Point of View Columns

It Must Be The Season

I am certain that there is the odd birther and the not uncommon G.O.Tea Partier who celebrated when the news reports surfaced regarding President Obama getting hit in the mouth during a pickup basketball game. But at the beginning of this week the Obama Administration absorbed a serious body blow that cannot possibly be the cause for celebration in any portion of the increasingly self-absorbed American body politic.

Over the weekend, Julian Assange, the self-appointed avatar of the truth (as he defines it) executed the largest leak of United States governmental files and secret information in the history of this country. The hundreds of thousands of files and millions of pages of correspondence and communication between the United States government and its political and diplomatic contacts abroad were disseminated by WikiLeaks and this deluge of confidential information has been the cause for celebration and dismay throughout the world. I am voting for dismay.

This massive dumping of confidential files, communications and information was done in the name of transparency, but clearly there have been no guiding principles involved. Being the coffee swilling private eye parked in a beat up Chevy in the parking lot of the motel of international diplomacy doesn’t strike me as particularly heroic or particularly helpful.

Knowing every internal conversation by every government does not help us to understand geopolitical forces and movements. Knowing that Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi is afraid of heights doesn’t tell us anything important. Now that we know that Saudi Arabian officials may have asked the United States to bomb Iran only tells us that a range of options, even outrageous ones, are always considered by even remotely intelligent individuals who are in positions of responsibility.

The WikiLeaks disclosures may have a harmful effect on the Obama Administration in its pursuit of various foreign policy and security goals and objectives, but no one really knows. It is very hard to prove a negative.

We do know, for example, that the Iranian-American doctor who escaped Iran on horseback and arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey having fled his captors in Iran, is now terrified that his family members living in Iran will be imprisoned, tortured or killed now that his story has been made public.

Who died and made Julian Assange the final judge as to who will live or die by reason of his disclosures? More importantly, one wonders what standards or criteria he employed in deciding what information was worth disclosing and what costs and consequences for others he was willing to consider as being acceptable.

The embarrassment suffered by American diplomats, but one has to wonder if communications in the future will be compromised or constrained both internally and on bilateral and multilateral bases. Frank conversations and blunt assessments have been a part of diplomacy and foreign policy from the earliest tribal days of humanity.

No one should be shocked or surprised by the candor that is found in these leaked documents. But even professional career diplomats will be fettered in their future work if there is the very real likelihood that there every thought, musing or hypothetical conjuring can be made public.

There is an old adage about two things that one never wants to see being made – one is sausage and the other is legislation. I would add foreign policy to an updated version.

If Julian Assange had uncovered corruption, fraud and deceit like the weaving of the myth of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that led to the hellish and damnable American invasion of Iraq I would be the first to applaud him. But this latest foray seems prurient and self-indulgent.

I am in favor of transparency, but there is reason that there are doors on bathrooms and curtains on bedrooms.

Point of View Columns

Reasons To Be Thankful — Continued

-I AM THANKFUL that November 6, 2012 is two years away because, as recent events have demonstrated, a lot can happen in just two years. With that in mind, it is not improbable, indeed it is very possible, that the right wing of the right wing will devour the center of the G.O.Tea Party while the progressive and moderate forces learn to practice the art of the possible and allow themselves to be motivated by the understanding the very high cost of another defeat.

-I AM THANKFUL that there are term limits for the presidency of the United States. While it would have seemed impossible to believe just two short years ago that George W. Bush would be a best-selling author and that pundits would wax nostalgic over the “Bush Years”, that is exactly what is taking place. Thank goodness the Constitution prevents some syrupy sappy clarion call for “the good old days” with The Decider at the helm. After all, Bush and his cohorts stole one election in 2000; it is certainly possible that they could do it again in 2012. I will not argue with the cynics, I am just glad that there are term limits.

-I AM THANKFUL that I am not traveling anywhere by airplane this week. The furor over the full body scans and the alternate “pat downs” is probably going to create gridlock all over America as righteous citizens warn “Don’t touch my junk!” This may be just one more sign of the coming of the apocalypse – mass stupidity posing as mass hysteria. The images seen on these scanners will probably not have many pornophiles snuffling around. The pat downs are probably no fun for the TSA staff either, but enduring a pat down has got to be better than being sorted into a body bag piece by piece because an undetected explosive blew a jetliner out of the sky. I can understand “Don’t touch my junk!” but I do believe that it is trumped by “Don’t blow up my junk!”

