Suppress This, Muthafuckas!

One of the reasons I am leaving the National Federation of the Blind is due to its entrance into mainstream partisan politics with the passage of Resolution 2021-02. If you honestly hold a good faith belief that voeter suppression exists on a grand national scale, and that Republicans are actively engaging in it through election reforms in various red and purple states, then you likely are in favor of the NFB’s position.

If, like me, you believe that all of the talk from President Biden and the Democrat party about voter suppression amounts to self-serving political rhetoric, then you likely find the passage of Resolution 2021-02 to be a dubious proposition. If you are in the former camp, you will likely not find the following newsletter from Jonah Goldberg to be persuasive.

I am pasting it here as another snapshot in time. A day after Biden’s shameful speech in Georgia, and on the week when I will make my official exit from the National Federation of the Blind after 27 years of service, I will offer this series of arguments from a man who can articulate them far better than I ever could. I am offering them as an illustration, not only of why the grandios claims of voter suppression are bogus, but also as an illustration of how such spurious claims are used for rank partisan purposes.

If you find this newsletter to be useful, please consider subscribing to The Dispatch for thoughtful news and analysis from a conservative perspective. Here it is.

About That Speech …
As his presidency spirals downward, Joe Biden lashes out.

Jonah Goldberg

Jan 12

Hey,
I’m going to try to not lose my temper, but I make no promises.
This is from Joe Biden’s inaugural address, which is eight days shy of exactly a year ago.
We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never ever, ever, failed in America when we’ve acted together.
This is from his speech in Georgia yesterday:
So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered? At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?
So, what changed? To listen to Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, most Democrats, and a whole bunch of journalists, what changed was an existential threat to democracy. “Voter suppression” is a plague sweeping across the land that literally threatens to end democracy in America. Biden & Co. base this grave appraisal on three distinct claims.
The first is that there has been an epidemic of laws “making it harder to vote.”
The second is that Georgia is at the bleeding edge of this effort with voter suppression laws so heinous that they, by themselves, represent “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Last is that Trump loyalists are in the process of rigging the 2024 presidential election by preparing an end run on legitimate vote counts.
So, here’s my grading of these claims: The first is very, very weak. The second is shameful, demagogic, ahistorical garbage. The third is incomplete.
Restricting the right to vote.
So let’s start with the first claim. It comes almost entirely from an accounting by the Brennan Center for Justice.
As Joe Biden said yesterday, “Last year alone, 19 states not [only] proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights.”
Here’s how the Brennan Center put it October:
In all but seven states, regular legislative sessions are now over. Between January 1 and September 27, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote. At the same time, lawmakers in many states responded to Americans’ eagerness to vote by making it easier for eligible voters to cast their ballots. Between January 1 and September 27, at least 25 states enacted 62 laws with provisions that expand voting access.
I don’t know which state got in a restrictive law to bump up the tally to 34, but it doesn’t matter. As you can see, nearly twice as many laws enacted expanded voting as restricted it.
Now, the Brennan folks make a perfectly fine point that not all voting rights laws are equal. If, for example, a state banned absentee voting—which hasn’t happened—that wouldn’t cancel out a state expanding absentee voting by another week.
But here’s the first problem. Many of these laws essentially repealed the changes made to account for the pandemic. A reasonable person can argue that they should all be made permanent, I suppose. But a reasonable person cannot plausibly argue that returning our voting practices to those in effect in 2018—when Democrats had sweeping victories—is proof that democracy is on the cusp of being eliminated and that anyone who supports the status quo ante of 2018 is taking the side of Jefferson Davis and Bull Connor. (Heck, voter laws were much more restrictive across the country a decade earlier, according to the criteria pushed by Democrats. Does that mean Barack Obama was elected our first black president in a Jim Crow country? Big, if true.)
Now, some laws went further than that, and I am entirely open to arguments that some of those changes were ill-advised. Heck, I agree that some were ill-advised and unnecessary. But none of these changes amount to “Jim Crow 2.0.” One reason I know this is because nobody—including Joe Biden—has been able to point to a single example of a law that comes within miles of Jim Crow restrictions. If they had such an example, you can be sure they wouldn’t be keeping it secret.
Consider voter ID laws, which are constantly cited as part of this racist, undemocratic tsunami. Tightening voter ID laws may or may not be a good idea. Personally, I think they’re fine in principle. But let’s concede that they’re bad. You know who else thinks they’re fine? A very large majority of Americans, including a majority of black Americans. A Monmouth poll this year found that 80 percent of Americans support voter ID requirements and only 18 percent oppose them. That’s not a new finding. In 2016, Gallup also found that 4 in 5 Americans support voter ID requirements, including 77 percent of nonwhite voters.
Again, are the majority of Americans siding with Jefferson Davis? Really?
And just to be clear, not all of the laws expanding the “right to vote” are good. Democrats have been pushing to make ballot harvesting (allowing individuals to collect ballots from others and drop them off at polling locations or early-voting drop boxes) easier. I think that’s wrong. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. But if you think that makes me a racist, my response is, “Go to Hell.”
Georgia, out of their minds.
More on that in a moment. Let’s move on to Georgia, which, we are told over and over again, is slipping back into Jim Crow because of an election law, SB 202, passed in March. The next day Biden called the law “un-American” and “Jim Crow 2.0.” Again, I don’t think the law was necessary and there are parts of it that I think are bad, but there are also parts of it that are good. Or, more to the point, good from the perspective of making it easier to vote. It expanded early voting to 17 days, including two Saturdays. It did tighten the window to get an absentee ballot in the first place to … 67 days prior to the election. The horror.
A lot has been made of the law’s “ban” on bringing food and water to people waiting in line to vote. But it does allow for polling places to provide water and says this restriction applies only: “(1) Within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; (2) Within any polling place; or (3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.” More horror.
By the way, the average wait time to vote in 2020 was less than three minutes.
Again, reasonable people can disagree about all of these provisions. But Biden is trying to bully reasonable people, especially reasonable Democratic senators, with accusations of racism. That’s grotesque.
Jim, what now?
Let’s pause to talk about Jim Crow for a moment. When assessing the very real evils of Jim Crow, restrictions on voting are pretty low on the list. I’m not saying they weren’t evil, but the root of their evil was that they were a means to an end to secure far greater evils—like the ability to beat or lynch blacks, often with impunity. Jim Crow impoverished generations of blacks by preventing them from participating in the economy, traveling, or utilizing their constitutional and God-given rights. Jim Crow was a form of apartheid.
If Georgia has been moving toward Jim Crow 2.0, one has to wonder: Why are so many blacks moving there, never mind staying there? The black population of Georgia nearly doubled from 1990 to 2019. Whatever you think about their right to vote, a lot of them voted with their feet to live in Georgia—and disproportionately from states like Chuck Schumer’s New York, where voting is notoriously difficult compared to places like … Georgia. Again, Georgia has 17 days of early voting. New York? Nine. Georgia allows “no excuse” absentee voting. In 2020, Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing people to use COVID as an excuse. A ballot initiative to allow “no excuse” voting failed by a healthy margin in 2021, a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 2 to 1.
They come from below.
Okay, let’s move briefly to the third claim: that Trump loyalists are positioning to ignore the will of the people by ignoring legitimate votes. These claims take two forms: 1) Some “Big Lie” Trump loyal Republicans are running for office and can’t be trusted to follow the rules, and 2) Some states have passed laws that put partisan officials in charge of the election process (or empower them to overrule apolitical state officials).
Obviously, I would prefer such people not run for office. But to date, they haven’t done anything yet, and so I don’t understand what people think can be done about it. Surely people have a right to run for office and, more importantly, if voters elect such candidates, the self-styled saviors of democracy can’t really be arguing that the will of the voters must be ignored.
As for the second problem, I think those changes to state laws were unnecessary, unhelpful, and in some cases indefensible. But again, if duly elected officials change laws within the boundaries of the Constitution, I’m at a loss to see how that is, in itself, undemocratic. It’d be one thing if they were enacting Jim Crow style laws. That would be undemocratic. But. They’re. Not.
Dividing America.
Okay, I think I’ve been remarkably restrained. So let me speak a bit more freely now. Biden’s speech yesterday, and this whole project, is shameful, dangerous, stupid, and profoundly hypocritical.
Because the wheels are coming off his presidency, Biden has decided to divide Americans in ways he vowed he would not. Now, I don’t have any problem per se with politicians “dividing Americans.” Democracy is about disagreement, not unity. Unity is Biden’s bag and, as I pointed out at the time, I thought Biden’s unity schtick was clichéd nonsense. I’ve spent the better part of two decades ranting about the “cult of unity.”
But I do have a problem with a president dividing Americans by casting people he disagrees with as evil racists bent on destroying democracy—particularly when it’s not true (and when Biden himself played footsie with the very segregationists he’s now associating with his political opponents). Even worse, his lies are intended to sow even more distrust in our elections purely for partisan gain.
And let me just say right now that if any readers come at me with, “But what about Trump?” their arguments will find no purchase. I’ll stack my record of criticizing Trump for spewing hateful lies against pretty much anyone. But Biden staked his entire presidency on taking the high road; on not being like Trump. He vowed in his inaugural address, “I will be a president for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” He cribs Obama’s better rhetoric about there not being red states and blue states but the United States all the time. And he threw it all away yesterday.
And for what? I could go on about how the legislation he wants would make our electoral system worse in myriad ways, but that misses a crucial point. This legislation almost surely won’t pass, and probably the only way it can pass is by getting rid of the filibuster (even then it’s unlikely). If Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi actually cared about saving democracy and thwarting the Trumpist threat from below, or the joys of unity and bipartisanship, they’d focus on reforming the Electoral Count Act or writing a bill that could attract the votes of people like Mitt Romney. Instead, they’d rather cast Romney—who, as Sarah Isgur notes, was the first senator in American history to vote to impeach a president of his own party—as a partisan hack in league with Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. If he cared about letting the “will of majority” prevail in the Senate as he claims, he’d work to craft legislation that a majority of the Senate could support. Instead, he’s saying they have to swallow policies that have been on the shelf for years or be guilty of racism.
That’s cynical and shameful—but it’s also so incredibly stupid. If this thing doesn’t pass, Biden will be the second president in a row to tell voters in Georgia there’s no point in voting because the system is rigged. If it does pass, thanks to a successful effort of abolishing the filibuster, these idiot demagogues will still probably lose the House and Senate in 2022. And if they lose the presidency in 2024—a reasonable bet—they might see all of these “reforms” repealed by Republicans. And Democrats would be powerless to stop them without the filibuster.
Biden’s presidency is spiraling into abject failure. Calling tens of millions of Americans racists to change the subject isn’t just bad politics and bad policy, it’s immoral, and it deserves to put him on the wrong side of history he keeps prattling about.

