Posts tagged with Social Responsibility

Carolina Shout: A New Media Riff The neat thing about my laptop is the whimsy it brings to my eyes. Daily, as I scroll through the posts on twitter from my 100 followed sources, a parade of gaffes and snapshots touch my soul. Resonating with the silent feeling of old time stride (piano), their off beats colors the day's character. Between laughing and crying, foibles flash by in every new minute that leave me astounded at how wretched is the human hope. How quick we now receive its notice! How abundantly is our condition confirmed! How quickly the state of our state of disbelief spreads:

E.coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce spreads to 4 states, sickens at least 23, CDC says

Can't we wash the lettuce? Is it the same farm? Why only romaine? Is there more being untold? Where's our guidance? Click the link: an Arizona farm; Michigan, Ohio, New York, Tennessee; Southern Perlo publishes in those states. Are my readers safe?

Venezuelan gas rig sinks, workers safe

Again? What happened? Will the whole Atlantic be an oil slick?

Jobless claims drop for fourth straight week

Good news, but what happens when the oil hits the beach, coats the coral, kills the fish, and spreads across the US's most important eco-system? Will New Orleans survive another blow?

Nigeria: Key Oil Pipeline Suffers Damage

Are petroleum and bio-carbon fuels the new terrorist threat to destroying the planet, its destruction chained to and triggered by our convenience and indifference?

Dead Heat in Pennsylvania Primary

I thought the death panels were delayed until 2014? Who ordered this political “dead” heat?

A political ad in Kentucky features a chiming cuckoo clock.

And echoes of Obama's election:

Nigeria: President appoints Sambo as veep

Surely, this is racial profiling . . .

But world powers have new names and places, and visit new places:

UN boss Ban Ki-Moon visits Africa And, this, just in, from China, the world's economic and population powerhouse:

Speculators blamed for garlic price hikes in China

“Drastic” the increase is called. On China Daily, the national English language newspaper for China, whose website is China's main English portal, read widely by government officials, I am only the second comment on Karzai and Obama's Washington meeting, after HsunTze, who had many questions which I tried to answer honestly.

China has over one million writers online

But nobody commented at the end of the web article touting China's expanding literary and journalistic voices, many paid. How can I ever compete? I lleave a comment. It appears 12 hours later.

And it only the first half hour of a new day.

(Posted from Charleston, SC, Thursday, 05/13, 9am, while listening to MN jazz radio, KBEM, 88-5 FM, on the web. “Carolina Shout” is a stride piano composition by James P. Johnson, popularly performed in the 1920's, a favorite of audiences and dueling pianists, who played it with hot rhythms, technical virtuosity, great zest, and abounding joy.)

(from google images: romaine lettuce; Ban Ki-Moon; the lead sheet to Carolina Shout; Romare Bearden's "Carolina Shout;" educational fair use.)


Paul Krugman: Get Serious

On Wednesday, 05/12, I disagreed with Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner for economics who writes a blog and 2 columns a week for the New York Times. Surprisingly, of 19 comments, my comment received the second highest number of recommends—30 Times readers agreed with my analysis and endorsed my view!

In a short blog, entitled, “Unserious People,” summarized as “ faking it on spending cuts,” Dr. Krugman cites Eric Kantor's call to eliminate funds as “ludicrously trivial,” and Dr. Krugman argues that national Republicans “refuse to offer any serious proposals for spending cuts, pretending instead that there are large sums being wasted on things nobody wants.” Good point, but he begs the question of why and inadequately describes the root of the strategy, and inaccurately labels these efforts as “unserious.”

Here's my reply:

“As a good economist knows, many critical relationships are inverse and logarithmic, expanded in large ways by small changes. Republicans, are in fact, serious, very serious; consistently, steadfastly unwavering in the repetition of their mantra of small government. Yet their real relationship to government is an inverse one, one in which spending voted by them when they are in power is rapidly expanded as their mantra is chanted unchanged. Defense spending is the best example.