-I AM THANKFUL that during these terribly stressful and difficult times that there are still so many people who care. The outpouring of support and aid for the people of Haiti, the women of the Congo, the girls and women of Afghanistan, the homeless children of countless Diasporas of this planet continue even during these harsh times. While the amount of the support and aid may be somewhat diminished, I am thankful to know that there are still citizens on this planet who value humanity above all else.

-I AM THANKFUL that even though Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and every other holiday has been commercialized to the hilt, there are still occasions when we can actually give thanks for whatever blessings that we can count. For as we survey the landscape of this country and of this Earth, it is abundantly clear that not everyone has received the blessings that we may have received. And even though we might be tempted to ask for more and strive for more, it is best to take a moment to give thanks for what we have.

-I AM THANKFUL that I don’t watch “Dancing With the Stars” and that I am therefore only peripherally aware that Tea Party supporters of contestant Bristol Palin (daughter of Princess Warrior Sara), who call themselves “Bristol’s Pistols” have rigged the voting results so that the former First Daughter of Alaska will win. I don’t know whether to laugh or go to sleep.

-I AM THANKFUL that I was blessed with my father being in my life for forty-five years and that I am still blessed with my mother being present to this very day.

-AND FINALLY, to quote a famous 20th century poet —- Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) – Sylvester Stewart


Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving approaches and there are always reasons to give thanks…..and to there are always reasons to pause and consider:

Requiem for a Heavyweight

This past week the bi-partisan House Ethics Committee voted 9-1 to censure Congressman Charles Rangel setting the stage for a sad ending to a confluence of ethical standards and hypocrisy.

While the counsel for the Committee stated for the record that none of the actions of Congressman Rangel were “corrupt” or “self-aggrandizing”, the Committee voted to subject him the same punishment meted out to Congressman who were convicted of payroll fraud, sexual misconduct and the acceptance of bribes. One wonders if the other 434 members of Congress could withstand the scrutiny focused upon Congressman Rangel and whether censure would be the appropriate punishment in the final accounting.

Congressman Rangel asked for a delay in his hearing as he could no longer afford counsel. It turns out that the law firm that had been paid $2 million would not continue to represent him unless it could be assured that he could pay another $1 million.

Even if one can assume that this law firm actually rendered $ 2 million worth of legal service and counsel, how this firm could be so intransigent in its billing policy that it could not work out a fee payment arrangement with a client that had already paid millions of dollars is distressing and a depressing commentary on the practice of law.

Finally, newspaper columnists, bloggers and talking heads have been crowing and bellowing over the presumed demise of Congressman Rangel’s political career. An ounce of humanity or a drop of compassion is clearly in short supply these days. But it is worth pointing out that there are thousands of men and women who have been able to go to school, pursue careers, obtain decent housing and take care of their families because of the efforts of Congressman Rangel. His acknowledged imperfections cannot tarnish his accomplishments.

Those who sit in judgment of Charles Rangel, whether they are in Congress or in the media or in the street should look in the mirror to see if they measure up to the standards of accomplishment of the man that they now choose to pillory.

“Scottsboro Boys” – cont’d

The more that I learn about this travesty of a minstrel musical (it turns out that Rosa Parks makes a cameo appearance – the flesh crawls at this arrogant absence of good taste), I am baffled that there is so little protest.

It is not only black Americans that should be outraged. People of goodwill and good judgment should know that offensive material that poses as art should be subject to criticism at the very least.

I hasten to add that this is not a First Amendment issue. The producers and directors of this buck and wing spectacle posing as an historical perspective have every right to come up with whatever drivel that they choose. I am simply surprised at how anesthetized and desensitized too many of us have become.

Perhaps the outrages of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck, et. al. have permanently lowered our standards when it comes to good taste. If that is the case, then shame on us all.

Driving Miss Ginni Crazy

In a recent Point of View “Weekend Edition” I wrote about Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and her right wing of the right wing conservative organization. I then wrote about Mrs. Thomas and her bizarre post-dawn phone call to Anita Hill soliciting an apology to her husband.

Now it has been announced that Virginia Thomas is suspending the activities of her conservative cheerleading outfit because of “too much controversy”. Perhaps after the elections of November 2nd she feels like her mission has been accomplished. We can only hope that we have heard the last of her.

But I doubt it.

Have a great weekend!

Be My Guest

“I Saw ‘Scottsboro Boys'”-A Guest Column by Susan J. Eddington

I saw it and I was so appalled that I started to bolt shortly after the show began. I was in shock at the portrayal.