Resignation

Dear Fellow Federationists:

It has been my pleasure to serve as your president for the past year. However, I am writing to let you know that I will not seek, nor will I accept the nomination as President of the Omaha Chapter in January, 2022. Once my term has concluded, I will be leaving the National Federation of the Blind. The following letter will explain my reasons.

I have been a member of the NFB for 27 years. There have been times when I have stood at the periphery of the organization, particularly during my first several years living in Colorado. Yet, I could never fully bring myself to part from the movement that has played such a central role in shaping me as a blind adult. But now, I feel the time has come for me to take my leave.

I have many reasons for choosing to exit at this time. Some are personal, some are professional and some are political. The biggest reason involves the scandals that have erupted across the movement over the past year. When a number of women came forward with their stories of survival in December, 2020, I instantly believed them. I did so because of things I witnessed while serving in various leadership roles in the Nebraska affiliate, as well as working for and being involved with the Colorado Center for the Blind. Though I was tempted to leave the organization at the end of 2020, I decided to give our national leaders one more year to see how they would respond to the allegations brought forth by the survivors. I also wanted to take proper stock of the efforts of the #MarchingTogether Movement, spearheaded by our erstwhile state colleague, Stacy Cervenka. Though I did take exception to some of Stacy’s tactics and messaging, I felt that her core mission to hold the leadership to account for the crimes of certain leaders within the movement was a valid one.

After a year, the view from the trenches appears to be that little below the surface has changed. The collective of survivors appears to have gone silent and the leadership of the NFB, while mouthing all of the right words, does not appear intent upon real, substantive reform. While I applaud the formation of a survivor-lead task force, I question how much influence they have upon the leadership, or in which direction their influence might flow. I also take note that not a single person in a leadership role at the National Center, or at any of our three training centers, has appeared to have been punished for their active or passive complicity in the crimes of their subordinates. The one high-profile ejection, that of Fred Schroeder, does not go far enough in my view. Schroeder was given a five-year suspension from the organization with the option to return if certain conditions are met. I find this decision to be unfathomable, particularly when President Riccobono claims to possess empathy and compassion for victims of sexual misconduct. It is incomprehensible to me why permanent, irreversible expulsion would not be warranted.

The recent revelations published by David Gilbert in the Colorado Sun about the CCB, particularly those involving Brent Batron, a man for whom I directly worked and for whom I once held immense respect, serve as the final straw. If you have not yet read the piece, I urge you to do so and form your own conclusions. It is lengthy, but worth your time. For me, it served as one heartbreak too many. This, plus the recent election of Jessica Beecham as president of the Colorado State Affiliate, tell me that nothing has or will change in Colorado. My past observations lead me to believe that, as the Colorado affiliate goes, so goes the national movement.

Another reason I feel my time has come is due to the recent passage of Resolution 2021-02. During my entire tenure within this movement, I have taken heart at the notion that the NFB has been non-partisan in its mission. We will work with leaders of both political parties and will not endorse or adopt any political message from either camp. With the recent rise of more vocal elements of the woke left in the upper ranks of our organization, this position appears to be shifting. The NFB has now taken the position that voter suppression exists and that the blind are victims of it. I realize that many (perhaps all of you) might feel that this is a valid viewpoint, but you must be aware that it is certainly a partisan view that is often espoused by political leaders on both sides of the aisle who are more interested in servicing their own political agendas than in serious voting integrity. Since the electoral structure in the Federation at the national level is not set up for any meaningful challenges to the current leadership, and given the recent encroachment of leftist politics into our national messaging, I have no real reason to believe that any attempts at a substantive contest of ideas would be successful. I have no interest in lending any more of my time, energy or finances to an organization that trumpets progressive notions of diversity, equity and inclusion, all while doing less than its utmost to vindicate survivors of sexual assault within our ranks.

If you compare the history of open societies in the western world with those of more dictatorial, oppressive cultures, what you will find is that valid elections are the ultimate method of self-cleansing and self-correction. Said elections must be transparent and open to all citizens without fear of implicit or explicit consequence for each individual vote. Right now, we don’t have that at the top. If you doubt me, ask yourself when we’ve ever seen a national contest for president, or any other board position of import. I dare say that you will be hard-pressed to think of one. Moreover, if you will examine the plight of other organizations grappling with the issue of sexual misconduct, you will find that groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention are engaging in a more open, honest struggle with the issue. Those of you who may be apt to dismiss the SBC as a bunch of maga-loving, bible-thumping rednecks would do well to research the firestorm that erupted last summer. Then compare it to the recent history of the Catholic Church, where sexual predation is still a recurring problem, and where power flows to and from a very few at the top. Then compare the power structure and culture of top-down leadership within the Catholic Church to that of the NFB. I think the similarities will strike you.

I suspect that my decision will come as a disappointment to some of you. I humbly apologize for this. I have made many wonderful friends during my time in the NFB, both in Nebraska and in Colorado. I have also learned that many so-called friendships are transitory and transactional, dependent upon one’s status within the organization. These have been painful but necessary lessons for me to learn in the journey of my life.

This is why I genuinely feel that a clean and total break from the NFB is the best thing that I can do for myself emotionally, spiritually and professionally. It was not an easy decision, but it is telling that, as I was putting the final touches on this letter today, I happened to glance at the Braille Monitor and saw a quote from Ibram X. Kendi that was offered without critique or balance. This served as assurance that my decision is the correct one.

I will chair the January meeting, thus fulfilling my obligations to the chapter. After that, I am leaving and my decision will be final. My exit from the NFB will be a quiet one. I will not trash talk on social media or flame specific leaders. If asked, I will offer honest criticism and praise to the NFB, but I will not seek strife or confrontation without provocation. I do not intend to be a crusader for reform. I will simply follow the path of many of my friends who have circumspectly departed from the movement, carrying on with their own quiet lives and leaving the NFB to its ultimate fate. Nor will I join the ranks of any other national blindness organization that hangs its hat on anti-Federationism. That is not why I am doing this. I will just go quietly into that good night without fanfare or drama, this letter serving as the closing remarks to this long, circuitous chapter in my life.

Thank you to all of my friends for your steadfast love and support. Thank you to those few good and decent leaders who role modeled positive behavior for me.

Merry Christmas.

Sincerely,

Ryan Osentowski

American Frankenstein

Kyle Rittenhouse is an American Frankenstein.

I’m not saying he’s actually a monster. I don’t know the kid and I don’t know what was in his heart the night he killed two people and wounded one other. I do believe in our system of jurisprudence. Many social media lawyers are screaming about racism, vigilantism, heroism, gun rights, etc. These are all narrative templates. From what little I know of the trial, it sounds to me as if prosecutorial ineptness and overzealousness played more of a role in his acquittal than any other factor.

I believe that the phenomenon of Kyle Rittenhouse is an American Frankenstein. He may have had youthful romantic notions about getting a gun and defending a community, but shit got real when progressive politicians, activists and a sympathetic media established a permission structure for mobs to go forth into the streets and commit violence in the name of justice. That collective mob serves as a blind, heedless juggernaut that gives no thought to consequences or reactionary forces that manifest themselves as an impulsive 17-year-old boy with an AR-15.

I am certainly open to the notion that said mob was born out of police brutality, but even so, reckless, destructive ideas such as “defund the police” only served as fuel for the street juggernauts to grow in size and scope. That is a primary reason why no cops were available to defuse the situation between Kyle and his pursuers.

An additional factor in the chaos of 2020 was Donald Trump. He is another American Frankenstein.

Republicans are celebrating recent and unexpected electoral victories in Virginia and New Jersey. Many pundits are confident of a massive red wave that will reclaim legislative sanity across the country next November. But Trump, fueled by his own insatiable pride and an incessant need for political pugilism, may have other plans. His role in the upcoming midterm elections will be dictated, not by any sense of constructive social cohesion, but by which candidate demonstrates the proper fealty to him. Regional electability will play no part in Trump’s discernment.

Trump is the monster that his voters created. His actions in Georgia in December of 2020 are the reason why Congress just passed a 1.2 billion dollar spending package that will only fuel inflation. You want to cast stones at Congressman Don Bacon? Why not the man who insured a Democratic senatorial majority?

A lot of the people who put Trump in office and who would like to see him returned there are the same folks who label Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero. Kyle is not a hero. Nor is he a villain. Like Victor Frankenstein’s creation, he is a tragic figure, too young and stupid to understand that his rash actions on August 25, 2020 will, for better or worse, likely brand him for the rest of his life. It is sad to behold, and sadder still that so many people are too busy clinging to their own hot takes to exercise the appropriate compassion for a soul that is very likely damned.

