A letter to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

Roy Innis said a kindness to me years ago that significantly lifted my spirits. It was related to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a hero of mine for as long as I have memory. I’m 63. It occurred to me that the kindness Mr. Innis offered me is more accurately applied to you. Mr. Innis and I were members of a panel on a Newsradio 88 talk show in NYC in the wake of the Bernie Goetz shooting incident, December 22, 1984.

That I was on the panel with Mr. Innis was related to my experience with gun violence; I was held up and shot in the head at point blank range, August 24, 1984, the bullet remains lodged in the brain. Also, I was one of the co-founders of the NYC Chapter of Victims for Victims, a victims advocacy group, founded in 1982, by actress Theresa Saldana. Years ago, Jim Brady and I met during a Handgun Control (now Brady Center Against Gun Violence) convention. The moment was not without its humor; we agreed we were the founders of The Can’t Duck Worth a Damn Club of America.

Before I tell you what Mr. Innis said, I’d like to first, please, share a few thoughts with you.

I can’t begin to imagine what you are experiencing now, other than to point out the obvious, that we are in a democracy-gut-check wake-up call moment. Only when it happened, when this man was elected, did I realize something, nearly in an instant. The moment we are in now was bound to come. My hope is that we are witnesses to white power’s last gasp.

As for this election outcome, the fact is we the people dropped the ball. You didn’t. If even for a moment you notice your mind drifting in the direction of blaming yourself, please call it on back. Many of us, and that includes me, made the mistake of believing we were more healed on the bigotry front than we are. In short, we couldn’t help but be the flawed, sometimes dopey, and sometimes dangerous creatures, our species is capable of being.

While I wouldn’t wish your experience on anyone, Mr. President, I am grateful beyond-the-reach-of-words that history chose you when it did. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could have handled and managed the task of being the first black president with, what history will show — and many of us already know — the level of greatness you brought to the job. Your greatness, Mr. President. I’m dead serious. It’s not just charisma, a gift we’re all lucky you have, it’s your uncanny ability to manage your interaction in the moment you’re in, without taking your eye off the ball, while at the same time understanding the moment’s role, or potential role, in history. It’s like that moment in “Team of Rivals” when Mr. Lincoln was told the time had come to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, I think in Seward’s office. Lincoln had been shaking hands all morning with White House visitors. His arm and hand were a bit sore. When he lifted the pen to sign, his hand was a little shaky. He put the pen down, explaining to his staff that if his signature looked shaky, people in years to come would think he wasn’t sure about the proclamation, and, of course, he was. As you know, he waited until his hand calmed, and signed. He understood the moment he was in. Therein lies the brotherhood you have with this man.

Mr. President, you’ve recognized the moment of history you are in every step of the way with uncanny accuracy, you did your best for this country and all its people, every step of the way. And, you never lost your cool! Though, if my fantasy of dribbling, say, Ted Cruz up and down the court came true, and you were the ref, I’m willing to bet you might not call the foul, at least not right after the first dribble.

To Mr. Innis. On the panel, Mr. Innis sat to my right, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato was on my left, William Kunstler and Curtis Sliwa sat across the way. Mr. Innis proposed that civilians be trained and armed to help keep the streets safe. I disagreed, saying that I adhered to the nonviolent methods we learned from Dr. King and that arming civilians seemed to replicate the arms race. While I believed Mr. Innis’s proposal was from the heart and well-intentioned, he’d lost two sons to gun violence, I thought it misguided.

It was in the moments right after the show ended that Mr. Innis said the kindness to me, that I, Mr. President, would like to say to you. When we stood up and shook hands, I told him he was someone I admired. I told him Dr. King had always been one of my heroes, and how much I wished I could have known him. And then, it happened. Mr. Innis looked at me with a smile and said: “Martin would have been very proud of you tonight.” It was one of the most mind-blowing, beautiful things anyone had ever said to me. So, let me tell you now, Mr. President, Martin would be very proud of you. So would Malcom and Nelson Mandela. So would Rosa Parks, Medger Evers, Emmet Till, and, yes, Mr. Lincoln. All of them and more, Mr. President, would be proud of you and grateful that you are, indeed, the truly good and decent and courageous man you are.

I am one of many who genuinely love and care about you and your family. If our paths ever cross, my hope would be to shake your hand, give you a hug, and thank you in person.

By the way, the rallying cry that I am encouraging those around me to use, is: We Shall Overcome because Yes We Can. Like I said, Mr. President, Martin would be proud of you.

With great warmth and respect,

Peter S. Kahrmann


  • A hard copy of this letter was mailed to the president on November 18, 2016

How do you sleep at night?

I need to put two things on this essay’s table in order to, I hope, make my point.

First. When I was a boy I complained to my father about a cliché, I don’t remember the cliché in question, what I do remember was my father’s thoughtful and accurate response. “Well, there’s a reason they become clichés.” He was and is right.

Second. I used to believe as I think many do that if you were able to factually establish that a behavior, a policy, a method, a strategy, would actually hurt innocent people, people would automatically care. Wrong. A sickening truth about some people is they simply don’t care. Even when you establish that, for, lack of a better phrase, their actions will hurt others, they still don’t care.