I wanted to immediately open my program to see what kind of person was so callous and disrespectful of this utter tragedy that they could dare to tell it with singing and dancing. I sat through it.

I was so tense and taut with anger that I felt myself frowning throughout the show. It got worse as it went on and on top of that there was a woman on the set who had no speaking role until the very end of the show when they turned her into Rosa Parks as she refused to get up on the bus. As if that redeemed the minstrel show.

The mostly white audience gave the cast a standing ovation at the end. I was trying to understand why? There is a tremendous disconnect between black and white folks if a primarily white audience thought this was a good telling of this sad story.

I stayed because I didn’t want to walk out on the black men in the cast. I hope that they will be able to take this experience on Broadway and find a role that will make them proud of their work.

Susan J. Eddington is president and chief thought leader for IMAGES-IMAGES, Inc., a marketing communications and management consulting firm. An accredited public relations counselor, she is currently studying media psychology for social change. To contribute to the images portrayed of African Americans in the media, Susan created “The Power of Two Together”, a campaign to identify and salute African American married couples whose relationship reflects the benefits of commitment and shared success. Susan can be reached at sjeddington@images-images.com or visit the Facebook page for TogetherNation.

Point of View Columns

Tears of a Clown

A sad and tragic joke would be telling the sad and tragic epic of the Scottsboro Boys as a Broadway musical. It would be even worse to use the historically demeaning and culturally offensive device of minstrelsy.

Who in their right mind would have to the bad taste to produce such an obscenity. And who would invest millions of dollars in the process?

A bit of history is in order. According to the Archives at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 3, 445 black men and women were lynched between 1882 and 1964. This does not take into account the tens of thousands of black men and women who were illegally imprisoned, beaten or driven from their homes.

The story of the Scottsboro Boys took place in 1931. Nine young black men were falsely accused of rape by two white women and in a rush to judgment they were tried, convicted and sentenced in record time by an Alabama court. Only the intercession of civil rights lawyers saved their lives with countless appeals, ultimately resulting in two Supreme Court decisions.

One decision affirmed the right of all defendants to a lawyer. The other decision declared it unlawful to exclude persons from juries because of their race. (One wonders what ruling might issue from Robertson, Alito, Scalia and Thomas – Four Blocks of Right Wing Granite on today’s Supreme Court)

What is clear is that the Scottsboro “boys” were denied counsel and that they were tried before juries from which black people had been excluded. What is also clear is that but for the intercession of lawyers from outside of Alabama they would have been executed on the basis of false allegations of rape by two white women, joining the legions of other black men who met their demise in a similar fashion.

It is this historical context that makes the Broadway minstrel muscial “Scottsboro Boys” so perplexing and unacceptable. I have seen reviews of the show and read words like “brilliant” and “riveting”. But there are boundaries of taste and sensitivity and historical respect that are worth observing, even in an artistic enterprise.

Using the name “redskins” as the name for a football team is an affront to all Native Americans, even if it is “just for fun”. Portraying Jews dancing the Hora at Auschwitz would be simply awful, no matter the ironic intent of the artist. Disco dancing in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11 is offensive even in its contemplation.

I have no doubt that the directors of “Scottsboro Boys”, had some artistic vision that is being articulated in this show. But minstrelsy – a truly distinct American art form that originated from white men imitating black men who were imitating white men who were imitating black men – is a device best left on the shelf of some art history class.

It is not the best way to introduce the subject of injustice to an audience that is largely ignorant with respect to the subject of lynching and miscarriages of justice that have been perpetrated against black Americans while most of America remained mute.

As noted, it takes millions of dollars to produce a Broadway musical. Most productions are financed the old fashioned way – “angels” (individuals or consortia that make their money by betting on which projects can become box office hits). These are very personal investments and mini-productions are organized for these “angels” who literally sit in judgment.

I wonder if any of these “angels” thought that minstrel musical “Scottsboro Boys” might be in bad taste? Were any of the angels concerned that there might be black men and women in the audience who lost uncles and fathers and aunts and sisters to the tsunami of outright violence against blacks that swept across this land less than a century ago?

I wonder if anyone cared. The fact that “Scottsboro Boys” is now on Broadway is the answer.

Be My Guest

A “Shellacking” or a Failure to Communicate? – Guest Column by David E. McClean, Ph.D.

Mr. Obama characterized what happened this past Tuesday as a “shellacking.” Well, that’s one way to look at it. But in that construction are the seeds of a fatal misinterpretation. If he takes away the wrong message, the progressive agenda will be in serious jeopardy, as will be his presidency.