Whatever the case, we can only be sure of one thing in the next year. More American Frankensteins will be coming.

The Curse of Happiness

Here’s the irony about David Chase, the television producer who created the landmark series, The Sopranos. Much like the characters he created in the HBO mob drama, the man is a pillar of misery. He has everything in his life that should make him happy, but like a flock of ducks, happiness seems to elude him.

I’ve never heard Chase state this explicitly in any interview, but I think he always wanted to be a film maker. But somehow, he ended up as a television producer. He found himself chafing against the constraints of network sensibilities from the 1970’s when he served as a writer on The Rockford Files, to the 1990’s when he worked on Northern Exposure.

At long last, HBO and Chase came together in a match made in heaven. The lack of broadcast network control allowed Chase to write and produce The Sopranos with no creative inhibitions. In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, he stated that he thought the pilot would fail and he would turn it into an independent film. No such luck. Instead, The Sopranos was a groundbreaking, runaway smash that became the gold standard for everything that came after it on television.

After The Sopranos concluded, Chase made one film called, Not Fade Away. If you’ve never heard about it, there’s a reason. It was entirely forgettable.

Chase was plagued by fans and media figures who all wanted to know if he would ever make a sequel to The Sopranos. It is doubtful that he ever would have done so, even if James Gandolfini had lived. Chase is no more likely to spell out the meaning of the black screen of doom than George Martin is to finish his epic fantasy series. But I think he still wanted to make a film that would be taken seriously by both fans and critics. At 75 years and counting, what better way to go out on his own terms than to make a prequel to his greatest achievement? Yet, in a usual Chase twist, said prequel would hype the origin story of Tony Soprano, but would fake out hopefuls who would crowd into movie theaters everywhere. It would really be the origin story of Tony’s doomed protégé, Christopher Moltisanti by way of his father, Dicky (Alessandro Nivola), with Tony’s role relegated to the background.

So we get The Many Saints of Newark, a period piece set in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s that tells the story of tensions between the mafia in its glory days and African-American gangsters who were trying to break into the game amidst the Newark riots of 1968.

I won’t try to render a synopsis of the movie. It’s pretty convoluted. The high-lights include James Gandolfini’s real life son Michael playing teenage Tony. And here’s a nitpick from a blind fan. Many critics drool over how much Michael looks like his daddy, but he sure as shit doesn’t sound like him. The adolescent future mafia kingpin we are treated to sounds more like A. J., Tony’s wussbag son from the series.) I seriously doubt this was intentional.

Another irony. There’s a reason why television has come so far since the days of NYPD Blue and Seinfeld. It is the best visual medium for storytelling. If Chase had not caught lightning in a bottle with HBO and turned The Sopranos into a movie, he either would have been accused of doing Goodfellas light, or Analyze This heavy. But the idea of a mafia boss going to a psychiatrist to talk about his inner turmoil allowed the writers to meticulously build this universe of flawed characters. It was a formula, but a winning one that kept audiences coming back week after week, season after season. It was also a formula that could not be duplicated 14 years after the series finale. The complexity of the characters, the quiet moments that illustrated their three dimensional aspects, high-lighted by the occasional brutality of their lifestyle, could not be manufactured in a two-hour movie.

There were other things that worked against Chase. This movie was originally set to premier in September of 2020, but the production schedule was delayed due to an illness in Chase’s family. He wanted to direct it, but said illness forced him to turn the reins over to Alan Taylor. Then, there was the pandemic which hit the movie industry hard, shuttering movie theaters across the country and placing an emphasis on streaming services. Once again, this phenomenon worked for and against Chase. Many people found time to get introduced or reacquainted with The Sopranos as they sat stranded on their couches during lockdown like Uncle Junior. This should have stoked the fires of interest of Many Saints, but reports indicate that Chase was angered when he learned that HBO was going to drop the movie on their streaming platform on the same day when it was released to theaters. He clearly wanted this project to be treated solely as a feature film, but many fans regarded it as little more than a TV movie.

Sidebar: I have a buddy here in Omaha who is a movie buff and I invited him to go watch Many Saints with me in the theater when it premiered last Friday. He said, “It’s not really a big screen event. Let’s do pizza at my place and we can watch it there.” No such luck. His internet was down, so we had to settle for Independence Day and Husker volleyball.

After watching the movie alone in my living room with my cat, I have concluded that I am thoroughly against prequels. Whether it’s Breaking Bad, Star Wars or The Sopranos, writers can’t help but play connect-the-dots. Instead of scenes occurring organically, many of them have an obligatory feel, as if they have been created for fan service, rather than to serve a unique story. Many Saints is no different, with the rise and fall of Dickie Moltisanti, to a cameo by Tony’s future wife Carmela, to an ominous voice-over track from Michael Imperioli that falls like an Annville again and again. It does indeed feel as if Chase is ripping off Martin Scorsese, from the omnipresent source music in every scene to Ray Liotta playing the unlikely dual role of Christopher’s grandpa and grand uncle. It seems a shame that Chase can’t enjoy being shaped by his experiences as a television producer, but would rather exude Scorsese envy as he tries to break out on the big screen.

At the end of it all, the movie was just mediocre. I feel about it the same way I did about the Breaking Bad and Deadwood movies and how I’ll probably feel about the return of Dexter next month. It may have filled some bank accounts, but it was all rather superfluous. It probably would have come off better as a limited series, but that’s clearly not what Chase wanted. And in the typical style of Chase, nobody really got what they wanted. There’s talk of Terence Winter of Boardwalk Empire fame possibly producing a sequel, but I won’t hold my breath.

As for David Chase, I’m reminded of a line from The Crown, rendered by Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth. “That’s the thing about unhappiness. All it takes is for something worse to come along and you realize that it was actually happiness after all.”

Perhaps David Chase can have that one etched on his lonely tombstone in his lonely graveyard when his time comes at last.

“It’s What You Deserve!”

Most TV critics such as David Bianculli seem to agree that, if the Golden Age of Television occurred in the 1950’s in the age of I Love Lucy, than the Platinum Age of Television took place between 1999 and 2010, heralded by the rise of premium cable networks such as HBO. The Platinum Age was kicked off by The Sopranos and came to its natural conclusion with Game of Thrones.

One of the last great series of the Platinum Age was Boardwalk Empire. Most people don’t immediately mention it when they speak of the pantheon of great shows, but I recently rewatched the entire series and am reminded that Boardwalk Empire is a solid, consistently compelling piece of entertainment from start to finish.

The program was created by Sopranos alum Terence Winter and the pilot was directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, so it is no surprise that it is a gangster epic. Based on a novel by Nelson Johnson, the premise concerns the passing of Prohibition in 1920 and the subsequent rise of bootlegging gangsters across the country. The protagonist is Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), the fictional crime boss of Atlantic City who is loosely based on the real life politician, Enoch Johnson. In the pilot, Thompson’s youthful protégé Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), meets up with a young, inexperienced Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and the two commit a bold but ill-considered robbery of a shipment of whiskey. Naturally, because it’s a gangster story, the robbery goes wrong and a blood bath ensues.

Meanwhile, Nucky Thompson meets Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), a young Irish immigrant who is a supporter of the temperance movement because of her drunken, abusive husband. Thompson takes pity on her, so naturally, murder ensues. And, of course, we have the dogged law enforcement agent in the character of Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), who is dead sure that Thompson is a criminal mastermind, but who can’t convince his superiors of this obvious fact.

So begins the saga of Boardwalk Empire as we venture forth through this historical period and meet real life criminals such as Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. We also meet real law enforcement figures such as J. Edgar Hoover and Elliott Ness. We even get to meet political figures such as Warren Harding and Joe Kennedy. In true Wouk style, fictional characters mingle with historical figures and small, insignificant events mushroom and have a major impact on history.

Sidebar: Dana, since you’re about the only person who reads this blog, you might not be aware that Arnold Rothstein is best known as the gangster who fixed the World Series in 1919.

On the surface, Boardwalk Empire is a crime drama, but as is often the case with premium shows in the Platinum Age, there is far more beneath its seething façade than guns, booze and blood. Since it is a period piece, we get to see the state of race relations in the country, particularly through the eyes of Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), a local African-American criminal boss who is in league with Thompson. We see shades of the suffragette movement as Margaret fights for women’s right to vote. We see the lives of veterans of World War I as Jimmy returns home and meets his friend Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), a lethal sniper whose face was disfigured in combat. We even get a glimpse into the life of a closeted lesbian artist in the personage of Jimmy’s wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino.)

There are simply too many characters and stories to give their proper due in this entry. Special shout-outs go to Shea Whigham as Nucky’s brother Eli, Anthony Laciura as Nucky’s put-upon German butler Eddie Kessler, Charlie Cox as Irish hitman Owen Sleater, and Dabney Coleman as The Commodore, Nucky’s former mentor and the original architect of the modern Atlantic City. The Commodore’s lust for power is surpassed only by his lust for under-aged girls.

Boardwalk Empire is a masterpiece of storytelling with its intricate plotting, which sometimes weaves three or four stories together in various locations from New Jersey to New York City to Chicago. But at its heart, it is a crime epic, complete with the usual gangster tropes. Throughout the series, Nucky finds himself in various wars over booze and territory with Rothstein and Luciano, psychotic Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), and Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), an African-American drug lord who challenges Chalky, and even Jimmy Darmody himself. Since Buscemi is the unquestionable star of the show, you don’t often wonder how he’ll come out, but the enjoyment of the story is seeing how it plays out and which beloved supporting character will be the next to die.

