Op-Ed: Striking the Confederate Battle Flag by Roger Burt

We should be asking why it has taken so long to finally strike the Confederate Battle Flag. Excuses often include claims that it represents a matter of pride about the southern heritage. Such a curious claim.

The flag was raised to defend the institution of slavery. It represented the right of the plantation owners to hold people against their will, murder them if they chose, beat them and rape them without consequence. That is hardly a heritage to be proud of.

And the people who benefited from the institution were only an elite class. My father’s family lived in the deep South, especially Mississippi, for many generations. They owned no slaves and worked hard to maintain themselves, often in a climate of deep poverty.

My father gave me an assessment of the meaning of the war to his family told to him by his grandfathers both of whom fought in the Confederate army. Going to war was not their choice. In effect they were impressed and had to leave their families behind to tend the farms as best they could. In a real sense it was not their war. The results of the war only deepened poverty.

Is this a proud heritage? Certainly there are things the people of the South can be proud of but slavery is not one of them.

The question remains why it has taken so long for us to question the display of this flag. Were the nine people murdered in Charleston really the cause for a collective reassessment? The lynchings, bombings, murder and violence have been going on for a long time. And politicians have wantonly defended this flag.

At this time we are discussing the need to gain control of racial hatred. Nowhere in the discussion have I heard a realistic discussion or debate. In fact a major part of the reason for the existence of racism is our social nature. We cleave to our social group and its culture. In so doing we put up a barrier of attitude and feeling to the “others”. What we have to do is recognize our tendencies and separate them from distorted or excessive attitudes. Being social in nature is generally a benefit but not when unexamined attitudes yield consequences that are routinely negative.It takes awareness and understanding of a very human attribute to derive the benefits and to live productively with the other people in our society.

The Confederate Flag, in fact, represents an attitude in regard to the “other” and it is time to recognize it for what it is and that it fuels counterproductive and ugly tendencies. Let’s hope that we have a productive national discussion and bring about the needed changes in how we view and treat each other.

It appears to be time for the discussion. Something significant is happening in our country. We have a major wave of immigrants taking up their place among us, LGBT rights are suddenly being supported, gay marriage is taking its rightful place, we are facing the failure of the second prohibition (marijuana) and now in a matter of days there is a movement to face the issue of the Confederate flag. Altogether it points the way to the fact that suddenly there is a marked maturation process underway in our national culture. And in that context it behooves us to ask why now and what do these events mean.

Op-Ed: Are These People Really Candidates? by Roger Burt

It seems it is going to feel like a really long time until the 2016 election what with all the noise of the candidate stampede. The talking heads are filling the airwaves with endless chatter not much of which is illuminating. It is very similar to the Invesco commercials in which four chattering people follow a hapless man around issuing endless, and probably inconsistent investment advise.

The so-called Democratic race for the nomination promised to be unspeakably dull until Bernie Sanders came on the scene. We will probably have Hilary, but Bernie is making a lot of interesting noise. The media has labeled him a socialist but Marx and Engels would probably not be impressed, and the people in the Scandanavian countries are laughing. He raises issues of income inequality, a failing middle class, functional pricing of a college education, attention to our failing infrastructure, none of which sounds particularly socialistic. At least there is focus and passion and the possibility for a real debate.

On the Republican side, we have a rather large contingent of “candidates” who are claiming they are running or will run. Much of the rhetoric is familiar and the talking heads, poor deers (in the headlights), are finding it hard to keep up or decide who they want to cover. From time to time there is good stage humor but on the issues it is difficult to decide how the “candidates” can be focusing on specific minimal bases and how it might lead to a win of a nomination much less a national election.

I was spending a lot of time scratching my head, endangering what is left of my hair, until one analyst raised a thought about what might be going on. He opined that they were looking, not just for exposure, but for work. Suddenly there was clarity. Certainly some of them like Donald Trump are simply egos who like the stage but a lot of the others do have political creds but a meaningful base to win the nomination, or the national election seems very unlikely. In fact, you have to bundle a number of candidates to get to two digits in the polls.