In the course of the various campaigns across the country, the Republicans effectively, in many cases, saddled Mr. Obama with the old big spending and big deficits charge. But why didn’t the Democrats constantly point out that the deficit was growing under Bush’s watch, that the TARP was the original idea of George Bush’s Treasury Secretary, and that Bush himself effected a series of stimulus injections into the economy?

Somehow, that wasn’t “wasteful spending.” So long as a Republican does it, it never is, right? When the two unnecessary, wasteful and (some would say) criminal wars are brought up as examples of gargantuan wastes of lives and treasure, as black holes for American dollars, the Republicans prefer to look at their shoes and say, “Well, now, let’s not look backward. Let’s just move ahead.”

And the Democrats comply, for some odd reason. They cave to the “Let’s Support Our Troops” mantra so as not to appear soft or weak on “defense” (which meant, under the Bush Doctrine, pre-emptive offense).

While Mr. Bush spent trillions of dollars on unnecessary wars (the tally includes actual expenditures and future costs), the Democrats continue to allow the Republicans to silence them out of fear of the Republican charge of weakness. And the Republicans get away with it every time.

Let’s not look backward? Let’s move ahead? OK. When we look ahead, we see a fiscal nightmare, a steaming pile of fiscal wreckage. How did it come to be? The policies of the Republicans and “Dubya” put it there. And are we simply to forget that as though it were ancient history?

The Republican hypocrisy regarding their concern for “the bankrupting of future generations” is one of the absurdities of the political moment. It is hypocrisy because it is their policies and their failures to regulate properly, that, in large part, are now what jeopardizes those future generations. As I recall, under the last Democratic administration, the fiscal prospects for future generations looked fairly bright indeed.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats are called anti-business. So why didn’t they say, during campaign season, “Hell no, we are FOR business! That’s why we introduced 16 different tax cuts and tax incentives for small business. That’s right, 16 different tax reductions and incentives!”

Mr. Obama and the Democrats came to the aid of many banks and the auto industry (which were about to go over a cliff and take the country with them), and that ought to count as “pro-business” and “pro-jobs” as well, since the cascade effect of massive failures in those sectors would have hit the thousands of small businesses and workers who depend on them (tool makers, printers, delis, label makers, waitresses, messengers, etc.), as well as pushed-up the unemployment numbers not insignificantly (which would have cost the government countless more billions in unemployment benefit claims).

“Cash for clunkers” was a pro-business initiative, although castigated by ideological market libertarians as causing “artificial” demand. But all stimulus creates so-called “artificial” demand. The so-called Quantitative Easing (“QE”) of the Fed creates “artificial” demand.

To quote President Obama on this point, from many months ago, “That’s what stimulus is!” Fortunately, the Fed is not controlled by lunatics, and can move forward with its own version of stimulus in the form of QE.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats get blamed for the current budget deficit, which is north of a trillion dollars, as well as a run-away national debt (now north of $13 trillion, and rising). These are indeed frightful numbers, and we must do something about them, quickly.

But are they the fault of the Democrats and Mr. Obama? The fact is that much of the deficit is due to the policies of “Dubya” and his Republican enablers, who were so afraid of the next 9/11 that they turned on the money faucets (or should I say, pulled out the credit cards) to buy as much false security (in the form of military adventures) as they possibly could, rather than take a more intelligent approach to the international criminals that terrorists actually are.

To clean up the mess that the Bush years brought upon us, and to direct the country out of a deep recession, massive stimulus was needed. This is a basic and established tool of Keynesian economics, and much of Europe is applying the same strategy to stabilize and jump-start its economies. (What fools we all must be.)

It is a passing emergency action, not “another big government program” as the Republicans like to say it is to continue to saddle the Democrats with the label of “big spenders.” In fact, well over $300 billion of the stimulus package was tax cuts and tax incentives (see below).

And, as it turns out, it was the Republicans, in their protracted pouting and political strategy of non-cooperation with the “fascist-socialist-leftist” Mr. Obama, who resisted participating in a deficit reduction commission, which Mr. Obama had to call into being by Executive Order.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats get blamed for high taxes. But Mr. Obama and the Democrats cut taxes for over 95% of working families, and this is confirmed by a number of fact checking organizations, including PolitiFact: “We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses,” Mr. Obama said in the last State of the Union Address. “We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.” The final stimulus package contained well over $300 billion in tax cuts and tax incentives for individuals and small businesses.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats get blamed because the Bush tax cuts might expire on their watch, unless action is taken to extend them. The Bush and Republican sunset provision in the Bush tax cuts has morphed, as if by magic, into “a Democratic Party tax increase.” How convenient. But this discussion has been misframed.