This over/under inverse relationship is a social construct that has great power; its small, simple examples resonate with the public who are distracted from seeing the complex, larger and more expensive picture. Republicans are “serious” about protecting this formula at all costs. Their commitment is not a disconnect or frivolous; it is inverse (some might think perverse!) and one that Republicans who lack any national agenda for growth or prosperity, are zealously serious about, as it allows for enriching the coffers of friends, at the expense of the economy, the national infrastructure, education, healthcare, or job growth. Its only benefit is to shift blame to others while aiding big market forces to grab larger share. At this, they are serious and committed at any costs to the country."

Thanks for reading. /wr. Stir the Perlo, leave a comment.

This is a map of the most popular religion in 48 states according to USA Today.

Catholic: Red Baptist: Blue No religion: Green Lutheran: Yellow Methodist: Black Mormon: Purple (Image used under fair use.)


Judging the Judgeship

(Perlo note: my 05/10 comment on Elena Kagan's nomination were highlighted in the online edition of the New York Times, which also reviewed it for publication in Tuesday's print edition. I re-print it here for Perlo's readers.

"Already, the blogsphere is weighing in: liberals are evaluating her potential record as a judge by looking at her administrative record, where rumor has it, she was "weak" in expanding African-American hiring; conservatives becry her protests of "don't ask, don't tell," and her almost certain support of a woman's right to choose. Her record is called “thin.” Her ideas are called both “radical” and “conservative,” while both sides agree she is “dangerous.”Both sides seem to have lost sight of the broader, and more substantive issues of the Constitution. It is a judge's responsibility to weigh carefully the meaning and interpretation of law for all Americans, evaluating precedents, sticking closely to historic paths, while ignoring completely popular sentiment. A seat on the Supreme Court is not bound by the latest call-in pole (deliberate pun!) on Fox or CNN, but instead requires a deep, thoughtful, deliberate immersion into the nuances and consequences of the law now and in the future. It is not a position to be filled by someone whose judgment will reflect personal beliefs; it is a position where beliefs often must be set aside to follow the course of law required by Constitution."

Thanks for reading/wr. Stir the Perlo, leave a comment. (Coming Saturday: China's Medical Reform.)


Stirring the Pot: Food as a Memoir of Mothers’ Love

(Recently, I published a short memoir related to food as a family and community rite of my youth. I hope you enjoy reading what is for me, an unforgettable story of mothers everywhere.)

My case in point is Mrs. Lucy Washington, the head cook at the black, segregated elementary and high school I attended. I loved food, and Mrs. Lucy Washington cooked food that I loved. Her school lunches were better than anybody's cooking that I knew in the whole world.

My mother, never jealous or put off by my praise and devotion to Mrs. Washington's school lunch, was eager to hear, as I got off the school bus, the epicurean delight of the day. My mother took an active interest in this high point because she loved food, loved me, and believed in my judgment and taste. So empowered, together we shared, revered, and celebrated the gifts of Mrs. Lucy as I described her daily triumphs in the school cafeteria . Mrs. Lucy Washington was a cook who could cook. She brought something special to the process that magically transformed the outcome.

Spiritual connections were rooted in what Ms. Lucy did with food. Cooking was Ms. Lucy's gift, an irrevocable talent assigned to her fiber, as natural as breathing, as commonplace as sunshine, and every meal was Christmas Day.

For ten years, daily, the cafeteria had the excited buzz of the New York Stock Exchange. We students joyful entered into trades of tuna salad , Johnny Marzetti, meatloaf, chicken a la king, and fish sticks, but our favorite institutional currency was Ms. Lucy's breads--her fresh, hot corn biscuits (with fresh whole corn!), chesse biscuits, peanut butter and blueberry muffins, and cherry upside cake. Our trades had real value: two biscuits for an entree was a common measure.