So, in the end we can expect that when their time is through in politics they can move on to paid appearances on television or to jobs at think tanks and corporations. They are out and about talking to people and making contacts and relationships. Fair enough.

There is one problem. This is America, and we can embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and planfulness for one’s future. But we are in the twenty-first century and have a rapidly changing world. Forget for a moment the incredible disorders in the Middle East and the threat of terrorism. We need to attend to the changing needs of our workforce, terrible educational cost problems for our young and an infrastructure which is not in good shape among many other issues. We should be having an intelligent discussion and it would serve us if it were truly diverse. Unfortunately, with all this noise we are not getting much that is constructive.

For now I’ll be listening with only half an ear. It’s my hope that somewhere down the road we will have an informed debate from all parties. Different philosophies would be constructive. Fine. Make it with different philosophies but it would be helpful if it were not manipulative chatter aimed at small constituencies. Maybe it is a bit much to ask but I’d like to see some courage and integrity demonstrating a real love and commitment for our country. The issues are big, they are commanding and they need our attention.

Op-Ed: Baltimore – Forty-Seven Years Later by Roger Burt

Is it a matter of us being slow learners or just that the chickens are coming home to roost?

In October 1967 with my newly minted Ph.D. from Duke University in hand I started work as a clinical psychologist in the inner city of Baltimore. The community mental health movement had just started and I was one of the first hires in one of the first programs. I thought I was to be working as a psychologist.

The State of Maryland and the University of Maryland wanted the prestige of having a forward leaning program. They would send new young staff along with residents and medical students into the center of Baltimore to deliver mental health services. But the young staff found something no one intended. The suffering of the people had not so much to do with mental illness as it did with just plain poverty. The people were overwhelmed.

The mental health establishment wanted glory and the people wanted relief. As a bunch of twenty somethings we put our feet down. We would not accept untrained medical students or residents to do “therapy” with the downtrodden. The powers that were found we were immovable objects. We set up a system where we did intakes in the morning and that afternoon went to work finding resources to help them. We had a division of vocational rehabilitation counselor in each center and sent many of our clients to them to get trained and employed.

And then in April 1968 Dr. King was assassinated. Baltimore erupted. The city burned around us and we became much clearer about what was happening. The people we were serving felt left behind and mistreated. And then came the terrible blow of Dr. King’s death. The long and the short of it is that the story of what happened in Baltimore recently was well under way back then.

The police had been instructed to handle the problems with the truly mentally ill and that often meant handling the homeless as well. People were “arrested” for assessment and many were sent to the state hospitals. The police were unenthusiastic. As were the people.

Jobs in the center of the city were being lost and more and more buildings were left vacant. To find employment people had to endure long commutes often out into the suburbs if they could find employment at all. Baltimore was shrinking from a city of almost one million to just over six hundred thousand.

We struggled to find all kinds of resources. Not at all amazingly we found that when we helped people with their problems including physical health care issues that they were less anxious and less depressed. This was not rocket science. It was compassionate reality.

We managed to get a new classification of employees so we could hire and train local residents for much of the basic work which did not require M.D.s , Ph.D.s etc. We could prevent hospitalization and improve life quality with good effect.

Then came the “war on drugs”/“war on crime”. The police were forced into other roles they did not want and the battle lines were being drawn against the wishes of virtually everyone in the city. The War on Poverty had been helping out but it came to an end. Increasingly the inner city residents were left without assistance or meaningful support. The young men were being arrested and put in jail for long sentences. We are just now seeing videos of the kinds of things that happened to young black men then but these videos are now. When they came out of jail they had no education or job skills.

Finally the money for mental health began to disappear. The local centers were closed, hiring of residents came to an end and mental health again became hospital based but in centralized units in the city because the mental hospitals were also being closed. Homelessness increased as the mentally ill joined the destitute.