Okay, you may be wondering what it is that has me thinking about all this. Two things, really. An aspect of the presidential race and some who claim to care about those of us with brain injuries and it is becoming increasingly apparent they don’t.

When it comes to the  presidential race it is the blatant lying being done by the Romney-Ryan ticket that falls under the microscope of this missive. If they are elected and if they do what they say they will do and have done in the past the rights of women in my country will be, in a word, decimated. On top of that, millions will lose their health insurance and Romney’s assertion that we don’t let the uninsured die in our country because they can go to the emergency rooms is a lie, a flat out lie. He and those in his circle know damn well people will die if the affordable care act is  reversed. They don’t care.

And when Romney and Ryan say they support equal rights for women, they are, once again, lying. To lift a cliché into the light, actions speak louder than words. Ryan voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women fight for equal pay for equal work; he voted for a bill tagged as the “Let Women Die Bill”  that would allow hospitals to refuse abortion care even if the mother’s life was in immediate danger and he co-sponsored a bill that would deny rape victims on Medicaid access to abortion. Romney’s no better. After all, he picked Ryan as his running mate (safe to assume he agrees with him) and, while governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a bill giving rape survivors access to emergency contraception (to it’s credit, the Massachusetts legislature overrode the veto).

So, if you think Romney and Ryan support women’s civil rights, you’re either delusional, gullible beyond comprehension, or, like Romney and Ryan, you’re lying and you know it, and, like Romney and Ryan, you don’t care either.

Now, brain injuries. For several weeks now members of the Brain Injury Association of NY State as well as former BIANYS board members have been in an email exchange with BIANYS seeking answers to some incredibly reasonable questions. Now, the two people at the top of the BIANYS food chain, as it were, are Marie Cavallo, the board president, and Judith Avner, the executive director. Let me quickly point out that is has been made clear that Ms. Avner will communicate with us in this email discussion (how does she earn her roughly $2,000 a week salary I wonder?).

The questions we are asking?  Well, judge for yourself.

1) How many people with brain injuries does BIANYS employ and how many have been employed since Ms. Avner  took the helm in the late 1980s. No answer.

2) How do you (BIANYS) decide what you are advocating for or against, how do you let membership know, and how do you solicit membership’s input? Ms. Cavallo referred us to their annual reports and newsletters but these questions are not answered in either, not even close. We pointed this out and they responded with…no answer.

3) Ms Cavallo said the reason she, not Ms. Avner, is talking with us, is because she represents BIANYS. And so we asked another reasonable question. If we, as BIANYS members are not part of BIANYS, then are we, the very people she and Ms. Avner claim to care about so much, merely an outside entity? Does BIANYS sees its members as something separate and apart from, well, BIANYS? If so, we asked Ms. Cavallo, who exactly is she representing?  No answer.

The point is you can’t tromp around the state asking everyone and anyone for money because you say you care about us and are on our side and then when we have questions ignore us and simply hope we’ll go away (we won’t) and expect us to believe you actually do care.

All this brings me to the cliché that is the title of this essay, a cliché that appropriately applies to the likes of Romney and Ryan and Avner and Cavallo. How do you sleep at night?



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.


Obama’s right & Palin’s still a nitwit

President Obama is right in deciding not to release the pictures of a dead Osama Bin Laden. The common human desire to see the pictures, shared by me too by the way, is the same macabre desire that leads everyone to slow to a crawl when they pass a car accident. Not a desire whose influence deserves decision making power when it comes to releasing the Bin Laden photos.

The argument that they need to be released to really really really prove Bin Laden is dead is not a good one. For God sakes we have people who deny the holocaust! What on earth makes anyone in their right mind think releasing the photos would do the trick?

Speaking of people in their right mind, wait, I already did that in referring to the president. Let’s be fair and speak about someone who is not in their right mind: Sarah Palin. Upon learning that the president had decided not to release the photos Palin tweeted, “"Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it’s part of the mission." Where are we, Sarah, in some school yard? Bad enough you’ve got some members of the public thinking you’re mighty special and as long as that lasts you’ll gouge them for every penny you can, but are you kidding me? We talked like that when we were in school, meaning when we were kids. Do us all a favor and go back to Alaska and keep your eyes on Russia.

Anyway, in my view Obama is still an extraordinary president and Palin is still an extraordinary nitwit.

My Country, by Sarah Palin

First I’d like to say in words, yes words you know, we know, yes it is true, talking to my country, meaning yours too, ours, yes, my words here are for you for all.

This great country is shining, we know, don’t we know? It shines it does from sea to shining mountains and seas, a most beautiful land with, you know you beautiful people are too, yes, you know this is true.

I believe in things, many things, you know me and you know this, it is all true. From my Alaska mountaintop I see as you would many things, not just Russia but many things, God is there, yes you know my words are here and there and for you and for God from you and me, they’re on the mountaintop, in Alaska, more than Russia I see for my country.

My country’s future, mine and yours and the mountains below with rivers, yes, of course lakes streams, but this Obama is dangerous, you know from my mountain I know, no one, anywhere and there too knows what or who or what is being said.

And you can quote me.