As we celebrated and traded, we established a community around her food. We also found something special in each other. We shared a bond, enriched by our differences, a circle of common values, a community that held favor and rewards.

The African proverb about the whole village helping to raise the child does not do justice to Mrs. Lucy's single-handed work. Daily she brought us under her teachings. Through her extraordinary fare, she taught us lessons about pride, love, faith, and sharing. Through her food we learned about caring, preparation, respect, thanksgiving, and gifts.

What happened to the beloved community who gathered at Mrs. Lucy's welcome table? Gerald, later student council president, spent time in Guam as a federal personnel specialist and his son became the starting point guard at William and Mary. The Faust twins played for a state football championship; later, one of the twins died in a New York shoot-out. Danny, Ms. Lucy's son, studied voice and lived in Germany. He is a professional baritone and directs the voice program at University of Michigan. He sings on all the world's great stages, including Carnegie Hall. Charlie coached little league, became a social studies teacher, married Chris, had three children (Korona and the twins), and is still my best friend.

Back then, none of us knew that two hundred years before, colonial cookbooks treasured African dishes. Dishes like groundnut (peanut or bennie (sesame) soup, or baked guinea squash (eggplant). Or a classic French preparation of a Charleston favorite of African origin, " okra a la daube."

We had never heard of Oscar, the Gullah body servant who, "for liberty," cooked a legendary sweet potato dinner at a secret camp in the South Carolina swamps for the American patriot, Francis Marion (the "Swamp Fox"), and a British officer during the American Revolution--a scene captured in a painting that hangs in the US Capitol. We had never heard of Gullah Jack's parched corn or crab claws, which, if eaten, promised invincibility to slaves who were to participate in a foiled 1822 Charleston rebellion. And in a different time, we didn't know barbequed oxen was served at midnight to newly freed slaves in the nation's very first Emancipation Proclamation celebration at Hilton Head, SC, on January 1, 1863.

We did not know the legacy or history or the light that Mrs. Lucy carried for such a long term in our lives. We simply relished the fine points of taste we discovered and shared in our love of her cooking.

Years after leaving her cafeteria, I followed in my father's footsteps and worked out front in food, especially in fine dining. I worked high profile doors and dining rooms in country clubs, resorts, and private rooms back East, in places like the Homestead in Virginia and the World Bank in Washington, DC.

And later, I produced the Sunday jazz brunch at Alice's Fine Foods on King Street in Charleston and was its informal host for a couple of years. Aice Warren was from Walterboro, SC, a rural town nearby. Her food was the top of the game in Charleston. We had people calling and coming from Germany and Japan. I saw a bus-load of tourists from Florida clean out her buffet and shut down the house one Sunday. I sold out of Alice's collard greens and Hoppin' John (eaten for luck and prosperity) during Charleston's 2000 Millennium First Night celebration on Marion Square--named for the historic patriot whose men survived in their fight for freedom on Oscar's legendary yams.

But my mind always goes back to Mrs. Lucy's lunch. There are days when the single thought of a bite of her breads is enough to sustain me through the crush of a world that has left me starved for so much.

Thanks for reading! /wr Stir the Perlo, leave a comment.

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(Photo: shrimp perlo, google images; fair use.)


Boom and the Leak Stops: An Open Letter to the President

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some real socialism. I don't mean the mamby kind that gathers citizens on town greens every week for the TV op, complete with homemade signs on tall poles that protesters wave to make sure we get the message at home. I don't mean the kind that is angry over taxes that have been cut, or health care that has been expanded, or exasperated over guns that are still allowed to be purchased and carried, or that sees cynical signs of cabals in every spin report gleamed from talk shows. I want real, European Lenin-style socialism. Socialism that takes control, breaks the rules, and uses the military to do its business. Lean and mean socialism. And I want Obama to bring now.

I want socialism because I like shrimp. I like oysters,too. And I hate what is about to happen to the Gulf.