The Bush law, which enacted enormous war time tax cuts for the wealthy (which has contributed greatly to the current deficit), contained the seeds of its own demise. Seeds planted by Mr. Bush, not Mr. Obama. If taxes return to pre-Bush-tax-cut levels, that is Mr. Bush’s fault, not the fault of Mr. Obama and the Democrats.

If it was Bush’s and the Republicans’ tax cut, why won’t the re-set of taxes to the status quo ante be, also, Bush’s and the Republicans’ doing? Of course, if the Bush tax cuts do not sunset, there will be a new hole blasted in the federal budget deficit — on some estimates a $5.04 Trillion1 hole, over ten years.

Of course, the Republicans, who live on Visa cards issued by the Treasury, would love to be budget balancers and tax cutters, all at the same time. They just can’t seem to get it through their heads that you can’t address the fiscal mess of deficits and a national debt that is over $13 trillion and, at the same time, call for yet more tax cuts – on top of those already enacted by Mr. Obama over the past 20 months.

You can’t bleed government at a time when it is highly leveraged. Of course, and last on this point, even most honest Republicans know that Mr. Bush created much of the current fiscal mess. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have as much to do with the creation of the odd-ball and so-called “Tea Party” as any disdain for Mr. Obama’s person or politics.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats get blamed for “dumping” all sorts of new regulations on the poor, hapless financial sector (the Dodd-Frank law). Heavens, why would anyone want to do such a thing to that collection of “innocents”?

Perhaps it is because the worst economic downturn since the 1930s is largely attributable to that sector? The market fundamentalists on CNBC and FOX continue to lament
the “uncertainty” that exists in the sector, “making it hard for executives to plan,” while all the new regulations required by Dodd-Frank are worked out, as though the system is collapsing under the weight of self-doubt.

Well, tough. The financial services sector can’t have it both ways. If it really wanted to avoid “all sorts of new regulations” it would have policed itself much better than it did. It behaved like a bunch of adolescents; it is awash in taxpayer money; and now it wants to cry that Daddy has come up with some new house rules that will take a year or so to sort themselves out. Again I say, tough.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats get blamed for Fannie and Freddie — and Barney Frank is the particular whipping boy for the Republican brief against those organizations. Why, they say, if the damned Democrats didn’t try to engage in “social engineering” so that people who couldn’t afford houses could afford them, Fannie and Freddie would not be living off of the government teats today!

But the liquidity that those entities provided was not the problem (in fact it helped GDP growth significantly over the years), just as credit default swaps, per se, were not the problem. Nor was securitization of mortgages, per se, the problem.

But in typical simplistic fashion the Republicans hold forth, framing and spinning their way along to further some weird agenda that has something to do with “tyrannical government.” The problem was that the system had become full of knaves in the form of bankers and mortgage brokers, and extremely poor risk management practices throughout.

The failure to create better risk management practices from loan origination through to securitization by the GSEs (Fannie and Freddie) to better rating controls by the rating agencies was, largely, the problem. Were there borrowers who tried to game the system? There certainly were. But it is up to responsible professionals in the system to stop the games and to detect the fraud. There are gamers in every system.

Of course, too many people were benefitting from the money party that was going on – even people who saw how things would eventually end – to take the punch bowl away. Blaming brown and black people in Cleveland, OH. or Islip, NY is just one of those framing things that Republicans are known for (which is why the party remains largely a party for whites only, and probably wants to stay that way, despite their efforts at “diversity” and their now-not-so-new pitch man, Mr. Steele).

But it’s a lie and it deflects attention away from the bankers, the lawyers, the traders and the real estate brokers who make up a good chunk of the Republican base. Much easier to place the blame for the economic collapse on poor folks trying to get and keep their first homes. And, wasn’t it George W. Bush who touted the “ownership society” and home ownership as salutary goals — the best ways to create personal wealth for self and family?

Mr. Obama and the Democrats get blamed because health care reform (“Obamacare”) is supposed to greatly expand the size of the federal government. The fact is that health care reform relies, largely, on existing, private insurance companies and the private insurance system (not a happy outcome for Obama’s left flank, to be sure).

When the health care bill passed, the stocks of many insurance companies actually went UP, not down in the face of their supposed eventual demise. Reform, or “Obamacare,” simply made sure that the social contract that we all share as Americans is honored when it comes to, at least, our basic needs – the need for food, for shelter, the need for medicine, the need for medical attention when sick.

