a result of his activism."  I can't agree. My contention is that Henry allowed his own role as a political activist to become a cause in and of itself, an obsession, a delusion, that long ago lost its connection to justice for Palestinians. The end of our friendship was simply collateral damage.