And, yes, the same resentment that fueled rage and frustration in 1968 grew and metastasized. Naturally riots help nothing. But what we have seen is the anger and despair we as a people have created. The inner city people did not want this and the police did not want the relationship they ended up with.

It is very much time for us to own what we have done and to begin engagement with the people of Baltimore and other cities to end the abuse and fruitless policies so we can work together toward constructive policies and solutions.

Op-Ed : Republicans in Search of Authenticity by Roger Burt

Many of us regret the failure the Republican Party has become. They stand for clear things which are regrettable. Restriction of voting rights (many of us want a Democracy), attacking women’s health care and reproductive rights (supposedly they have women they love and care about), refusal to support responsible and effective health care for all (why would they want that?), decimation of social security and Medicare and on and on.

They have fallen to being the antigovernment party in a country of over 300 million people where we need an effective and responsive government to manage our complex economy and the needs of our citizens. While hating Eric Holder they refuse to act on the nomination of Loretta Lynch who is admirably qualified. Perhaps more than a tinge of racism and sexism there.

In all quarters they drag their feet while wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on endless hearings run by the likes of  Darrell Issa. But they are good at calling for the decimation of things like food stamps needed by our most disadvantaged citizens. Their list of candidates for the 2016 election is by far the most problematic they have ever fielded in that they are failures at what they lay claim to.

And now they threaten to attack any agreement with Iran. We have an interest in working hard to reach a viable agreement. Or perhaps they would prefer failure of any agreement and to implicitly support a march to nuclear war in the Middle East. And 47 Republican Senators disgrace themselves and their party with a letter to the leader of Iran. And some of them said it was just a joke. Acting like an out of control herd they bypass responsible processes for petty political purposes. It’s not a joke and they should resign or be removed from office. Accountability would instruct their removal. It seems they are the party which promotes war and at the same time, in the name of supposed austerity, are not supporting adequate funding for the healthcare of our returning veterans. They send them to war and then fail to support the needs of those who have given service when they return.

There are substantive issues which need our attention. Hilary Clinton has noted income inequality which is decimating our middle class. She also noted that even if it takes an amendment to the constitution we need to get big money out of our politics. The Supreme Count visited that upon us when they distorted our legal system with their politically inspired decision. So much for an autonomous judiciary. And then there is the matter of teachers going to jail in Atlanta while Wall Street tycoons who brought our economy to its knees go unpunished. We have real governmental work that needs to be done.

Surely we do not need to spend time on the petty issues contrived by the so-called Republican Conservatives who are conserving nothing. They waste our time with petty political pandering, things like endless Benghazi hearings and specious arguments. We can only hope that demographics and the attention of the American public will give them the dismissal they so admirably deserve.

Perhaps I got the title of this Op-Ed wrong. The current crop of so-called Republicans are not in search of authenticity. They seem to be in search of a place in the dustbin of history.

Op-Ed: Republican Diversionary Froth by Roger Burt

We have had quite enough of diversionary tactics. There have been endless hearings about Benghazi, and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. And now we have a new focus on emails. Will this never end?

Our country needs to be governed and is suffering from the utter irresponsibility of an antigovernment radical fringe controlling the Republican party. When they took control of Congress, they told us they would show us how they can govern. They have and they can’t. In addition to the nihilism of their antigovernment stance, there is the racism being spewed by the Tea Party. It may be thinly disguised, but it is clear.

We have an eminently qualified nominee for attorney general in Loretta Lynch who is being held hostage to the immigration issue. Our past unfortunate international policies and our refusal to deal with the second failed prohibition of marijuana as well as our drug appetite in general have led to waves of desperate people coming to our shores. And the Republican Party exhibits an unwillingness to respond humanely and is refusing to deal with what we created.

Recently there was an effort to give some educational debt relief to our young people. It was blocked. The future of our youth is being impaired and with it the future of our country. Instead, the call goes out to cut taxes for the wealthy.