The broken system (which is still broken, even after “Obamacare”) which repeatedly breached this contract was finally addressed, with only a modest long-term cost to the insurance industry, and the potential for some substantial gains as new premiums flood into the system.

So, why were all of these things not made clear during the mid-term campaigns? It appears that the Democrats, including Mr. Obama, were, once again, outflanked by the sharp, clear and simple rhetoric of the Republicans.

No more really need be said. Indeed, one of the problems of self-identified liberals and progressives is that we can’t resist the need to add our cherished little nuances and verbal footnotes, which proves to be our Achilles’ Heel over and over again. There is no doubt but that the outcome of the mid-term elections would have been very different if the facts, pointed out above, were repeated, in simple language, over and over again, non-stop, for the past six months.

Instead, Democrats let themselves get outdone by the Republican spin machine, which mechanically repeats its same two messages — cut taxes, kill the terrorists — ceaselessly. And so now we can watch the Republicans attempt to slap around our President, who already seems to be all too willing — for the sake of some naive peace — to appease, because, as he says, he and his agenda took a “shellacking” on November 2nd.

That the Dems took a “shellacking,” in terms of losses, is their own fault. It is their fault that they did not stick to the facts and to their accomplishments over the past two years.

It is their fault that the Republicans were permitted to frame the debate. It is their fault that so many of them were effete and tepid in the face of Republicans who never are (although they have, as mentioned, only two ideas — or so it seems).

On the other hand, for Mr. Obama to characterize what happened on Tuesday as a “shellacking” is to concede too much, and is to interpret erroneously. What took a “shellacking” was a caricature of the Democratic party’s policies and legislative successes.

That’s very different. When Mr. Obama was elected, he was elected with a mandate, and the country wanted much of what he gave it. His handling of the economic crisis will most certainly be recorded in the history books as nothing short of competent and mature, under difficult circumstances.

If, during the campaigns, the country was clearer on what his administration and the Democrats actually accomplished over the past twenty months, the House would still be controlled by the Democrats (or if control had to shift to the Republicans, it might have been by much smaller numbers).

This notion that mid-term elections always shift control is a dogma of political thought. It is often true, of course, but it need not always be true. In the case of the most recent elections, the failure to prevent that from happening, once again, has more to do with the inability of Democratic candidates to stay on point — and to know the points to stay on — than the hand of fate.

And this may prove tragic for the country, and to the good society for which liberals and progressives continue to fight.

David McClean is a philosopher and a member of the Newark, NJ faculty of Rutgers University, and ocassionally teaches at other colleges and universities. He is also the founding principal of The DMA Consulting Group, a Wall Street compliance, risk and goverance consultancy. You may read more of his commentaries at http://www.davidemcclean.us.

Point of View Columns

Global Homecoming

When I first heard of these plans I could hear the birther wing of the G.O.Tea Party claiming that the President was going to Indonesia, as part of a four country tour of Asia, in order to: a) find and destroy his birth certificate, b) announce that he was going into exile or c) to introduce the American people to his “real” family, complete with several wives and scores of children. So far the birthers have been disappointed and Fox News is scrambling for other faux news.

Upon further reflection, I do believe that President Obama’s visit to Indonesia points out another reason why he is an exceptional president in a time that demands exceptionalism from leadership. By reason of his mother’s marriage, President Obama lived in Indonesia for four years, from the age of six to the age of ten. He returned to the United States at the end of this time and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was in Indonesia that Barack Obama first went to school. It was in Indonesia that he learned to encounter and accept a different culture. And it was in Indonesia that he first learned to encounter the planet without holding his mother’s hand. There is no way to underestimate the profound value of this experience.

I went to Japan at the age of four. I attended a Japanese kindergarten and an English Catholic school and, because my family lived in totally Japanese neighborhoods, all of my friends were Japanese and I learned to speak fluent Japanese. I didn’t go to school in the United States until I was in the fifth grade.

I can speak from experience and with certitude that President Obama’s experience of living outside of America at an early age provided him with a perspective on the rest of the world – not just Indonesia. His childhood adventure was not an adventure for him; it was another chapter in his personal book of life.

He certainly learned as a child that there is more that links all people than separates us. Clearly culture, history, politics and religion impact upon the nature of every country and every person on earth. But people are truly people at the end of the day, and perhaps seeing the world through the eyes of the child can help to inform the mind of the adult.