The US is about to experience its greatest natural disaster in its history, losing its most important fishing bank in the Gulf that supplies 70% of America's shrimp and oysters and for generations has provided a living and a way of life for thousands on its shores. People and wildlife are sustained by its beaches and shores.

But it's not just jobs and fish for purchase that leave me disheartened, angry, outraged, and devastated. It is the loss, by human hands, of some more precious, almost unspeakable. Something we breathe in and cherish, something we believe in, that shapes life's course by grandly giving evidence of nature's indomitable cycle: birth, beauty, independent will, timeless strength and charm.

Soon this will be all gone. Because of our own worst practices.

BP, the corporate owners of the offshore well, did not see fit (and nor did the government require) to install a $500K acoustic shut-off switch—required in Europe—that automatically triggers the shut down of a blown well.

Right now, our only option is a drastic dose of socialism: use the military to blow the well and cap the flow. Surely, if we can drop laser-guided missile's on Saddam's palace, and use drones to blow terrorists out of Afghan caves, we can use the US Navy's Arleigh Burke class of Aegis destroyers to drop torpedoes or missiles with non-nuclear warheads on a dime, underwater, at a depth of 5,000 feet.

In two days, Navy experts can figure out how to set off an explosion that will close the well. In two days, all of the fears of a nation can be quelled.In two days, the coastlines of three states can be saved.

In two days, by overriding the posse comitas act of 1878, for which George W. Bush had already established the precedents for Presidential authority in times of eminent national danger, (as well as a Congressional 2007 act authorizing US military intervention in domestic affairs when “constituted authorities are incapable of maintaining public order”) our nation's worst disaster can be ended. Public order, which includes billion dollar industries and thousands of jobs, the protection of beaches, fish, and wildlife, the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf and its bays, can be restored.

With a strong dose of socialism, through the government's mace of power, the lambs and lions can sit together in peace on this one. Bill O'Reilly and Keith Oberman can smile as they throw barbs at each other.

Save the Gulf Coast. We have the means. “Socialism” gives us the moral authority and legal precedent. Boom and the leak stops. (Photos: Tampa,; google images, used under fair use; for educational purposes.)


31 Ways to Celebrate May

May is the month of several unusual holidays. It is National Salad Month, Hamburger Month, Bike Month, Foster Care month and Older Americans month.

May 1st, which is May Day, is also Mother Goose Day, and Loyalty Day.2nd is Baby Day; May 5th of course, is Cinco de Mayo, but it is also Oyster Day, and May 6th is National Tourist Appreciation Day (May 7th is National Tourism Day) and Nurses Day.

The first week of May is Nurse's Week and the second week of May is Wildflower Week.

Mothers will be pleased to know May 10th is “Clean Up Your Room” Day. This day has plenty of opposition. (No Dirty Dishes Day is May 18th.) Poets can celebrate the limerick on May 12th.

My brother, Mike, always reminds me that May 15th is Police Officer Memorial Day, celebrated on the west side of the US Capitol in Washington, DC at noon, with a roll call of officers who died in the line of duty during the past year.

For music lovers, International Jazz Day is the 29th, or always the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Cookie lovers can indulge their sweet tooth with an old favorite evergreen, the macaroon, a cookie made without flour, using stiffened egg whites and often with shredded coconut added on the 31st. Originated in an Italian monastery in 1792, popular in Jewish communities, the macaroon is enjoyed around the world. Too bad it can't be combined with No Diet Day on the 6th. And maybe National Chocolate Chip Day (the 15th) can be combined, too!

Give honor to Military Spouses on May 7th and let them know how much we appreciate their sacrifice.

Tree huggers can celebrate the 16th, Love a Tree Day, and also on the 16th, wear purple to bring awareness for peace.

Close to my heart is Lucky Penny Day, on the 23rd. I truly believe my mother's spirit comes to me in pennies that I find in my path, it fits her impish humor and her deep involvement in her family's lives, and her sly, on the scene, understated humility. I smile joyfully when I find them in hallways and odd places, and in the house, leave them in place.