The list of political and governance failures is long, but the worst was the recent letter to the government of Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators. It was the height of irresponsibility as they interfered in crucial negotiations. And at the same moment, without any coordination with the White House, they invited the head of Israel’s government to use our Congress as a stage for his campaign. To make matters even worse, he then trashed delicate efforts for peace by disclaiming any intent to work toward a two-state solution.

A democracy requires dedication and honest debate, not endless diversions and immature manipulations. A democracy also requires support of voter participation. Instead, the Republican Party has been leading the charge to suppress voter participation.

The descent into irresponsibility has been breathtaking. They are demonstrating utter failure of statesmanship. One expects some political machinations, but we can at least hope that in the end governance and responsibility will hold the stage. There will be differences between political parties, but this kind of behavior is unpardonable and is sanctioned by the sorriest lot of presidential contenders in the history of the Republican Party.

And it seems they believe we should be sidetracked by the dog and pony show of hearings on issues which are nothing other than diversions.

Many of us remember a very different Republican Party, and we can only hope that the remaining responsible members including such people as Colin Powell will again come to the fore. In the meantime, it behooves the rest of us to turn away from them and say enough is enough. We need maturity, responsibility, statesmanship and sound governance which the Republican Party is not offering.

Op-Ed: The Real Depth and Origins of the Drug Scourge by Roger Burt

Recently Governor Hogan was lauded for his recognition that Maryland has a heroin problem. It was also noted that Rt. 301 is a pathway for drug distribution to the Shore. Are we now all clear about the road ahead?

Such simplistic laudatory comments are tiresome. Our country has an ongoing drug problem of major proportions and simplistic statements serve us not at all. We built domestic organized crime with the first prohibition (alcohol) and fueled the development of South American cartels with the second prohibition (marijuana). Given their advanced state, these criminal enterprises have developed a larger line they now market to us.

We have wasted many billions on politically inspired interdiction operations. Our foolish policies have served to destabilized countries that in turn has led to the flight of their citizens who we see coming to our shores. They are known at Latinos, and our response to their desperate search for the future we impaired has been less than impressive.

Drug problems must be addressed by enlightened policy management in our relationship with other countries. Issues also have to be addressed with well formulated national policies which deal with realities not political rhetoric.

The reality of drugs is that they are complex. Each of us has a unique signature of receptors which dictates what drugs we resonate to. Included are nicotine, caffeine, opiates and on and on. Our social background, even our religion, relates to our drug of choice. And in my work with a major drug treatment program I learned how we must attune the recovery process for each individual to the degree possible.

And then there is the matter of prevention. We should have learned something from our battle with tobacco. It has taken decades to bring down the rate of addiction. Addictions are tenacious, and we have never made a truly significant effort with opiates.

We have a great deal of information, and we have not used the body of knowledge at our disposal to develop in-depth campaigns of prevention, wise legal processes or flexible treatment objective. It is clearly time to move out of the self-serving political sphere and get to work on this scourge at all levels. And, by the way, there are corporate entities including tobacco companies and big pharma which are arrayed against effective programs in addition to the criminal enterprises we helped create.

Op-Ed: Despairing of Republican Promises by Roger Burt

Some of us thought perhaps the retrograde run of the Republican Party into the quagmire of neoconservatism had begun to run its course. Apparently our hopes for the restoration of responsibility were ill-founded.

In Washington, we were told the party was prepared to govern. No such luck. We are now into the middle of February, and nothing has changed. Once again, they engaged in an immature and futile attempt to destroy Obamacare even as its success and benefits of all kinds have been demonstrated. And Boehner has engaged in undercutting efforts on the international stage.

In Maryland, Hogan took the oath for governor and promptly demonstrated his willingness to work again the hopes and dreams of Maryland families with the negativity found in his proposals regarding education. America’s middle class has been victimized by income inequality, the failure to build good paying jobs and in the face of it Hogan raises tuition. And then he moved on to undermine the efforts to manage the cost of stormwater runoff. In other words, he is working against a coordinated effort to deal with climate change issues and matters of pollution of our bay.