Boardwalk is not perfect. No show can make that claim. Some characters exit the show before their time. The most obvious example of this is Jimmy, who exits the show after the second season. Alas, reliable internet gossip suggests that Michael Pitt was a talented but troubled actor and had to be let go for the good of the show. Other characters such as Agent Van Alden seem to outlast their usefulness. I found Van Alden’s arc to be fascinating when he was a pious prohibition agent who chased after Nucky, but less interesting after he fell from grace and ended up in Chicago in the employ of Al Capone.

Some critics seem to think that Steve Buscemi was miscast as an alpha male type gangster who controls an entire city. I don’t entirely disagree. I can buy Buscemi as the wheeling and dealing politician who is the master of the back room deal, but he doesn’t exude the menace necessary to prevail in physical conflicts with gunmen of New York and Chicago. Still, even if you aren’t entirely persuaded by Buscemi in the role, he is not a bad actor and the writing carries him through.

This is a minor nitpick, but the theme music is completely incompatible with the time period and feel of the series. “Straight Up and Down,” by the Brian Jonestown Massacre, is raw Scorsese with its heavy rock guitar feel and would have been far better suited to a ‘60’s or ‘70’s setting, rather than the Roaring ‘20’s.

The fifth and final season jumps ahead eight years and takes place in 1931, around the time that Prohibition was repealed in America. The truncated season has a Godfather II feel to it as we juxtapose a current day assassination conspiracy plot against Nucky in Cuba with flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood as he rises from poverty to power and makes one moral compromise after another along the way in service to The Commodore.

I mentioned that The Sopranos and Game of Thrones bookended the Platinum Age of Television. Whenever you hear those two landmark series referenced by fans, most will inevitably say something to the affect that, “The series is great, but the ending sucked.” This is not the case with Boardwalk Empire. Fans may or may not be able to predict the ending, but no one denies that it was fitting to the series that came before. The only two shows I have seen that stick the landing as well as Boardwalk Empire are Breaking Bad and The Shield.

It is impossible to reference the series finale without taking a moment to tip my hat to Gretchen Mol, who played the part of Gillian Darmody. Gillian is Jimmy’s mother and as the series progresses, it becomes clear that their relationship is far more dysfunctional and toxic than that of Tony and Livia Soprano. There are times throughout the story when I actively despised Gillian, but as we learn more about her past, I gained more sympathy for her. I cannot think of her ultimate fate now without being haunted by it. The arc of Gillian Darmody suggests writing that is expert at crafting the gray areas that typify the anti-heroes and anti-heroines of the Platinum Age of Television.

In a fortuitous turn of fate, I was putting the finishing touches on this entry when a news alert flashed across my phone. Michael K. Williams, who played Chalky White to perfection in this series, as well as Omar on another HBO crime epic, The Wire, was found dead. He was 54 years old. Mr. Williams was a master craftsman, every bit as talented as his Emmy magnet contemporaries like Gandolfini, Cranston and Dinklage. God bless MKW and all of his excellent work.

As for Boardwalk Empire, it stands up very well after seven years off the air. I suspect that history will treat it far more justly than it has treated its source material, The Volstead Act.

By Your Command

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a TV producer named Glen A. Larson decided to rip off George Lucas in an attempt to bring the hype of Star Wars to the small screen.

One year after Star Wars blasted into theaters across America, a science fiction popcorn extravaganza called Battlestar Galactica burst into living rooms everywhere.

The premise concerned the 12 colonies of humanity who were annihilated by the robotic Cylons in a sneak attack. Only a rag tag fleet of spaceships survived, headed by the Battlestar Galactica, commanded by Lorne Green as Captain William Adama. The series was a continuous chase between the surviving humans and the murderous Cylons, who sounded a lot like my first talking Apple 2-E computer in elementary school, as the humans desperately tried to seek out the 13th colony, known as Earth.

This translucent plagiarism did not go unnoticed by 20th Century Fox, who sued Universal Studios for copyright infringement. The results were an out-of-court settlement, while history has rendered its public judgment. Battlestar Galactica lasted for only one season spanning 24 TV episodes, ending in April of 1979. Every kid that I grew up with had Darth Vader or Han Solo on his lunch box. No one knew who Starbuck was.

21 years later, a writer/producer named Ronald D. Moore angrily parted ways with the producers of Star Trek: Voyager. On his way out the door, he penned a pithy manifesto explaining that Star Trek was becoming juvenile, irrelevant and outdated.

After working for four years on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Moore had enjoyed a good deal of creative freedom on the franchise’s sequel series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Moore got to explore themes as wide-ranging as war, religion, overt politics and paranoia; themes that were frowned upon by Gene Roddenberry in previous Trek incarnations. Moore found Voyager to be a tired rehash of TNG (which it was) and was ready for new challenges.

Moore might have gone down in TV obscurity with Carnivale being his greatest achievement, but then, the god of fate smiled upon Mr. Moore in particular, and Hollywood in general. The kiss of fortune came on September 11, 2001, when 19 Muslim extremists hijacked four American planes and turned them into missiles aimed at various targets on the East Coast. The dye was cast for America to enter into a long period that would come to be known as the war on terror.

This war saturated the socio-political landscape of America and more concretely, was waged with boots on the ground in Afghanistan and later, in Iraq.

Like popcorn pop culture, history has rendered its judgments on the war on terror, but in the meantime, a glut of new creative TV sprung forth from the creative loins of Hollywood from such producers as Joel Surnow, David Simon and, of course, Ronald D. Moore. All of these producers used the war on terror as a springboard for creative ideas ranging from an invincible counter terrorist agent, to analogous metaphors to the war on drugs, to the total annihilation of the human race in another galaxy far, far away.

Moore watched an unaired pilot of a resurrected Battlestar Galactica produced by Richard Hatch of the original BSG cast in the late ‘90’s. That flight into creative fancy became the basis for the new reimagined Battlestar Galactica in 2003. At first, BSG aired as a two-part miniseries on the Sci Fi Channel. The ratings were dismal and the show might have died without resurrection once again, but for the intervention of the BBC, who agreed to help finance the regular series if they could have the privilege of airing each new episode before it aired on Sci Fi. Everyone agreed and the show burst forth, much to the delight of critics and a growing fan base across two continents.

The basic premise of BSG 2003 was the same as its 1978 predecessor. The Cylons, a race of artificially intelligent but sentient life forms, obliterated the 12 colonies in a sneak nuclear attack. The remnants of the fleet fled, staying just one step ahead of the Cylons at every jump.

Several of the characters remained. Commander Bill Adama was played by Edward James Olmos, an actor who seems to only speak in a low, growly half whisper, yet who could project the necessary weighty moral authority to guide the fleet through one tragedy after another. English actor Jamie Bamber played his son, Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama. When it came to Starbuck, the powers that be did a very (ahem ahem) enlightened thing and swapped the gender. Starbuck became Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), much to the consternation of Dirk Benedict. James Callis played Dr. Gaius Baltar, the narcissistic scientist who betrayed humanity by unwittingly allowing the Cylons access to the defense systems on Caprica by way of his penis. Boomer, an African-American male Viper pilot from the original, became Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii (Grace Park), a female pilot who turns out to be a sleeper Cylon agent.

Moore stirred in some original ingredients to his interstellar brew. Included were Mary McDonnell as Laura Roslin. She begins the series as the cancer-stricken Secretary of Education, but is quickly promoted to President of the civilian fleet when she is the sole survivor in the political line of succession after the Cylon attack. Some of the best drama from the early seasons occurs as Roslin and Adama wrestle each other over moral, tactical and political decisions that affect the very survival of humanity. Tricia Helfer plays a Cylon agent known only as Six, and who appears only in the mind of Dr. Baltar; at least, early on in the series, until we learn that there are numerous copies of Six running around space in various get-ups.

And there is one of the great twists of the reboot. The Cylons are no longer cheesy ‘70’s era robots. They are now evolved into fully flesh and blood antagonists who can easily blend into the fleet and work to undermine the efforts of humanity to save itself by acting as spies, saboteurs and propagandists. Once the humans discover this, paranoia runs rampant throughout the fleet as the major question becomes, who is really human and who is really a Cylon? The stakes are further raised when we learn that Cylons cannot die, but merely download into another copy and return if they are killed.

The first two seasons of this epic series range from good to brilliant television. Moore did in deed surpass Star Trek (and even Star Wars) in his wish to tell a thoughtful, compelling story of human survival and desperation in the wake of a genocidal apocalypse. The tone and tenor of the series is best summed up by the premier episode, “33,” in which the fleet is attacked by the Cylons every 33 minutes, thereby depriving them of sleep. The episode climaxes with Starbuck and Apollo being forced to fire on one of their own vessels in fear of its being infiltrated by the enemy.

Other plots involve a continuous tug-of-war between Adama and Roslin over religion, Boomer’s inner conflict as she realizes that she is a Cylon, Baltar’s continual cerebral encounters with Six and the discovery of another military ship (The Pegasus) commanded by Michelle Forbes, which ultimately causes more problems than it solves.

If only Moore and company had not yielded to the lesser angels of their political souls, Battlestar Galactica might have gone down as one of the best science fiction TV epics of all time. Alas, cracks begin to appear in the show’s third season. The humans have settled on a planet they name New Caprica and are trying to rebuild their civilization when the Cylons show up and establish an occupation force. President Baltar immediately surrenders and is taken prisoner, the remaining space fleet jumps away in order to fight another day, and the planet bound military under the command of Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) forms a resistance to fight the invaders. Said resisters come complete with suicide bomb vests, which was a deliberate and sympathetic comment on the plight of insurgents battling U.S. forces in Iraq, circa 2006.

You can be skeptical of the wisdom of the Cylon occupation plot and still enjoy it as I did. The arc climaxes with an epic battle as Adama and Apollo return to save the survivors on New Caprica. More powerful than the battle was Colonel Tigh’s murder of his wife, whom he learns has been colluding with the Cylons.

