Flipping Switches

When’s the last time you saw an elected state or federal official struggling with poverty? I don’t know that there is one. 

I got to thinking about this recently when I read that Speaker of the House John Boehner accused the president of ignoring reality; this from a man who no doubt uses tanning beds and is apparently oblivious to the threat of melanoma. Boehner, along with other Republicans and, don’t be fooled, a number of Democrats, are hell bent on protecting tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires, the oil and gas companies, and they have even drawn a line in the sand when it comes to protecting the tax break big-buckers get for their corporate jets.

For many many years Ralph Nader has been right and still is right when he says the country is run by big business. That’s who is driving the car in D.C. and God forbid Obama and too few others ask them to chip in their fair share. Think the New York Times is leftwing? Don’t be so sure. A recent headline regarding the financial crisis talks about Obama wanting tax increases; a headline the Time knows damned well will lead most readers to think the president wants to increase taxes on all Americans, middle class as well as the poor, when nothing could be further from the truth.

And why would the Times opt for a purposefully misleading headline; its owned and run by wealthy folks who don’t want their tax breaks ended.

If you have plenty of money and little if any conscience, it doesn’t take much to flip a switch designed to not just protect but increase your wealth knowing full well that your switch flipping will damage some lives, destroy others, and end still others. In moments like this I am hoping there is a just God because if there is, payback will be a bitch for some of these folks. Perhaps those wounded and ended by their greed will offered a chance to watch the payback if they want to.

I wish I could flip a switch that would turn off the greed-based decision making spewed by too many of our wealthy elected officials.



A New York Times editorial this week endorsing Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary is appalling for what it does say and what it does not say.

I had to re-read one sentence a few times simply to make sure I “heard” it right. “On the major issues, there is no real gulf separating the two.” Did the Times really just say that? Did the Times really just say there is no real gulf separating Clinton and Obama on the major issues? Are they kidding? From day one Obama has consistently been against the war. Clinton, on the other hand, voted for the war and recently angered many by voting for a Bush-backed resolution that pushes my country closer to war with Iran. Obama has been steadfast in his opposition to the war and his opposition to needlessly escalating matters with Iran. No real gulf separating them? Well, I can’t think any gulf wider than supporting a war and opposing a war. But hey, that’s just me.

The Times editorial does not address the increasingly despicable behavior of former President Bill Clinton in Senator Clinton’s campaign, a campaign that is sending a powerful signal that electing Senator Clinton would essentially be electing a married couple to the presidency. Moreover, if Senator Clinton can’t reign in the former president in her campaign, what will happen if they return to the White House?

Some of Clinton’s key supporters and staff can be incredibly sleazy. And while Senator Clinton distances herself from their seedy and divisive proclamations, her inability or unwillingness to stop them raises another question: if you can’t restrain some of your key supporters and staff members, what will happen if you’re in the White House?

Andrew Young is reported to have said “Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.” Not only is that a despicable thing to say (Young later said he was joking – fat chance), but why on earth should that statement make anyone want to vote for Senator Clinton?

And then, of course, there is the typical Clintonian spin (lying, folks) of being the ones who injected race as in issue into the campaign and now whine that Obama started it.

Obama is right when he says the country is sick of divisiveness. Obama is right when he says the American people are sick of fear being used on them as a kind of political crowd control. Obama is right when he says we need to stop thinking in terms of red states and blue states and get back to thinking in terms of the United States.

There is nothing uniting about the Clintons. And every time I find myself thinking we won’t be dumb enough to fall for their blatant character assassination of Obama and elect them to the White House, I remind myself that we elected George W. Bush – and you can’t get any dumber than that.

The New York Times support for Senator Clinton is support for a dual presidency, which is something the founding fathers would frown on. As for Senator Obama’s lack of experience, consider this for a moment: James Buchanan, considered by scholars to be one of the three worst American presidents, had more than 20 years in congress under his belt along with four years as secretary of state before being elected to the presidency. Abraham Lincoln had only two years in the House of Representatives.

To my mind it is the person’s character, not the length of their employ that makes the difference. And when it comes to character, Obama comes out on top, hands down. He has my vote.


A December 29 New York Times article on Senator Barack Obama refers to him as a biracial candidate. When it comes to discussing race, the word biracial encapsulates what may be racism’s primary fuel; it reflects our continued insistence that there is more than one race. That is where we are wrong and, while it will not happen in my lifetime and is unlikely to happen in the lifetime of any who read this, it is time we learn there is only one race: the human race, and change our vocabularies accordingly.

It is not a stretch to say that in many ways the belief that there is more than one race has essentially morphed into the notion that different races are in fact different species. Tragedy is this mindset’s only offspring; it is what led to slavery in my country, it is what drove the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate the Jews; it is what guided the hands of some of our Southern brethren when they turned dogs and fire hoses loose on black Americans, many of them children; it is what drove the Apartheid regime of South Africa and it is what kept Nelson Mandela in jail for more than a quarter century; it is what drove the hatred in the hearts of those who planted a bomb that killed four little black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama.

The list is worldwide and tragically long.

There are no different races. There is the human race, period. Yes, the human race is wonderfully rich with variety. Different color hair and eyes and skin, various belief systems and taste in music, sports, art and politics. But all generated by members of one race, the human race.

Perhaps members of the media, along with local, state, and federal leaders not to mention world leaders might began to change their rhetoric a bit. After all, what exactly would be the downside to realizing that every person walking the earth is the same race you are? What is the harm in recognizing we are all members of the human family? Just imagine, were this to take hold, perhaps it would be harder to inflict harm on one another. I find that, comforting and reassuring.