It seems our new governor is going to follow in the footsteps of former Republican Governor Ehrlich. He left office with a $1.5 billion dollar structural deficit in place. So much for conservative efficacy. We then had to struggle to undo the damage even as the Great Recession struck. We do not need another irresponsible governor, but it seems we have one. Maryland shot ourselves in the foot. America is lagging in developing the skills of our youth through education and attacking education, and its availability is hardly a solution.

Words need to be followed by constructive deeds, and all we are seeing from Republicans is an utter failure of constructive vision and usually forward-looking Maryland has made a terrible mistake. We need to press for sound negotiations and a recognition of a responsible vision for our future free of archaic and ineffective ideology. If the recent election was about change, it left us with a new governor who wishes to turn away from constructive decisions and budgets. His proposals have nothing to do with sound conservatism or functional economic processes.

It remains to be seen how Governor Hogan will behave in the long run, but his opening positions leave a very great deal to be desired. It is, indeed, time for sound governance, functional and honest negotiations but locally and in Washington we see the Republican Party offering neither. People who are against governing are in charge.

Op-Ed: Ringing in the New Year with Resolve by Roger Burt

Considering resolutions this year points to the opportunity to address fundamental issues before us in our democracy. And they will require wisdom and perspective.
 
Decades ago a new generation asked us to consider again who we are. At the end of World War II we were the single major power standing. We educated our veterans and flourished economically. But inevitably, at least periodically, a people must consider who they are and where they are going. For us the time is here again as a new reform movement takes shape.
 
And we come to this time with a sad state of political affairs heavy with obstruction where statesmanship has descended to the level of the pathetic. Yet, as a Janus we are making strides in such things as bringing women to power, LBGT rights, environmentalism and raising the issue of institutionalized racist.
 
Lately we have seen tragedies in the deaths  of young black men and police officers. Too often we are hearing cries which do not take account of the true nature of the issues. There is the matter of racial bias in police enforcement and the deaths of young men of color. Our understanding is strained. The man who murdered the two policemen in New York was fundamentally disturbed as was the man in Sydney, Australia who took hostages and did not represent Muslims. It is discriminatory to dismiss these aberrations as reflective of a body of people. In this country we need to face each issue for what it is. Demonstrations are called for and are part of a democratic institution. We need to retain respect for them.
 
Our problems are numerous. In the mental health field we endured devastation by insurance companies combined with slash and burn tactics in the name of “austerity”. The outcome has been distasteful incidents of violence – especially gun violence.
 
We face an infrastructure in trouble.  We can only imagine how much faster our recovery from the Great Recession might have been if we had addressed the infrastructure problem. Instead we faced obstruction and  “austerity” touted by people hostile to government.   
 
In the XL pipeline we are seeing political grandstanding where the truth is the Gulf Coast refineries are filled with crude from fracking. We can’t use the Canadian crude and Europeans and Asians want it. 
 
Even as women rise to power their reproductive rights are challenged. 
 
Antidemocratic efforts at voter suppression by “conservatives” are widespread and in a democracy are intolerable. 
 
We have to face the world as it is and deal with our failed policy toward Cuba and immigration issues which often reflect other of our failures. This is hardly a time for complacency. Nor is it a time to tolerate egotistical, manipulative politicians who are an aberrant minority in the government and who are hostile to government. They serve their own ends of ego, prejudice and racism.
 
 There are important issues behind every one of the recent events making headlines. And they speak to opportunity to right wrongs and to deal with an emerging world. We have immense talent and resources at our disposal and they need to be joined with wisdom and perspective. Presently we are seeing the best and the worst of us played out. The best is seen in the opportunities presented by the reform movement which is forming.

Op-Ed: What Must the World Think of America by Roger Burt

What the world thinks of America is an important question but at this juncture it is even more important for us to consider what we should think about ourselves. From some people we are hearing rage about recent events and too often the rage is misdirected and cloaked in specious legal arguments.