Thanks for reading! Stir the perlo, leave a comment. (follow Perlo on twitter: (All photos, google images, fair use. the Live Oak is GA's state tree.)


A Perlo Exclusive: “Packaging Smoke,” Reconstructing Goldman’s Role

As a historian, I love first person sources; as a writer, I love close readings of a text to find meaning and the truth of experience; as a citizen I love progressive social action. So this week's Senate hearings, streamed on the internet by CBS and Bloomberg, caught my eye and I listened to the entire 11 hours. Than I went online and dove into the released e-mails related to the hearing, and found interesting bits of truth and meaning which I'll share.

It's telling that the Senate committee's staff at this week's Senate hearing had done more homework than the firm being questioned under its guns. The Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations rigorously examined the role of Goldman Sachs, Wall Street's most profitable firm, in the recent financial crisis that caused a collapse in the housing market that triggered a global recession--and a loss of 11 million US jobs.

The committee's staff examined more than a million emails and documents in the last 18 months.

Goldman's Chairman and CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, who this year received a $9 million bonus, seemed to be unfamiliar with many of the e-mails that outlined his firms frantic strategies and directives to trade billions of dollars daily, to protect Goldman's finances even as the firm used its knowledge and assessment of its clients needs and positions to gain market position for its own needs.

An e-mail from February 2007, affirms this, stating: “That is good for us [Goldman] position-wise, but bad for accounts who wrote that protection.” The accounts that wrote “that protection” included Harvard, a leading American university. The e-mail concluded that this might “hurt our CDO pipeline position as C Dos will be harder to do.”

On another day in February 2007, an e-mail directed, “we need to buy back $1 billion of the single names and $2 billion of the stuff below—today. You can do it, pay through the market, whatever, to get it done. Show the ability to listen and execute the firm's directives.” The e-mail added, “It's a great time to do it, bad news on HPA, originators pulling out, recent upticks in unemployment, originator pain.” (Emphasis mine.)

Unemployment, bad news, and the pain of market originators were simply positive or plus factors in Goldman's assessment of its own positions and needs. Their strategy is completely divorced from the meaning of the factors in the larger picture: that the signs that made the moment precipitous for Goldman were harbingers of a broader market collapse that even Goldman in its own perilous grasp would be unable to escape.

And when another February e-mail called for Goldman, “to focused on the credit of the originators we buy loans from and sell to,” the firm obviously ignored its own advice.

Characterized repeatedly as “sophisticated, the e-mails tell a very different story. One key employee readily admits in an intimate moment to being in the dark.

A Goldman employee wrote in an January 2007 e-mail to his girl friend, that he was “standing in the middle of levered, exotic trades without necessarily understanding all of the implications of monstruosities [sic] !!! not feeling to guilty about it, amazing how good I am in convincing myself.”

This same employee reports in another e-mail of being warned by a senior banker who wrote him to say he had never seen in the leveraged credit market “anything quite like what is currently going on. Market participants have loss all memory of what risk is and are behaving as if the so-called wall of liquidity will last indefinitely and that volatility is a thing of the past.”

The banker cited his own experience in offering this assessment: “I don't think there has ever been a time in history when such a large proportion of the riskiest credit assets have been owned by such financially weak institutions with very limited capacity to withstand adverse credit events and market downturns."

But as the Goldman employee remarked in his e-mail, most “players” hoped that “problems will not arise until after the next bonus round.”

In his 5 hour appearance before the Senate Banking Committee the Goldman Sachs Chairman described his investors and market makers as “sophisticated” but really, from their appearance and answers before the Senate Banking committee that were quite average people handling enormous amounts of money.