Much of the remainder of the third season concerns the aftermath of New Caprica as the fleet continues to search for Earth. Baltar is held captive by the Cylons and he learns more about their culture. Starbuck and Tigh deal with PTSD. Apollo, Adama and Roslin all question their choices. A bunch of the crew hold boxing matches to work out their feelings. All of the main characters get married while being in love with someone else. Baltar is returned to the humans and is put on trial for the betrayal of his own people.

And this, my friends, is where the show officially descends into Stupidville. Apollo acts as Baltar’s lawyer and manages to get his client acquitted. This is due to an Aaron Sorkinesque speech in which he basically says, “Sure, President Baltar did some questionable things, but we all do questionable things in the fog of war.” Apollo’s assertion that there are always moral equivalents in war was a nonsensical means of letting Baltar (and by extension, the Cylons) off the hook. The anger and desperation that fueled the early episodes slowly gives way to a facile sense of proportionality that humans and Cylons are equally guilty, even though the Cylons committed genocide, which is acknowledged in our own civilization as a war crime. Rationalizations such as these are often made in comfortable circumstances around a conference table in Hollywood, far from the battlefield of reality.

About the same time as Baltar is getting off, several crew members begin humming notes to All Along the Watch Tower. They meet up in a cargo bay, set up a chorus of a humming choir and figure out that they are all sleeper Cylon agents. One of them is Colonel Tigh. Even though the groundwork was laid for this, the twist still falls flat.

Meanwhile, Starbuck, who died in a cosmic maelstrom three episodes before, suddenly reappears with no explanation and claims that she knows the way to Earth. If you were like me, you finished up the third season finale and muttered, “What the frack?” aloud.

The fourth season is a slog to finish. Starbuck keeps screaming, “WE’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!” which may as well be a metaphor for life in the writers’ room. Baltar becomes a David Koresh-style figure as he becomes the leader of a cult. The Cylons fall into civil war as they begin to question their campaign against humanity. Roslin keeps having weird visions that don’t ultimately amount to anything. Adama softens from a stalwart military figure into a flaccid consort who reverses and re-reverses himself whenever a character cries loudly enough. More characters keep prattling on about God, destiny, fate, etc.

By the time the humans make it to ancient Earth and we learn that we got our Greek mythology from the 12 colonies, I was too weary to care. All I can tell you is that Roslin succumbed to her cancer, Adama built a cabin somewhere in the wilderness and Starbuck disappeared without explanation.

Ahh, Gods. I don’t even have the energy to write about the two TV movies, Razor, and, The Plan.

Why did such a promising series go off the rails? The answer lies in TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s book, The Revolution Was Televised, in which he interviews Ronald D. Moore. Sepinwall dubs Battlestar Galactica as, “Sci-fi for the thinking man.” As Jonah Goldberg points out, only if you don’t think too hard.

BSG is a victim of high-minded pretentions that ultimately amount to nothing more than one big deus ex machina. The writers constantly tease the audience with the promise that the Cylons have some great master plan. As it turns out, their plan is a series of tortured, contorted retcons that make no sense. Moore admits that he merely relied on his instincts in plotting the series, particularly in the final two seasons. He had no grand vision as to where the fleet was going or what they were doing. The resurrection of Starbuck with no explanation is the ultimate proof of Moore’s rudderless, half-baked theologizing under the guise of science fiction. It’s one thing to engage in world-building, but quite another to betray your audience by making them feel cheated by failing to answer questions that you’ve dangled in front of them all along. Many fans compare the underwhelming series finale to that of Lost, another show that was much better at asking questions than it was at delivering satisfying payoffs.

I first tried watching this show during the platinum age of television back in the mid-2000’s. I ultimately gave it up because it was just too visual for me to follow. But I held out hope that one day, I might get it described. The Brits finally accommodated me, but I knew what I was in for. I was spoiled on the ending. Still, I wanted to make up my own mind. If anything, most fans have underplayed the idiocy of the final season and the finale.

Two spin-off series to BSG were attempted, Caprica and Blood and Chrome. Neither got very far, Moore having squandered his credibility with those whom he needed to entice for another investment. . Today, no one aside from diehard fans speaks much of the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Meanwhile, the world waits with baited breath for season three of The Mandalorian.

Put that on your algae cracker and have a good crunch, Mr. Moore. You can digest it and shit it out, along with the hard fact that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the better series. It is certainly more padded, but it is more consistently entertaining and explores most of the same themes as BSG and does so more effectively.

So say we all, except certain fan boys masquerading as critics. Such as Alan Cylonwall.

Final tidbit. One quote you hear repeated again and again is, “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” Think that’s deep? Wrong. That quote was lifted from Peter Pan. Maybe the ending would have been more satisfying if the crew of the Galactica had wound up in Never Neverland.

The Science Is Unsettled

As a man who has taken both shots of the miracle vaccine, let me now quote the right and honorable Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review.

“I am done with all this nonsense, whatever the CDC says.”

Contrary to all of the doomcasting from the fear-monger types, we are far from the same position in which we were in in April, 2020. Simply put, the vaccine was the game-changer and that bell cannot now be un-rung. We have distributed it to approximately 60 percent of our population freely and for free. The government is now begging people to take it. Though the messaging of the CDC and the president has been abysmal, America has done a better job of vaccinating its populous than almost any other country in the world.

When the pandemic first began, we knew very little about the virus. Remember wipe-down frenzies and hand-washing theater? But more to the point, the vaccine was only a vague light at the end of a dark tunnel; a tunnel that most experts predicted we might very well still be in today. The announcement of the arrival of not one…not two…but three vaccines by last Christmas was a miracle indeed. And yes, it was solid evidence of American exceptionalism.

Now, through its typical muddled messaging, the CDC would further undermine public confidence in the vaccine by insisting that those who are fully vaccinated should still wear a mask. This is patently absurd! The burden of responsibility has now shifted to the unvaccinated. If they choose to live in willful ignorance of the benefits of the vaccine versus the possible long term costs of contracting COVID-19, that is their choice. This choice applies equally to red and blue America.

Pssst! All you vaccine snobs. There are a lot more Team Blue anti-vaxers than you would care to admit.

I believed in masks when they were appropriate. I believed in health guidelines when all of society was at risk. But acting as if the situation on the ground hasn’t changed and that the vaccinated and unvaccinated should shoulder the burden of responsibility equally is typical bureaucratic illogic.

I will not surrender to the hysteria. I will wear a mask if my boss orders me to do so. I will not place a poor bus driver, store clerk or restaurant server in the position of being a mask cop; a job they didn’t sign up for. But my non-sexual default position is, mask off. The Delta variant will be disappearing in a matter of weeks and we will deal with mutations when they occur.

PS: Fuck Fauci. Fuck Walensky. If you want to hear a non-partisan medical expert who has been a voice of reason since the beginning of the pandemic, follow Scott Gottlieb.

Here is an article from the aforementioned Charles C. W. Cooke that serves as another excellent snapshot in time. If you find it useful, I highly recommend National Review for thoughtful conservative content, particularly the NRPlus digital feature.

COVID-19 Has Given Us Progressivism Unleashed
By Charles C. W. Cooke
July 29, 2021 2:08 PM

Thankfully, if history is any guide, the backlash will last a lot longer than the pandemic.

Earlier this week, the investor Paul Graham took to Twitter to criticize the many millions of Americans who have grown skeptical of the scientific establishment during the COVID-19 pandemic. “If you think you don’t trust scientists,” Graham wrote on Twitter, “you’re mistaken.” In reality, he wrote, “You trust scientists in a million different ways every time you step on a plane, or for that matter turn on your
tap or open a can of beans.”

On its own terms, this is of course correct. It’s also entirely non-responsive to the question at hand, which is why so many otherwise-reasonable people have come to conclude that “science” is being routinely used as a means by which to launder political authority. Over the last 16 months, institutions
from the CDC to the NIH to Facebook have been caught making up the rules as they go along — not because the data upon which they were relying was changing
by the minute, but because their political aims had shifted, so their rationale had to as well.

In an excellent piece over at Slate, Kerrington Powell and Vinay Prasad contend that public-health officials have a choice: They can either “report facts and uncertainties
transparently,” which is science; or they can “shape information, via nudges, to influence the public to take specific actions,” which is politics. What
they can’t do is both — at least, not without leading switched-on observers to recognize the ruse. “When experts or agencies deliver information to the
public that they consider possibly or definitively false to further a larger, often well-meaning agenda,” Powell and Prasad conclude, “they are telling
what is called a noble lie.” And noble lies ain’t science.

There is a good reason that American citizens do not tend to question the science behind why airplanes fly, and that is that American citizens are not
given constantly evolving rationales for why airplanes fly — or, even worse, lied to about how the mechanics of flight work in order to advance a discrete goal. If every time American Airlines overbooked a flight, the FAA issued a set of contradictory statements about the likely effects of uplift on aluminum wings, we’d have a lot more flight-skeptical Americans than we do —and with good reason.

Mercifully, this is not how governments behave when the issue is travel, plumbing, or beans. In the case of COVID, however, it absolutely has been. Since the pandemic started, we have been told that masks were useless and that they were imperative; that protests were disastrous super-spreader events and
that they were safe and necessary; that the lab-leak theory was racist, conspiracist nonsense and that it was the most plausible explanation; that any vaccine that was developed while Donald Trump was president was likely to be rushed and dangerous and that to refuse to take such a vaccine is death-cult-like behavior. It is true, of course, that “science” doesn’t care about any of this vacillation — SARS-CoV-2 will ravage your unvaccinated body without the slightest care for why you declined to protect yourself from it. It is also true, though, that when diametrically opposed theories are sold to the public under science’s auspices, people will quickly switch off. Figures such as Graham can snark as much as they wish about the beautiful immutability of the truth, but the reality is that, outside of a few kooks, the many Americans at whom those barbs are aimed are not really rejecting “science” so much as they are rejecting the people who have glued themselves to it as a means by which to accumulate more power.