Certainly looting, arson and violence in general are not acceptable reactions to recent events. Neither is ideologically based dismissal of the underlying causes. Recent incidents have brought before us the reality of deep divisions and shocking race based police enforcement misbehavior. Legal dysfunction is an issue and includes failures to bring cases to trial. Failure to indict is not a finding of innocence.

The video from Staten Island graphically displayed what can only be regarded as a murder of a man guilty of nothing more than selling unpackaged cigarettes. An officer in Cleveland whose background suggests he should not have been on the force killed a young man. Also in Cleveland not long ago 73 police cars ,yes 73!, chased down a young unarmed black couple guilty only of speeding and fired 137 shots killing them.

The incidents of the killing of young black men goes on in the context of a racial imbalance in incarceration. And America has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. We have higher rates than Russia and Iran. And much of it is for minor drug offenses visited disproportionally on people of color. We ruin millions of lives.

At last demonstrations across the country are bringing black, brown and white together to speak out against our national disgrace. Our outrage needs to be directed at a dysfunctional system and the failure on our part to right the wrongs we are perpetuating through racist behavior. At long last we see the stirrings of an overdue second civil rights movement and must be vigilant against the rhetoric of those who would implicitly support dysfunction and racist sentiments.

Op-Ed: Welcoming Immigrants – They Are US by Roger Burt

Ongoing Prejudice
 
Some things seem never to change. Each generation refights the same battles about new arrivals on our shores. The only thing which changes is the particular group involved and the details about how they arrived.
 
It is unfortunate that we never learn. Call it ethnocentrism or racism, it always has the same character to it. There is them and there is us and we deserve to be here while they are underserving intruders. 
 
Our Forgotten Heritage
 
It is a sad commentary on us that we forget our particular heritage and the elements which have made our country so vibrant, strong and adaptable. It would be helpful if we were to attend to what has made us who we are.
 
My mother’s family came from southwestern Germany in the late 1600s and early 1700s. I wondered why they set out to cross Europe and the the Atlantic Ocean. They had no internet, no phones, no television to show them what they were coming to. But they set out with their children to build new lives.
 
I was puzzled and looked into the history of the area and it was perfectly clear what  had motivated them. They had endured the savage Thirty Years War from 1618-1648 which was fought primarily in their home area. Then came a little ice age. 
 
Of course they were motivated to leave. But there was another factor. Their character of guts and determination was part of the story as they faced the unknowable while taking the risk to find a more promising future. It has been the same story over and over in our history as successive waves of immigrants have arrived from places like England, the Netherlands, Ireland, China and on and on. These are the determined people and each generation sustained our characteristics of strength, resolve and adaptability.
 
Facing Immigration and a Failing Party
 
Currently we are failing to face the necessity for immigration reform and much of the problem is with obstructionist Republicans. I come from a Republican family and feel a deep sadness that a formerly functional party has descended to the depths of obstruction and dysfunction. 
 
Surely there are many Republicans of conscience who remain silent and distressed by what has happened and who is “leading” their party. It is truly time to speak up. And Colin Powell did, eloquently, recently.  We need many more Republicans of conscience to do the same.
 
Currently we on the Shore are being represented in Congress by a “Republican” who is often referred to as Dr. No. Rather than his negativity and obstruction we need constructive, enlightened Congressional representation. 
 
Solving Problems
 
Our present problem with a broken immigration system is a core issue. Simply put, it is right and fair to put this part of our house in order. Our latest immigrants have come to be a part of our dynamic country and we can easily witness their hard labor and willingness to join in. We need them and should be responding. The Dreamers know no other country and want to contribute. How can we be so short sighted and forgetful of our common history so that we work to turn them away?
 
We have been through a difficult period after the Great Recession and it is time to tackle the necessary tasks at hand which very much includes immigration reform. To do that we must adjust our viewpoints and must remove obstructionistic, dysfunctional “representatives”. And if Republicans want their party back it will require removal of the obstructionists.

Roger Burt

St. Michaels