Goldman touts itself as a market maker, adding liquidity to markets though its transactions and reallocating risks, but really it is “packaging smoke” (Maureen Dowd's phrase), and rather than “sophisticated,” its traders were shamans whose ruse was to convince others that its trading tricks were real. The obvious logical fallacy is there is no reallocation of risk because there is nothing there, no underlying value or real assets, except risk.

Senator Carl Levin's questions, tough, aggressive, showed masterful preparation and the high skills of this one time prosecutor who continually pointed to Goldman's dismissal and disdain for the public's interest of ethical fair play when trading billions of dollars daily. The Senator revealed by citing large and small details, by quoting language and viewing financial charts the continued themes that Goldman ignored in their testimony--that Goldman ignored all but its own drive to greed and profit at any cost--no different than the behavior in crack dens of "sophisticated" users and addict.

Oh, what about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the 2 quasi-government mortgage underwriters whose policies many Republicans and conservatives love to cite as the cause of the US financial markets collapse? Both have real assessments backing their bundles of mortgages offered on the market. Default is secured by a real house. Derivatives were far removed from the type of mortgage bundles offered by F & F. CDO derivatives were not backed by any real or underlying assets. They were simply bets on risk rated by crooked ratings company.

To blame Fannie and Freddie for the implosion of the capital markets is like blaming rebate programs and zero financing at GM and Ford for New York car thefts.

Bottom line: Goldman's methodology was amoral and almost burned.

(Photo: Goldman headquarters, 30 Hudson St. Jersey City, NJ; the tallest building in New Jersey. Google images, used under fair use.)

Stir the Perlo, leave a comment!


Internet Scams Target Military

American military personnel at home and around the world face pressures and conflicts beyond the battle front, but many of these daily clashes go unnoticed.

The latest silent enemy takes the form of internet scams. Last year (2009), internet crime more than doubled, rising to $559.7 million from $264.6 million the year before. The military has identified two forms which are often used to lure vulnerable soldiers.

The Love Scam The main confidence game being used to exploit uniformed service members involves criminals pretending to be American service members stationed across the world who make contact with real personnel via email, internet chat rooms, discussion boards, or social networks and dating sites. They develop a relationship and feign a growing emotional or romantic interest in the service member. Highly skilled, these scam artists gain the confidence of the service member by showering them with attention, being good listeners, and being supportive and sympathetic to their concerns. They use fake photos and bios and personal descriptions. But sooner or later, these criminals “reach out” in the form of a monetary request, perhaps help to buy a new computer or cell phone, or to repair an older one or add a service, or requests for funds for travel (personal or family) or medical assistance. Military policy restrictions are often cited as a reason for the request; claims are made that the scammer is not allowed to access his or her bank account, or their pay was held up.

Women and men in the uniformed services are often the targets of these scams, elaborate ruses build on fictitious rank and identity, and fraudulent reasons for requests of money or property, often shipped to third parties.

Low Price Scams

A new scam is the “low-priced vehicle for sale.” Here’s how it works: An outstanding car is offered at a low price. The seller offers a convincing reason why the car is being sold cheaply. Often cited reasons: leaving for duty in Afghanistan, a recent divorce, disposing of a relative's estate that contained the car.

But, before car can be shipped, money must be sent to the buyer. Then the seller and--the car--disappear.

Be vigilant about any internet contact that requests money. Avoid being ripped off.

Thanks for reading! /wr Stir the perlo, leave a comment.

Photo: British infantry solider. (Fair use)


Christ’s Resurrection and the Death Penalty

(wr note: today's post is a guest column that views the death penalty in America with an eye on Easter and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both of which were celebrated and remembered this month.)

Easter Season, Capital Punishment, and the “Drum Major for Peace”

By Margaret Summers

During Easter season, Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It occurs in the early spring, a season rife with anticipation and the promise of new beginnings; of the shoots of green plants pushing their way through soil warmed by the sun, thawed after a long and frozen winter; of new leaves opening on trees and bushes; of blossoming flowers upturned to the rays of a welcoming sun.