That rejection is likely to survive the end of the pandemic. Indeed, if this trend continues, it will take a long time for American progressivism to recover from the fallout. In its Wilsonian form, progressivism is a system in which the elected branches attempt to permanently outsource many of the country’s key political decisions to an ostensibly disinterested technocracy. When that technocracy is trusted, as it was for a while in the early 20th century and again in the 1950s and early to mid 1960s, those attempts enjoy a sufficient degree of support. When that technocracy is not trusted, as was the case after the fall of Robert McNamara and during the malaise-ridden 1970s, those attempts create a mighty backlash. In the long run, progressivism will always fail,
because it is incompatible with human nature and because it is simply not possible to abolish politics, but it can work for a short while, providing that its technocrats have the discipline to prioritize science as a neutral process over “science” as a deceptive buzzword. Unfortunately for today’s progressives, the technocrats of this era chose precisely the opposite course.

Observers who wonder why so many within our government have been unwilling to let go of their power would do well to consider that the endless series of lockdowns, mask-mandates, and social-distancing rules that we have just lived through has been progressivism in its purest form. Just as war is the health of the state, the arrival of COVID-19 provided the perfect impetus for the rampant safetyism, unchecked authority, hysterical micromanagement, mawkish moral crusading, and interminable federal spending that the sorts of figures who graduate from public-policy and public-health programs spend their lives dreaming about. For the better part of two years now, they’ve had an absolute ball. If history is any guide, they’ll spend the next 20 or 30 picking up the tab.

Too Big to Fail

On June 20, 2021, the Special Committee formed to investigate sexual misconduct within the National Federation of the Blind issued an interim report. I read this report in full and found it to be deeply troubling, though not surprising.

For purposes of brevity, I will high-light one section that is a snapshot of the conclusions drawn by the external investigators. I will paste the relevant section below, then offer my analysis as an afterward.

Here is Section IV of the interim report:

IV.
LEADERSHIP RESPONSE TO SEXUAL MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS
AGAINST FREDRIC SCHROEDER
During the Committee’s work, it became increasingly clear that many within the
NFB community feel disappointment and frustration about how the NFB addressed
complaints alleging sexual misconduct on the part of Fredric Schroeder. Given Dr.
Schroeder’s prominence within the organization and the number of allegations about his
misconduct over the course of many years, it is not possible to conduct an objective
investigation of sexual misconduct within the NFB without addressing the subject of Fred
Schroeder. The Schroeder matter has been described, figuratively, as the elephant in the
room. In the Committee’s estimation, it has simmered within the organization for
decades, and the Committee believes it is healthy and necessary for the organization to
address it in a formal way in this Report. There are two principal reasons to do so. First,
Schroeder was a prominent figure within the organization and complaints concerning his
misconduct spanned close to four decades. Multiple people who either survived or
witnessed the misconduct have been affected. And, the handling, or mishandling, of that
misconduct has been identified by multiple witnesses as a factor contributing to their
mistrust of the organization’s assertion that it wants to improve the ways in which it
responds to these issues and, in some cases, to a decision to leave or decrease
participation in the organization. Second, the case illustrates the significant evolution in
the NFB’s response to sexual misconduct over the decades.
Because this aspect of the investigation concerns events and discussions occurring
over the course of decades, establishing every detail was not possible. Moreover, to
protect survivors, the Committee will not reveal specific details. Nonetheless, witness
accounts of conversations and events were largely consistent (with one notable exception
as set forth below) and several themes emerged. The preponderance of the evidence is
more than sufficient for the Committee to reach the following findings:
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
(e)
Schroeder engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of decades.
Although the Committee does not know the exact number of instances, the
Committee reasonably finds that there were many. Multiple women were
traumatized by him.
By the early 2000s, certain members of leadership were aware of
Schroeder’s misconduct and complaints relating to that misconduct.
Leadership’s response in those early days was not adequate.
Leadership’s response improved in and around 2014, as additional incidents
involving Schroeder were raised and as the transition from the Maurer
administration to the Riccobono administration occurred.
The response, however, was still not sufficient. Specifically, the decision
to support Schroeder’s candidacy for president of the World Blind Union
and to grant Schroeder a platform at annual conventions following his
resignation from NFB leadership positions was a mistake.
In our fourteen interviews concerning Schroeder’s misconduct and the response to
that misconduct, seven specific survivors of Schroeder’s misconduct were identified by
name. Witnesses described several additional incidents of sexual misconduct by
Schroeder but declined to identify the victims/survivors of those incidents. The survivors
allege misconduct of two distinct types on the part of Schroeder – predatory grooming
behavior with young women he mentored or supervised; and groping and aggressive acts
committed in connection with alcohol consumption. (Grooming is “manipulative
behavior that the abuser uses to gain access to potential victims, coerce them to agree to
be abused, and reduce the risk of being caught.” See https://www.rainn.org/
news/grooming-know-warning-signs.)
The Committee finds that, based on the statements of then-President Maurer and
additional witnesses with first-hand knowledge, leadership at the highest levels was
aware of the misconduct by 2002 at the latest. Specifically, after a report concerning
Schroeder’s misconduct was made to Louisiana Tech University in 2001 or 2002, then-
President Maurer learned of the complaint and discussed it with Schroeder and another
witness. The witness asserted that Dr. Maurer was upset that the witness had initiated the
complaint without talking with him first. Dr. Maurer admitted he was aware of the
complaint and recalls that the discussions at the time were centered around protecting the
reputation of the Louisiana Tech program and avoiding the potential fallout to that
program and to the Federation.
Five separate, credible witnesses have recounted additional confrontations or
conversations with then-President Maurer about Schroeder’s increasingly public
misconduct and the need to intercede. Each, however, came away with the clear
understanding that Dr. Maurer had no intention of intervening. The Committee
concludes that there was a sense of futility on the part of witnesses who brought to Dr.
Maurer concerns about Schroeder’s behavior. One of the witnesses reported talking with
Dr. Maurer about the issue before 2010. Meanwhile, an informal network of women
formed to protect younger members from Schroeder’s misconduct by devising creative
techniques for avoiding him or minimizing interactions. Dr. Maurer acknowledged
conversations with only one of these witnesses and with an additional person with whom
we have not spoken; he denied having any memory of the other conversations.
According to one witness, Dr. Maurer advised the witness that he intended for Dr.
Schroeder to become the president of the World Blind Union and did not want anything
to “derail” that. Dr. Maurer denied that that discussion occurred. Dr. Maurer explained,
however, that, as a result of Schroeder’s conduct, Dr. Maurer concluded that he could no
longer support Schroeder in his advancement within the NFB. Specifically, Dr. Maurer
stated that he would not support Schroeder as the next president of the NFB. Dr. Maurer
notified Schroeder of that decision in the fall of 2013. Notwithstanding the incredible
leadership Dr. Maurer provided during his tenure on many important issues, the
Committee concludes that, on this issue, Dr. Maurer failed in his duty to the Federation.
The Committee defers to the Board as to what, if any, action should be taken.
In or around October 2014, after Riccobono became president, a survivor came
forward after another incident involving Schroeder. She went initially to then-Treasurer
Pam Allen to report the incident, and thereafter the survivor and Ms. Allen met with
President Riccobono concerning the incident. The survivor reports understanding that, at
or around the same time, another person also came forward with allegations about
Schroeder.
Not long after, President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Jernigan, and Dr. Schroeder
gathered in Orlando to plan for an upcoming event. President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer,
and Mrs. Jernigan used the trip as an opportunity to meet with Schroeder about his
misconduct. Specifically, the group had concluded that Schroeder needed to resign from
his position as First Vice-President of the NFB Board and as President of the Virginia
affiliate. President Riccobono recalled that, when they confronted Schroeder with the
allegations (and before they had the chance to request Schroeder’s resignation), Schroeder
did not attempt to dispute the allegations and offered to resign. Thereafter, Schroeder
submitted his resignation to the Board, the members of which were made aware of the
most recent issue raised.
In the November 2014 Presidential Release, however, President Riccobono
announced to the membership that Schroeder had resigned from the NFB Board for
“personal reasons.” President Riccobono stated that, although Schroeder had left the
Board, he was not leaving the Federation; President Riccobono expressed his
appreciation for all the work Schroeder had done and would continue to do for the
Federation. At or around the same time, Schroeder resigned from the presidency of the
Virginia affiliate.
There was no announcement from either the national organization or the state
affiliate that Schroeder’s resignation had anything to do with misconduct. In addition to
remaining a member of the NFB, Schroeder maintained his roles on the boards of the
World Blind Union and the NBPCB. One survivor who had previously reported
Schroeder’s misconduct listened to the Release, watched for developments over the next
several months, and wondered, “why did I bother?”
Less than a year later, Schroeder spoke at the General Session of the NFB’s 2015
National Convention, giving a speech entitled, “The Blind in the World: Spreading The
Federation Message.” (2015 Agenda, General Session, July 9, 2015). He was given a
similar platform at the 2016 National Convention, giving the very first speech at the
General Session. (2016 Agenda, General Session, July 4, 2016) (“The Blind in the
World: Leadership, Philosophy, and Action on a Global Scale.”). A month later, with the
NFB’s express support, Schroeder became the President of the World Blind Union.
Meanwhile, Schroeder remained the President of the Board of the NBPCB, having
been so since July 2011. When another member’s certification as a blind professional
was revoked in 2019 for sexual misconduct, it was Schroeder who wrote the letter to him
explaining his options. The NFB also continued to give Schroeder a platform; in 2017,
he once again was given one of the general session slots at the National Convention.
In 2019, Schroeder’s reception at the National Convention was different. Edward
Bell, the Secretary-Treasurer of the NBPCB, was scheduled to speak during the General
Session about consumer-driven professional development. Dr. Bell unexpectedly had to
leave the Convention and asked Schroeder to take his place on the agenda; Dr. Bell
viewed Schroeder as a natural pick because Schroeder was then the President of the
NBPCB. Dr. Bell reported that he, like many in the NFB, was unaware of the reason for
Schroeder’s resignation from the NFB’s Board. The audience, however, did not know
about the change in speaker. As a result, there was no opportunity for audience members
to avoid the presentation had they wished to do so. Multiple witnesses reported to the
Committee that, when it became apparent Schroeder would be giving the speech, dozens
of people stood and left the room (“the 2019 Walk-Out”).
It was this event – when a large group of members literally voted with their feet –
that caused leadership to realize that the decisions they made in 2014 were not adequate.
Leadership recognized that Schroeder should no longer occupy such a prominent position
at NFB events or continue to lead the NBPCB Board.
Since January 2021, when the NFB retained an External Investigator for Code
complaints involving sexual misconduct, five complaints have been filed against
Schroeder alleging sexual misconduct that occurred prior to his resignation in 2014. The
External Investigator recently completed her investigation into those allegations, finding
in favor of the complainants and recommending that Schroeder be suspended from the
NFB for a period of five years, at which point he will be allowed to reapply for
membership if he has complied with several conditions. President Riccobono adopted
the External Investigator’s recommendations in full. He also notified the World Blind
Union of the suspension. On June 15, 2021, the World Blind Union announced
Schroeder’s early resignation from his position as president.
Based on these findings the Committee concludes that, until recently, the NFB’s
response to Schroeder’s misconduct has been inadequate. Multiple witnesses offered
their perspective on why this occurred, explaining that Schroeder’s undeniable
professional accomplishments and contributions to the blind community made it difficult
for any leader to insist that Schroeder be held accountable for his acts, and further that
there was a general belief that the sanctions applied in 2014 – effectively ending
Schroeder’s advancement within the NFB – were fairly serious. But the public-facing
information about Schroeder was obviously very different. Schroeder’s ongoing access to
prominent placement on the NFB’s National Convention agenda and the NFB’s visible
(and reportedly financial) support for Schroeder as president of the World Blind Union
created the distinct impression that the NFB had nothing but the highest regard for
Schroeder. That was not fair to the survivors of Schroeder’s misconduct.
The Committee further concludes that the 2019 Walk-Out was a galvanizing
moment for the NFB, sending a clear message from survivors and their allies that no
member was too important to be held fully accountable for sexual misconduct. The
Committee believes that that message has been received and accepted, as evidenced by
President Riccobono’s adoption of the External Investigator’s recommendation to suspend
Schroeder’s NFB membership.

