Commentary

This fall, I’ll be teaching some of the most financially distressed students in America.

For a moment, Monday’s funeral for Michael Brown, the young black man shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, pulled our attention away from the protests and militarized police response and back to the body on the street. The police left Michael there in the middle of the road, under the midday sky, for over four hours, blood seeping from his head in a drying rivulet on the asphalt. “To have that boy lying there, like nobody cared about him.

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Last week, as I sat and watched the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of Michael Brown, I went through a range of emotions: rage, grief, depression. Even without the full details of the case, it was upsetting—horrifying really—to see another unarmed black body slain in the broad daylight for the entire world to see. For days and days, I tried to express the emotions that I was feeling, but my fingers went limp.

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I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Expressions of disbelief poured in from around the nation: "How can this be happening?" "I had no idea conditions were that bad." "My God, is this America?"

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At the end of the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart, as Senator Jefferson Smith, is in the midst of his filibuster against the corruption of the political machine that sent him to Capitol Hill as their lackey. Now he knows the truth and he’s taken over the floor of the Senate to tell it.

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For decades, the increasing precariousness of work has been a source of mass frustration for tens of millions of Americans. But the issue has been largely below the political radar.

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New Yorkers can view the disturbing images from Ferguson, Mo., with both horror and a sense of relief. There are certainly serious lapses in both race relations and police/community relations that surface too often in New York. The homicide of Eric Garner on Staten Island is evidence enough of that.

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In May 2013, low-wage workers in federal buildings in Washington began walking off the job in a series of one-day strikes. Employed by concessionaires and janitorial contractors at places like the Smithsonian and the Ronald Reagan Building, the workers said their rock-bottom wages weren't enough to survive on. Like the Walmart and fast-food workers also going on strike, they asked for better working conditions and a greater share of the spoils.

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There's been some, not a lot, of national attention to a New York scandal that has kept the chattering and political classes agog and aghast. Long story short, Cuomo kept hammering the legislature as corrupt, evidenced by a series of thefts and misappropriations. He created an investigative commission that lurched into the world of petty thievery, and then lurched into the more interesting question of who was giving huge dollars to who, and for what. This is the murky world of legal corruption.

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New York State once again is facing a dilemma.  This time, however, it’s a nice dilemma to have:  How should the state use the billions of dollars  it will receive in a settlement with a French bank?

The state was already headed for an estimated $2 billion surplus, but will get an additional $3.3 billion to $3.6 billion now that the French bank BNP Paribas reached a settlement deal with state and federal officials last month.  The settlement resolves charges that the bank violated U.S. trade sanctions and did business with clients in Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

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