This year, in a tragic historic coincidence, Easter Sunday fell on the 42nd anniversary of the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil and human rights champion, a self-described “drum major for peace.” Dr. King was shot dead on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel with friends and fellow activists. They were in Memphis to support economic justice for striking sanitation workers, a majority of whom were African American.

Uprisings exploded in several urban U.S. cities in reaction to the murder – expressions of uncontrollable grief, rage, and hopelessness, now that the man who had led millions up figurative mountaintops where all could share in his vision of a promised land where races could live together in equality, respect and love, was so violently and brutally taken from them.

Undoubtedly, such anger and anguish back then prompted many to call for the execution of whoever was responsible for killing Dr. King. But neither Dr. King nor his immediate family had ever supported capital punishment. For Dr. King, a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, whose massive nonviolent demonstrations brought down British colonial rule in India – a tactic that Dr. King later used with great success in the sit-ins, pray-ins, and other anti-segregation protests in the Deep South – it was impossible to simultaneously believe in nonviolence as a way of life and also believe in the death penalty.

Dr. King felt the punishment effectively writes off human beings as forever irredeemable and unforgivable. “Make your way to death row and speak with the tragic victims of criminality,” he said. “As they prepare to make their pathetic walk to the electric chair, their hopeless cry is that society will not forgive. Capital punishment is society's final assertion that it will not forgive.”

“I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime - rape and murder included,” Dr. King asserted. “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”

Dr. King’s family, suddenly left without a husband and father 42 years ago, nevertheless agreed with his views that the death penalty perpetuates violence.

“As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses,” his widow, Coretta Scott King, once said. “An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder.”

Such sentiments have been echoed by two of his children. “Having lost my father and grandmother to gun violence, I will understand the deep hurt and anger felt by the loved ones of those who have been murdered,” Reverend Bernice King, recently named President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was once led by her father, had stated. “Yet I can't accept the judgement that their killers deserve to be executed. This merely perpetuates the tragic, unending cycle of violence that destroys our hope for a decent society.” His son, Martin Luther King, III, who was named for his father and grandfather, was quoted as saying, “I should be on the front line for those advocating the death penalty, [but] we have always been consistently against the death penalty.”

The King family’s beliefs are not unusual. They are shared by many murder victims’ families. Among the members of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Board of Directors, three individuals – New Hampshire State Rep. Robert “Renny”Cushing, Bill Pelke and Bud Welch – lost family members to murder. Rep. Cushing’s father was killed by gunfire through the family home’s screen door. Pelke’s grandmother was killed in the course of a robbery of her home by four teenaged girls. Welch’s daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. The three are active in organizations working to rid the United States and the world of capital punishment – Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, and Journey of Hope. . . from Violence to Healing. Victims’ families and the death penalty abolition movement have long worked together to let the public know that the death penalty does not help, but harms such families. The expensive punishment drains needed resources from grief counseling, victims’ families’ compensation, and other services and programs that enable these families to heal. Together, the voices of abolitionists and such murder victims’ families’ organizations and victims’ family members are amplified, united, as they say, “Please – don’t kill in our names.”

It is my hope that during the remainder of this Easter season, as many celebrate the resurrection of He who also stood for nonviolence and peace, we remember the words of Dr. King and his family members who rejected a punishment system that in the end dehumanizes us all. “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy,” Dr. King said. “... In fact, violence merely increases hate. ... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

Margaret Summers is the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Director of Communications


Test Prep for Preschool? If the current national political litmus test is the healthcare vote, then the most important national social marker for the future success or failure of the emerging generation is the preschool application.

The current generation of five-year olds are not yet touched by daily macro-economic discussions about job numbers, stimulus spending, federal deficits, interest rates, economic growth, banking collapse, or mortgage refinancing. And they too young to run the gauntlet of emerging adolescent tragedies like teen bullying and gang beat-downs, rampaging flash mobs, or suicides and murders.