End of excerpt:

If you take this report at face value (and I do), then it is damning, not only to Fred Schroeder, but to former President Marc Maurer as well. It is clear that Maurer was explicitly warned about Schroeder’s behavior for at least 20 years and chose to place Schroeder’s political advancement above the welfare of individual members. I firmly and fully believe that this is consistent with Maurer’s character, both as a leader and as a human being. Read my previous entry concerning Maurer’s comportment at the 2001 Leadership Seminar for further illumination.

My personal belief is that Maurer, and other unnamed leaders in the report, damn well knew of Schroeder’s behavior long before 2001. The report clearly states that Schroeder’s transgressions go back at least four decades. Stop and absorb the import of that for a moment. I cannot overstate my informed opinion that Dr. Maurer viewed any and all complainants about Fred Schroeder as an inconvenience and that his refusal to deal with the issue is due to callous negligence on his part.

What’s more, President Riccobono was fully aware of the allegations against Schroeder shortly after he assumed the presidency in July, 2014. Yet, even after Schroeder was removed from the national board and from the presidency of the Virginia affiliate, he continued to hold prominent positions in speaking slots at our national conventions. The public walk-out protest at the 2019 convention put an end to this, but note that this occurred over a year after the implementation of the Code of Conduct. Even though Schroeder’s speaking engagement at the 2019 convention was last minute, it still occurred with the approval of Riccobono. I cannot stress enough that every official event that takes place at a national convention happens with the active or passive approval of the president, whether it has been planned long term or occurs with short notice.

But even more chilling than the allegations set forth is the punishment handed down to Dr. Schroeder. I stand aghast at the notion that Schroeder could do what he did and only receive a five-year suspension from the organization. It is inconceivable to me why permanent expulsion would not be a more appropriate consequence.

In my initial entry on this topic, I said that heads must roll. Schroeder was exactly who I had in mind when I made that statement. I’ve been hearing his name since the late ‘90’s in connection with the perpetration of sexual harassment and assault. If a lowly, insignificant member such as myself heard it, it is certain that those who were and are far more prominent and powerful in the movement would have heard stories of his misdeeds as well. The suspension serves only as a reprieve for Schroeder, not a permanent consequence. His victims (both those who have and who have not come forward), surely realize this. Survivors at the hands of less powerful predators within the NFB have also received the implicit message sent by the leadership.

Permanent expulsion accompanied by a forceful, public condemnation of Schroeder by President Riccobono might have satisfied the optics of the situation and would have been a just punishment. Instead, his suspension smacks of just another back room deal struck by the president. Put another way, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder is too big to fail. I can’t help but think that this will only have a chilling effect on the complaint process going forward.

It is also noteworthy to examine Marc Maurer’s motivations for sweeping Schroeder’s misdeeds under the rug. The report makes it clear that Maurer intended for Schroeder to succeed him as president of the NFB. This is darkly illustrative of my previous entry in which I stated that presidents of the national organization are appointed, and that the election process by the convention body is a mere formality. Furthermore, Maurer wanted Schroeder to be the president of the World Blind Union. Yet, Schroeder has resigned early due to these emerging scandals. How’d that work out for the NFB, and for all of the blind who live in the world?

Men like Marc Maurer are gifted with a vast intellect, but said intellect often blinds them to other possible scenarios that may play out on the chess board outside of their field of control. But if Maurer could not foresee the fall-out from Schroeder’s behavior playing out on social media due to his generational viewpoint and his well-known lack of technological acumen, Riccobono should have possessed more sagacity.

The unholy marriage of political opportunism and the criminality of sexual misconduct, both in the mainstream political world and within the blindness community, cannot be denied. Section 4 of the committee’s report is a textbook example. I therefore renew my call for the NFB to adopt term limits for all national and state board members. One need only reread the section of the committee’s report on Fred Schroeder to understand the entrenched problems within the current governance of the NFB. Term limits are not an ideal solution to all the political ills, but in the specific case of the NFB at this specific time, I believe that they would solve more problems than they would create.

I will further state that, despite any task force, special committee or external investigator, the NFB will continue to experience these same structural failures until the leadership undergoes a transformation in culture. Such a transformation cannot occur without a free and open election at the top. If outsiders want to know when real change has happened, watch the national convention. When you see two candidates compete for the presidency, both chosen organically by grass roots campaigns, and when you see a vote occur that is not lopsided, then you will know that real change has come to the Federation.

Let me emphasize that I am not speaking of internal philosophical change. As my last entry states, I believe that the core principles of the NFB are sound. I’m speaking about shortcomings more fundamental to the dark side of human experience that transcend blindness; nepotism, cronyism and the viewing of human beings who are victims of criminal acts as collateral damage in the face of socio-political achievement.

Sadly, I have come to believe that my words, along with the cries of the survivors for justice, will fall on deaf ears. I wonder if more people won’t simply vote with their feet. I wonder if we’ll have enough of the membership left to hold the free and fair election that sparks my imagination.

The Dark Path

One week ago, the National Federation of the Blind took another step down the dark path of subtle metamorphosis. I’m not talking about the continuing firestorm over sexual misconduct. I’m speaking of policy. The NFB has now taken a public position on a controversy that should not be a blindness issue. It is the issue of so-called, “voter suppression.”

In Resolution 2021-02, the author makes the following provision:

“WHEREAS, the time and expense in obtaining state issued ID or other forms of identification can be onerous and therefore create a barrier for voters with
Disabilities;”

The action statements read as follows:

“BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this tenth day of July, 2021, that this organization condemn and deplore
all acts of suppression that make it difficult for blind and disabled voters to exercise their right to vote; and”

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that state and local election officials protect the right of voters with disabilities to cast a private
and independent ballot, as required by HAVA and Title II of the ADA, without having to provide difficult-to-obtain state-issued identification and documentation;
and”

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that all state and local governments implement legislation and election procedures necessary to expand
the number of polling locations so that they are accessible to public transit routes and so voters need only travel a reasonable distance to cast their
vote.”

I won’t go through all of the problems I have with this resolution. Others who spoke against it at the convention did a fine job of articulating its glaring weak points. Yet, in spite of very reasonable objections, it passed by a vote of 483/299.

This may seem like a minor event to some, but consider the enormity of what has just occurred. The National Federation of the Blind has now taken the position that obtaining a state ID is a form of voter suppression.

If you pay attention to current events, you know that this issue has been in the spotlight since the presidential election of 2020. Georgia, Texas and Arizona are just some of the states to come under fire from Democratic politicians, social justice activists and many members of a sympathetic media for attempting to tighten their election laws to prevent voter fraud; a problem that both political parties acknowledge exists. Corporate America has taken a stand, complete with the MLB moving the All-Star Baseball Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest. The president of the United States even compared new voting reform laws in red states to Jim Crow; a claim that is inflammatory and spurious.