One cannot help but think that the benighted and historically unfortunate foreign policy decisions that characterize the administration of George Bush might reflect his America-centric life and insular existence. Invading Iraq, Afghanistan and the “my way or the highway” attitude towards allies did nothing to make this country safer and did everything to alienate the world.

As we progress through the 21st century it will not be enough for America to just be the biggest and strongest country. Indeed, China and India and coalitions of nations may have something to say about those claims in any event. Understanding the world is certainly the first step towards this country being a better global partner.

Since he became president, Barack Obama has sought to repair and reinvent America’s alliances and relationships throughout the world. We can be certain that the boyhood experience of “Barry” Obama have helped to inform the worldview of President Obama and we are all the better for the vision that he has brought to the White House.

Be My Guest

Sobering and Encouraging News From the 2010 Midterm Elections – Guest Column by Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

The November 2010 elections had a lot of interesting results. First, it is clear that the Tea Party movement must be taken seriously,
Because it galvanized support around the country and removed Democrats and Republicans from incumbency positions.

More importantly, it was clear that much of the country was sour on the economic woes, searching for more jobs, and hoping to find ways to get our dollar moving in right direction. Despite the incredible efforts by President Obama in achieving significant economic success with the approval of the $800 billion stimulus and the new health-care bill, many saw the effort as reckless spending by Democrats rather than
meeting the critical needs to save jobs and improve the health of our nation’s people.
President Obama heard the criticism loud and clear and has not only agreed to work with Republicans, but has also called for meetings in November with the top Republican leadership.

This is a positive and encouraging sign. Despite the overall success of Republicans by reclaiming leadership in the House, Democrats still have a narrow lead in the Senate and will still be able to insist that parties come together to meet the enormous challenges that our economy faces.

There may well be some sunshine behind these dark clouds. The states of MA, CA, and NY remain largely Democratic. Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown won important positions against strenuous and expensive opponents to become California’s Democratic Senator and Governor, respectively.

At the same time, Andrew Cuomo was elected as the new Governor of New York, and both Senators Schumer and Gillibrand were re-elected to terms in the Senate.

Furthermore, MA had a clean sweep. After the shocking Scott Brown victory just months ago, Governor Deval Patrick, the first African American governor of the state, was reelected by a considerable margin, and all eight of the Ddemocratic House members were re-elected, several of whom faced their first serious challenges in many years.

Massachusetts is different, of course, but the Scott Brown victory, carried as it was by strong Tea Party support, was supposed to be a road map of sorts for Republicans to make serious inroads. Instead, the results, including the staggering defeat of initiatives to roll back affordable housing and the state sales tax suggest that voters understand the complexities of issues beyond sound bites.

Indeed, although Republican Charlie Baker sought to paint Deval Patrick as a colossal failure, voters repeatedly praised the governor for his steady hand in difficult times and thought that he deserved another term in office.

As was true for Deval Patrick this year in Massachusetts, 2012 will be a defining year for both President Obama and his future leadership, as well as for the Democratic Party’s ability to regain control over two branches of government.

If there is any chance of securing the presidency in 2012 and maintaining the Senate as well as possibly reconfiguring the House, it will require action on at least two levels.

In terms of policy, Democrats will have to articulate a compelling economic platform, supported by significant job growth in addition to demonstrating more genuine determination to address the obvious frustration and anger that is so prevalent in this country.

In terms of voter outreach, President Obama and his fellow Democrats will have to tap into the enthusiasm he was able to create with voters in 2008 generally and especially with
black and young voters.

Again, contrary to popular caricatures, Massachusetts can stand as a bellwether. Going into the election the prevailing opinion was that here, as across the nation, Republicans would be swept into office on the tide of an enthusiasm gap. The expectation was that their emotional support for their candidates would motivate their voters to the polls in overwhelming numbers.

I am not a polling expert, but while that may have been the case elsewhere in the country, here in Massachusetts we did in fact have near record turnout and the results suggest that the enthusiasm gap may not be as large as projected.

Charles J. Ogletree is Jesse Climenko Professor at Harvard Law School, the founder of the school’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, and the author of numerous books on legal topics.

Be My Guest

Cholera In Haiti – No Time to Argue – Guest Column by Herb Boyd

It’s almost three weeks since I was part of delegation to Haiti under the leadership of Dr. Ron Daniels, founder and president of the Haiti Support Project. Fortunately, we were back weeks before the outbreak of Cholera which has presently consumed the news cycle about the troubled island nation, still trying to recover from a devastating earthquake in January.