But many 4 year olds face the daunting task of scoring well on an hour-long $510 intelligent test, the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA), in order to qualify for admission to a preschool or kindergarten of their parents choice. The test, and the entire admissions process, is a much bigger deal than knowing your colors and counting to twenty.

To cite one NYC admissions consultant, “For the 21st century parent, test prep for 4 year olds is rampant.” Many of the highly sought schools also require an admission essay—written by the parents!

The admission tests include matching shapes, numbers, visual analogies and concept groups. An example: zippers, eyes, locks—things that open and close. The Educational Research Bureau (ERB), an 80+ year old organization, dominates the world of preschool admission testing. ERB offers several instruments, including one computer-based assessment that changes the learning style and level of following questions based on the child's previous answer. While testing is secure, pirated copies of the WPPSI-III, a widely used test administered by ERB, are being sold on the internet for $3,000.

Bright Kids, a NYC based service, offers tutoring and test preparation to 4 year olds at $145 a session. They have a waiting list. One of the main skills taught? Listening skills. Young students must understand the question to answer accurately. They must listen attentive to strangers for the hour it takes to complete the individual tests. The stakes are high: as many as 70 preschoolers maybe vying for each admission slot at high demand pre schools. Nationwide, nearly 55% of 4 year olds are enrolled in preschools. Aristotle's Circle, founded by an MIT grad in 2008, has a comprehensive program of advisers, tutors, and a preparation book that parallels very closely the items on the actual testing instrument, developed in part by psychologists who had experience with the real thing.

A year's expense for a 3 year old may cost more then a year's tuition at an elite college. In NYC, tuition routinely runs $15 – 20,000 a year, with some schools topping out in the $28 – 35,000 range. (Tuition assistance is rarely available.) Even radical activist, Angela Davis' old pre school is charging $29,150 a year. And at Horace Mann, the former pre school of NY Governor Elliot Spitzer, the cost to follow his early foot steps is $34,050.

If parents change their minds after signing an attendance contract, in some cases, schools will hold them responsible for the entire year's tuition. One NYC couple forked over $20,000 to their initial choice private school after deciding to send their pre preschooler to a highly ranked public program after their child was accepted; the school held them to the conditions of their contract.

To navigate the admissions process, consultant firms like Manhattan Private School Advisors are signing up new parent clients at $18 – 24,000 a year. And if your child is lucky enough to complete preschool, don't forget the sterling silver preschool ring (which can be kept in the adult's jewelry box.)

Even the most careful parents are not immune from the horror stories. An annual favorite is school staff serving kids anti-freeze as Kool-aid as one Arkansas school did in 2009. And in Florida, a 4 year old pulled a baggie of pot out of his backpack, showing it to classmates as his brother's. The school immediately banned backpacks.

The remareable experience of the Perry School, a public inner city preschool established in the 1960s to raise the IQ scores of poverty based, inner city youth in a Michigan city, might prove instructive to parents feeling desperate about their preschoolers future. The study followed successive classes of Perry students for three decades, tracking them against a similar cohort of students from the same city with out preschool experience. At every point, by every measure, during elementary school, high school, adult life, and career matrices, the Perry students consistently and widely out performed their peers, from homework to home ownership.

Yet their preschool experiences never raised their IQ scores. Their gains showed up in their achievements, not in their test scores. It seems the experience of exposing young children to structure and learning in a peer community with good teachers and strong parent involvement and effective school leaders has as an greater effect on life achievement than testing and selecting for “innate” or developmental skills or school pedigree.

Another famous assessment study involved marshmallows. Young students were given the choice of having a single marshmallow right away or waiting for an unspecified period and having two. The children who were able to wait the 15 minutes years later scored an average 210 points higher on the old SAT.

A NYT article contained a prescient comment that goes to the heart of the pre school testing fury: “Modern parents are destroying their children.”

Thanks for reading. /wr

(All photos, fair use,)