Commentary Politics

Did You See Saul Alinsky the Other Night at The Kennedy Center?

Rebecca Sive

As President Obama and Rev. Sharpton entered The Kennedy Center, I got shivers down my spine. For, I could feel Saul Alinsky guiding them as they took their seats. There were these two men, trained in Alinsky’s methodology for achieving American justice, together to celebrate the life and work of another American justice-teacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, entering the President’s box.

Of course, had you looked, you wouldn’t really have seen Saul Alinsky (he died in 1972), but, I’m here to tell you, you would have seen Alinsky’s ghost, hovering behind the backs of President Obama, and his estimable companion, The Rev. Al Sharpton.

As President Obama and Rev. Sharpton entered The Kennedy Center, I got shivers down my spine. For, I could feel Saul Alinsky guiding them as they took their seats. There were these two men, trained in Alinsky’s methodology for achieving American justice, together to celebrate the life and work of another American justice-teacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, entering the President’s box.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

I admit:  I’m a cornball about this justice stuff. I blame it on my immigrant mother and Brooklyn-Jewish-ghetto-born father, who, in achieving their American dreams, (through dint of hard work, the G.I. Bill, and college scholarships), taught me to take-to-heart the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and justice for all.

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But, (and also thanks to my parents), I’m a serious politico. So, all I could think of, as I watched that night celebrating Dr. King, was:  Our success is palpable; our success is real; our crowd, the Alinsky as g-d crowd, has won.

In my serious-politico department, I, too, was trained in Alinsky’s methodology, by some Alinsky disciples, soon after I arrived in Chicago.  

However, I had been inspired to go down the Alinsky path a couple years before, when I met Alinsky himself. At that earlier time, the late, great Senator Paul Wellstone, (my college advisor), had invited Alinsky to the Carleton College campus. After the lecture, Paul invited a few of us to meet and chat with Alinsky.

As I write today, I don’t remember any of the substantive discussion that evening, but I sure do remember the evening’s feel. As though intimates of Alinsky’s, we students sat around a small table, in the basement of a dormitory and squeaked out a few questions, as we listened with amazement to what Alinsky had to tell us.

Why “amazement”? Well, the answer to that question gets to the very heart of the current discussions about Alinsky, prompted by Newt Gingrich’s statement: “Saul Alinsky radicalism is at the heart of Obama.”

Amazement because Alinsky told us we could be just like the Founding Fathers: radicals for the worthiest cause: equality and justice for all. 

A bit of historical context for those times (maybe, Newt the historian will find this of interest!): Those of us sitting around that Carleton table were motivated by our times: The hills were alive with the sound of freedom music, traversed by marches to end a war, surrounded by shouts for equality for women and African-Americans.

But, we knew that neither inspiration music or speeches, not marching, were sufficient to the need: We knew we also needed political skills, and an understanding of what this work would be about, on a day-to-day basis. Enter Saul Alinsky.

So, we listened, avidly, as Alinsky explained to us how our dreams could be achieved; what we were really in-for. And he made it clear: We wouldn’t get to the mountain-top by wishing, or praying, or by polite conversation in small rooms, nor even by participating in electoral politics. But we would get there by ORGANIZING with others to demand equal opportunity, a seat at the proverbial table, a voice that would count when decisions were made. (Just like those radicals the Founding Fathers.)

In his terrific piece for Politico (coulda been titled: I met Saul Alinsky, and you’re no Saul Alinsky), Alinsky’s biographer, Nicholas Von Hoffman, points-out that, contrary to Newt’s loose-lipped statements, President Obama never knew or met Saul Alinsky. (He was eleven years old at the time of Alinsky’s death.)

However, Newt is right when he connects the dots between President Obama and Saul Alinsky, for both the President, and many of his close colleagues, for instance his Kennedy-Center companion, Rev. Sharpton, take-to-heart what Alinsky taught: Speak truth to power, and organize to defeat powerful interests when they don’t have the peoples’ welfare at heart. (I cite this week’s State of the Union address as exhibit one in such a campaign.)

And while it’s true that progressives have bemoaned the fact that, at times, the President hasn’t been on this campaign trail, his association with Rev. Sharpton; indeed, his apparent closeness with Rev. Sharpton, suggest that the President does, indeed, want this Alinsky-style, speaking-truth-to-power sort of advice at (close) hand.

Otherwise, why in the world would Rev. Sharpton be sitting in the President’s box on any occasion, much less on one when the whole world is watching?  He’s just “too hot to handle,” as we used to say back on Rev. Sharpton’s Brooklyn streets. There’s just one inescapable conclusion here:  These two men are cut from the same cloth, and that cloth is from the robe Saul Alinsky wore.

One of James Brown’s (Rev. Sharpton’s first famous mentor! More on that later.) biggest hits was the anthem, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

Read the lyrics; they’re just amazing; they’re a community organizer’s anthem, for sure. 

Maybe, that’s it. This President, and this preacher, just like their — metaphorically-speaking — Founding Fathers, and their Jewish grandfather, Saul Alinsky, and their godfather (The Godfather), are proud, proud to assert (and fight for) their right to equality.

So, Newt: Have at it. We just want what Saul Alinsky organized for, and James Brown called for:

“Look a’here, some people say we got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lotta nerve
I say we won’t quit moving
Til we get what we deserve
We’ve been buked and we’ve been scourned
We’ve been treated bad, talked about
As just as sure as you’re born
But just as sure as it take
Two eyes to make a pair, huh
Brother, we can’t quit until we get our share”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.