Dear Reader,

Over the past weeks I have found myself so deeply disheartened at the absence of kindness, fairness, compassion and honesty on the part of my country’s leaders I’ve had a hard time moving the pen across the page. On nearly every front: political, business, religious, the media and more, I see choices driven by greed, dishonesty and a lack of respect for human life. I see New Orleans still in horrifying disarray and our young men and women being killed and maimed overseas. We have a federal government more wedded to political one upsmanship then it is to bringing our young people home and saving some lives – ours and the Iraqis. Any voiced concern for the environment, for the life of Mother Earth is, more often than not, an exercise in lip service. And, of course, the oil companies and the military complex continue tearing every dollar they can from the wallets and purses of a hard working public.

And forget about real regard and respect for law enforcment. In my last blog post I called for an Amber-alert type system to be put in place for law enforcement officers. I even sent it to some elected officials. No response. I sent it to some newspapers like the Albany Times Union and the New York Times. They did not publish it. Why? It was timely. State troopers had again been shot in my state and one was killed in the cross fire?

Despite all the aforementioned, none of us can afford to stay silent. I think it was Dante who said, and I am paraphrasing, The hottest places in hell are saved for those who remain silent in times of trouble. And so I will not, and I hope you will not, stay silent.

There are a few things on my mind now, goals I have, if you will, and I am asking for your help in achieving them.

1) I will soon begin publishing a series of essays on living life with brain damage. As most of you know, I live with brain damage as a result being shot in the head in 1984. Living with a brain injury, or a TBI (traumatic brain injury) is different every day. And given that nearly 2 million Americans suffer brain injuries annually (with more than 50,000 dying from them) and given that many of our veterans are coming home with brain injuries, the more people understand what it is like to live with one, the better equipped everyone will be to provide the deserved support. I am asking you to please make as many people as you can aware of these essays.

2) Given the recent Virginia Tech killings and our culture’s addiction to violence, I am looking to begin a college and high school speaking tour. Those of you who have connections in this area, please let me know. I will be acting as my own agent in this endeavor. I have lived a life that has included a wide range of experiences: being shot, homelessness, getting arrested, time in reform school, suicides of loved ones, loss of family, alcoholism, brain injury and PTSD. I have, as many of you know, given numerous speeches and I think life has placed me in a position to help young people (and adults) make the discovery that they need not be defined or controlled by the challenges they face. That their right to a good life does not deserve to be derailed.

3) Needless to say, I will continue, from time to time, to publish sections from the memoir in-progress and other nuggets.

I am asking all of you to please share this blog with everyone you know. Please ask people to join.

Lastly, from my heart to your heart, thank you for reading this blog. It is my sincere hope that joy, good health, happiness, love and a safe life are your constant companions.

I know what I wanted to say in this letter to you, I only hope I have said it.

Warmth and respect,

Peter S. Kahrmann
Berne, NY


I take no pleasure knowing that in the short life of this blog this is the second time I am taking the New York Times editorial page to task. I love the New York Times. It has been part of my life since I was a little boy when my father would pull the car up in front of what we called the news store in Pearl River, New York. I would scamper out, run in, buy the Times and his cigarettes, and run back to the car. I think I ran everywhere back then. The concept of walking places was entirely lost on me. What was the point of walking? If you ran, you got where you wanted to go faster!

In November I took the NYT editorial page to task for saying “While there are plenty of underprivileged in the current (military), at least they are there by their own choosing”. The editorial page was arguing against New York Representative Charles Rangel’s proposal to bring back the draft. Mr. Rangel’s proposal was rooted in the accurate assessment that the all-volunteer army leaves most of the fighting and dying to the underprivileged while the well-heeled and well-connected get a pass. The assertion that the underprivileged are in the military by their own choosing missed the fact that when you are underprivileged your options in life are horribly limited.

Today, in a lukewarm editorial on President Gerald Ford, the Times displays a bit of arrogance and stubbornness. Since Mr. Ford’s death, many on both sides of the aisle have, with great justification, praised his decency, integrity and political courage. Thirty days into his presidency he pardoned President Nixon and in the next breath gave amnesty to 200,000 men and women who had dodged the draft. Both decisions helped heal a country desperately in need of healing. In 1974, the year Mr. Ford took office, the country had been through 11 years of pure hell, starting with the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, the often bloody and heartbreaking civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy and Malcom X, the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation.

Many who disagreed with the pardon at the time, this writer included, have come to recognize the wisdom of Mr. Ford’s judgment. Mr. Ford knew this country, like a horribly battered and bloody fighter, needed time to heel. And while the pardon brought a severe backlash of criticism, and probably caused Mr. Ford the 1976 president election, history has proven him right. Unlike some recent presidents, Mr. Ford had the courage and integrity to do what all our presidents should do, put the country ahead of their political aspirations.

Yet today the New York Times editorial page says Mr. Ford’s “legacy is limited” and reaffirms its 1974 stance that the pardon was a mistake because “the nation is strong enough to endure almost anything but burying the truth.” This is true, kind of. However, the nation knew the truth. Moreover, just because a battered and bloody nation could have endured a Nixon trial doesn’t mean it should have been forced to endure yet another painful and damaging experience. The New York Times was, like me and many others, wrong then. Unlike me and many others, the New York Times is wrong now. It fails to recognize the country had suffered enough. To his credit and our country’s benefit, Mr. Ford did recognize this. He knew that the country, like an individual, needed and deserved time to heal. There is nothing limited about the legacy of a man who reminded us that we truly are a nation of the people, for the people and by the people – not a nation of a misguided few.