This was my second trip to Haiti this year. Dr. Daniels led a delegation there in February, right after the earthquake and we saw first hand how widespread and destructive the disaster was. From our residence just north of St. Marc we often crossed the Artibonite River, a region cited now as the epicenter of the cholera epidemic which to date has taken more than 300 lives.

It wasn’t unusual to see people bathing in the river, walking away with containers of water, washing their clothes, or even urinating in it. The river, for eons, has been a vital source to residents in the area.

Since we lived near the center of the outbreak naturally I was reminded of our stay there, and even more so recalling the most recent trip which took us all over the island, including a torturous trip to the Central Plateau.

Outside of Mirebalais, where the road is undergoing serious repair, one of our guides began to vomit profusely. We stopped the bus and allowed him to relieve himself, secured him some water, and insisted that he sit next to the window for the remainder of the trip.

Heavy vomiting is one of the symptoms of cholera but that disease never crossed our minds as we sought to help him. We attributed it to something he had eaten, or possibly motion sickness from a particularly bumping ride through Mirebalais and elsewhere.
Two weeks later, back in the states, my videographer came down with three days of severe diarrhea. He was very dehydrated and had to seek medical treatment from his doctor. This too occurred before the reports of Haiti’s cholera swept the world.

From our tour guide and my videographer I was given some indications of how the disease can hit all of sudden and debilitate, though I am sure that neither of my traveling companions is afflicted. But hundreds of others are and now comes all sorts of rumors and theories about the origin and who is responsible for the recent outbreak.

This past Sunday on Gil Noble’s “Like It Is” on ABC-TV, City Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene was hesitant to say what might have caused the current outbreak of the disease, carefully shying away from a few of the theories now making the circuit.

Joining Dr. Eugene on the show was activist Smith Georges who was also reluctant to indicate exactly the source or the time of the outbreak, though he did note that it is rather odd that it’s taken so long to occur given the months since the earthquake.

Others have suggested that the cholera may have been brought in by outsiders, perhaps as Georges reported, from the many foreign troops dispatched to Haiti after the disaster or foreign workers with the various NGOs.

It does seem strange that there has been no cholera in Haiti for more than a half century and that the nation was spared an outbreak in Latin America in recent times.

There is no end to the theories of origin but what is uppermost now is to fight the spread of the disease and hope it doesn’t reach the crowded tent communities in and around Port au Prince. Like smallpox, one incidence of cholera could wreak havoc and leave in its wake thousands of fatalities.

Clean and potable water, antibiotics, and other medical supplies are desperately needed, and this has nothing to do with when or where the disease started.

Herb Boyd is an author, activist, teacher and journalist and is a roving reporter for http://www.television.org – He is a resident of Harlem, New York

Be My Guest

A Kentucky Point of View of November 2nd – A Be My Guest Column by Sheila J. Williams

“We’ve come to take our government back.”
Senator-elect Rand Paul

I live in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, birthplace of bourbon and home of Rand Paul. It’s been a frustrating election, especially if you aren’t sporting a “Take back America!” bumper sticker on your SUV. As a descendant of people who lived here generations before the Star-Spangled Banner was composed, the slogan fills me with fury.

Last night, I was upset and paranoid. There are many campaign signs in my neighborhood supporting the candidate who opined that perhaps the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went too far. Is our country poised to lurch back to the good old days? The days of separate drinking fountains? The days when my mother could buy a dress at a store but wasn’t allowed to try it on, much less return it once she had? Should I move somewhere else like Guatemala? Antarctica?

Reactions aren’t always productive but they can often be useful. They allow us the space and time to absorb shock and recover. It’s our responses that make the difference. I gave myself an hour to rant and scream. Now, it’s time to respond.

I draw strength and inspiration from the resiliency of my ancestors as they fought against unjust laws and policies in times more dangerous than ours; when reading was a crime, when they were taxed without representation and fought for a country that refused to recognize their humanity. They were tenacious, never giving up regardless of how bad conditions were or how favorable they appeared to be. And they survived.

Now it’s my turn. I must commit myself to action in support of what I know to be right, tenaciously work towards justice for all and maintain vigilance in the face of those who seek to return to the “good old days”. If I want to look back at those days, I’ll read an historical novel. I choose to look forward.

(But there are a whole lot of folks in my neighborhood that I may not be speaking to anymore. Bless their hearts.)

Sheila J. Williams is the author of four published novels including Dancing on the Edge of the Roof. She teaches creative writing for UCLA Extension. Her current project is a memoir of her family history from the early 1700s to present day. For more information please go to http://www.sheilajwilliams.com