My purpose in writing this is not to re-litigate the issue of voter ID. My larger purpose is to focus on the slow, gradual transformation that is taking hold of the NFB.

Whether you believe in voter suppression or not, if you are a member of the NFB, than you must believe as I do in the capabilities of blind people. Our contention has always been that our capabilities are equal to those of our sighted counterparts. By passing this resolution, the membership has now taken the position that we are a marginalized community that is, in fact, less capable than our sighted peers. Obtaining an ID is a hardship for us. This is not an issue of ballot accessibility or of privacy in the voting booth, but a basic issue of convenience.

The sentiments of those in favor of the resolution can best be summed up by a tweet from Patrick Bouchard, which states:

“Why do some people think we should exclusively speak up about issues that affect the blind and only the blind? Whatever happened to intersectionality? If something affects many people including us, we need to add our voice lest any solutions leave us out. #NFB21”

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. For years, there has been a growing strain of progressives within our organization who wish to shoehorn the NFB into larger causes with which the left sympathizes. One such example is so-called, “net neutrality,” championed by our late colleague, Rachel Olivero. Rachel brought a resolution to the floor in 2014 that would have had the NFB take a position in favor of net neutrality. It failed before the convention body because a majority of members felt that, despite claims to the contrary, net neutrality was not an issue specific to the blindness community.

Seven years later, we now see that the NFB has adopted the opposite view. We have abandoned our traditionally non-partisan stance in favor of a purely partisan political viewpoint. We have previously stayed out of mainstream controversies ranging from abortion to gun control to tribal identity politics within our movement and within the arena of public policy. The passage of resolution 2021-02 signifies that the wind is shifting. Today, its voter suppression. Tomorrow, it could very well be climate change, transgender athletes or police brutality.

Given the recent swell of woke language in statements from the leadership, I don’t foresee moderate influences gaining traction any time soon. If it continues to recede, there will come a point where many of us who hold views in opposition to the social justice movement will be forced to choose whether or not to continue to dedicate our time and energy to a movement that is no longer bipartisan. I do not look forward to such a choice, but to quote Phil Collins, “I can feel it comin’ in the air tonight.”

Beggar’s Choice

It’s been a few months since I’ve written about the issue of sexual misconduct in the NFB. I think it’s fair to say that the Federation has taken control of the narrative at this point. While the #MarchingTogether movement appears to have gone silent, the NFB leadership has conducted trainings in partnership with RAINN to raise awareness amongst chapter and affiliate leaders across the country. They have created a task force to deal with the issue and have appointed a special committee that will bring recommendations for systemic change in the culture.

Yesterday, I spoke with an attorney concerning issues I have been aware of in the past involving sexual misconduct within the leadership of the Federation. It was a difficult conversation and I must confess that it has left me shaken and shrouded in melancholy.

At one point, one of the two attorneys with whom I spoke asked me a very thought-provoking question. Given the fact that sexual abuse exists within all cultures and within all institutions populated by humans, is there anything that differentiates the blindness community from other institutions such as the church, the government or private corporations.

The larger question is, why do so many blind people who are actively or passively aware of sexual misconduct within their own community choose to stay silent on the matter? And when they do speak of the issue, why do they speak in whispers?

I’ve been dwelling upon this question for some months now and I firmly believe that the answer is, desperation.

If you read my previous entry, “Willful Blindness,” you know that the National Federation of the Blind has been a major power player within the blindness community since its inception in 1940. We have had a seat at the table in all major arenas; rehabilitation, vending, technology and legislation. Whether you have been a member, an opponent or a neutral bystander, if you are a blind person, you cannot deny the significant and largely positive impact that the NFB has had upon society over the past five decades. Even if you don’t care for our approach, you cannot quibble with the results.

The leadership is well aware of this fact. Those who have persevered to the ultimate corridors of power in the upper levels of the organization understand the stakes. It is within that framework of understanding that they have gaged acceptable levels of human collateral damage that come with the price of success.

But more to the point, the NFB has also been a primary creator of employment. We hire blind people at our national headquarters in Baltimore, at our three training centers in Colorado, Minnesota and Louisiana and at our numerous vending locations in the Business Enterprise Program throughout the country. We hire personnel to staff offices and positions in many of our state affiliates, we network with state rehab agencies friendly to the Federation philosophy and we have even made inroads into the government and private sectors with mainstream corporations, non-profits and government offices. Such examples include Target, Amazon and the Department of Labor.

For most blind people in western civilization, jobs are the ultimate in coveted currency. Many of us are raised to believe that we can compete on terms of equality for those jobs, but the reality is quite different. If you are blind, you know that many jobs are simply not open to you. Societal awareness and technological advancement have not yet afforded the opportunity for me to work as a police officer, a professional football player, a brain surgeon, a veterinarian, a restaurant server, a bank teller and scores of other occupations.

Many leaders in the NFB realize this plain fact despite their public rhetoric. As I told the lawyer today, “If you should lose your job at your law firm tomorrow, you could go work at a Wendy’s, a Best Buy or as an Uber driver if you’re desperate enough. Blind people don’t have that luxury.”

Every time a blind person fills out a job application, he/she has the big question at the back of their mind. Will I have the right tools to perform my work tasks successfully? Translated, this means, will the technology required be accessible to a non-visual worker? If the applicant should be fortunate enough to score an interview, another big question is raised. When should I disclose the fact that I am blind? None of these issues confront a sighted person, or even a visually impaired person with a large amount of vision, when they apply for a job. Even if you are successful in your job, you might not be able to rightfully advance due to simple issues of inaccessibility to the technology necessary to do your job effectively. Or you may be happy in your job, but suddenly find yourself unable to complete basic tasks which you have been doing for a long time due to a sudden upgrade in technology. This is the ever-shifting obstacle course that constantly confronts the blind working class in this country.

Those in power in the NFB understand this basic truth. They understand the power of positive networking. Those who are loyal to the cause are rewarded with career and monetary advancement. When you exist in a culture that emphasizes scholastic and professional achievement as the means to shatter societal barriers, the ultimate liberation comes in the graduation from government benefits to earned income. And that loyalty also comes with an unspoken understanding that those who are loyal will look the other way, and maybe even assist in the cover-up of criminal acts. I don’t paint all of the leadership with this broad brush, but there are vampires in positions of power who know full well that they have a legion of subordinates at their professional mercy.

I have more than a little empathy for people in this precarious position. I have worked for the NFB in various jobs, and I have worked for bosses who were sympathetic to the NFB. I have worked in the mainstream world and known what it’s like to be the blind outsider at a company of mostly sighted people. And I have been unemployed, waking up each day without the basic structure of a job to solidify my daily routine. I understand the disincentive to work, collecting a government paycheck. And I understand the fulfillment of depositing a paycheck into the bank that I earned with my own hands. I think it’s fair to say that I appreciate the occupational situation for the blind from every angle.

I have worked in jobs with a toxic atmosphere. I know what it’s like to come in every morning under a cloud of anxiety, asking myself, is today my last day? I have sat alone in my work area and seethed with nuclear rage, wanting so badly to go tell my boss to fuck off before storming out the front door. I have even been tempted to quit a job and go on Food Stamps. Note the title of this blog and soak up the irony of that statement. But then what? If I quit a job in righteous anger, how does it affect my resume? How do I just go out and get another job as a blind man? This is the sword that the NFB power structure holds at the neck of many of the silent members who are too intimidated to speak out against things they know to be wrong.

Never underestimate the power of a hard-earned paycheck. When Stacy Cervenka does interviews with the press and speaks of professional retaliation against the signatories of the open letter, I believe her. Cervenka started a movement, and much like the entrenched forces that went after Kenneth Jernigan in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, counter forces are determined to hit the vocal members of #MarchingTogether where they live and make them regret speaking out.

But there is another side to this. In my previous entry, I said that I stand firmly against the absolutist notion that silence is complicity. This is a blunt force club intended to coerce those on the sidelines into taking a stance. Naturally, if that stance should be in opposition to those who cry out for justice, then they are a part of the problem, not the solution. The paradox of this position is that those at the forefront of the #MarchingTogether movement who have adopted these social justice tactics are also fully aware of the terrible quandary that faces the majority of the blind membership of the NFB. When they raise the cry of, “Silence is violence,” they either thoughtlessly downplay or callously disregard the plight of many of those who stand in subordination to the leadership. They conveniently ignore the fact that, while principles and high-sounding battle cries on social media are all well and good, even a modest stand on the right side of an issue might mean the difference between a weekly paycheck and a monthly social security check. In its own way, this inflexible stance is every bit as poisonous and pernicious as the behavior of the elitist NFB power structure who seeks to suppress their open critics.

I know a good number of people who were and are in positions of leadership within the NFB. Most of them are good, honest people. Some are even victims of sexual violence. They want to make a difference, but they fear for their financial and professional security. If people on either side of the issue cannot understand the nuance that accompanies this gray area, then they have surrendered too much of themselves to their cause of choice.

I am sorry to say that I have been aware of sexual misconduct and have not done my part to root it out. I have paid for my lack of principle. I will continue to take the consequences. All I can do now is to stand up and try to speak the truth in order that future students at our training centers and members of our movement can go forth in relative safety.

My preceding thoughts on this issue serve as an explanation, not an excuse. Everyone inevitably faces his/her moment of truth. I faced my own personal and professional test and I failed. But the situation on the ground has changed drastically in the past 20 years. The #MarchingTogether movement has forced the NFB to acknowledge systemic problems in the ranks of its culture. Everyone is now well aware of the problem. Going forward, many people will be forced to take a stand. In the meantime, the leadership appears to be taking substantive steps toward meaningful change. Only time will tell whether or not they are truly in earnest.