Point of View Columns

Wolves in Wolf’s Clothing

Since its raucous birth in the spring of 2009 the Tea Party Movement has bawled and brayed that its foundation is based upon principles of fiscal probity. Balancing the federal budget was the one banner under which all of the Tea Partiers marched and the budget became the field upon which all battles would be fought.

Most reasonable people would agree that reckless financing is not a good way to run a government – federal, state and local. But most reasonable people would also agree that government is not a business and it exists to serve and service the people within its jurisdiction, not turn a profit.

When the federal government incurs debt in order to provide services and to insure that this country is prepared for the future, it is not wrong and it is not evil. It is what government is supposed to do.

Much has been made of the metaphor of the “typical” American family that keeps its finances in order and never, ever, ever lives beyond its means. Of course that is a myth of absurd proportions.

While too many Americans live beyond their means by floating on flimsy credit on the seas of debt, even prudent families borrow money for important items that cannot be covered by day to day revenue – housing (mortgages), education (college loans) and transportation (automobile loans).

The fact that the federal government would borrow in order to provide for infrastructure maintenance and development, health, education, defense and countless other invaluable and indispensable services should not be the cause of alarm.

A reliable infrastructure is crucial to commercial progress. An unhealthy and uneducated nation simply cannot compete in the global marketplace. And while defense may seem to be an obvious function of government, there has to be something worth defending in the first place.

But the Tea Partiers and the G.O.Tea Party and the right wing of the right wing have beaten the budget drum slowly and loudly. No service and no cause is too important that it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget.

Yet no one mentions to these naked emperors and empresses that it will be impossible to take even baby steps down the road towards a balanced budget as long a gargantuan tax cuts are doled out to the richest of the rich in perpetuity.

You don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winning economist to realize that the Holy Grail of the Tea Partiers and their ilk is not a balanced budget. Their goal is the dismantling of government as it has existed for the last half century, in the process eviscerating and eliminating programs that have goals and objectives that are contrary to their belief system.

Their goal is rolling back the socio-political agenda that has given rise to civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, environmental guardianship and investment in the future.

The Tea Partiers and the right wing of the right wing have not been subtle as they seek to wield a cleaver to the federal budget with Viking-like precision. Two weeks ago the Republican led United States House of Representatives (infused with the fury of over 80 Republican freshmen) voted budget cuts that would virtually cripple the Public Broadcast System and Planned Parenthood.

The total expenditures involved are miniscule in the context of the trillions of dollars in the federal budget or the $100 billion budget cutting goal of the Tea Partiers themselves.

But there must be blood. And the blood sought is clearly flowing through the veins of programs and initiatives that help men, women and children who need assistance.

Not just impoverished Americans but young people who want to go to college and young families who want their children to have the early childhood advantage of Head Start. There are programs on the killing floor that will repair and build an infrastructure that will help the entrepreneurs of the future compete rather than migrate to China, India and Europe where those expenditures and investments have been made for over two decades and counting.

Meanwhile Midas-like Wall Street bonuses and bloated farm subsidies remain intact and untouchable. The accretion of wealth is glorified and tomorrow is supposed to take care of itself.

No family and no country can survive with that kind of plan. The Tea Partiers don’t have a plan – they have a vision and the consequences of that vision could be awful not only for today, but for many tomorrows to come.

Say this for the Tea Partiers. They haven’t tried to deceive. Indeed, they are wolves in wolf’s clothing.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 25, 2011

This week Motown came to the White House and from all appearances, everyone had a great time – President Obama had a chance to dance with someone other than the Republicans. Meanwhile rumors persist that Donald Trump might be a presidential candidate. Also, how long will Barack Obama continue to ignore Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on his wife. And finally, how long before the freedom movement moves from North Africa to the rest of Africa?

Obama vs. Trump in 2012?

In a recent hypothetical poll Donald Trump and Barack Obama were in a statistical dead heat in a 2012 run for the presidency. I don’t know who was polled but I do know that more people voted in the last “American Idol” competition than in the last presidential election. Therefore there is a strong likelihood that Trump’s self-proclaimed star power propelled him to these Olympian polling heights.

I also think that President Obama and his advisors are crossing their fingers and lighting votive candles all over the place hoping that The Donald and his hair would somehow be the Republican nominee next year. Just his presence in the Republican primaries would roil the right wing waters all over the place.

While it is true that sometime the American public confuses celebrity with competence the presidency is not another reality show. It makes all the sense in the world to take Donald Trump seriously as an entrepreneur and promoter. It makes no sense to take him seriously as a presidential candidate.

The real question – could Barack Obama be so lucky?

Obama vs. Limbaugh?

Barack Obama is famously know for being cool, unflappable and restrained. Nowhere has this restraint been more evident than in his non-response to the ever infamous Rush Limbaugh. This is the same Rush Limbaugh who stated publicly that he wanted Barack Obama to “fail” as President of the United States.

In his latest foray into swamp talk Limbaugh referred to Michelle Obama as a hypocrite for urging Americans to have healthier eating habits while she herself occasionally dines on something less healthy than tofu.

Limbaugh, the overweight, cigar chomping, recovering addict, also proceeded to opine on the attractiveness of the First Lady of the United States. In his view Michelle Obama wouldn’t qualify as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and Alex Rodriguez would never ask her for a date.

Perhaps it’s best that Limbaugh chose to pick on the wife of a man who is restrained, calm and cool. By now any number of men would be knocking on Rush’s front door before kicking him in the rear.

African Freedom?

Since the insurrection in Tunisia, followed by the revolts in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, there have been constant news reports and analyses regarding “change that is sweeping through the Arab world”.

A look at the map will reveal that all of the aforementioned countries are in Africa and that the “change” taking place involves the replacement of sclerotic regimes that have been around for too long.

Africa is a big place, however, and we should also note that there are a number of other African countries with regimes that have been around too long to the detriment of their people.

Consider – Teodoro Obiang – Equatorial Guinea – 32 years, Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe – 24 years, Yoweri Museveni – 25 years, the Bongo family – Gabon – 43 years.

Do not be surprised if the “change” sweeping its way across North Africa turns south sooner than later.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

The Confederacy – The American Reich

In a singularly perverted observation of Black History Month, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour stated last week that he had no problems with a new state license plate that honors Nathan Bedford Forrest. That would be the same Nathan Bedford Forrest who was a Confederate general and one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.

The ensuing controversy was nothing short of bizarre, even for these bizarre times. Some Forrest apologists argued that he was only “one” of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan and he shouldn’t be burdened with the entire guilt of paternity involving this consortium of terrorist racists. Others claimed that regardless of his “imperfections” he was an outstanding general, perhaps a military genius, and he deserved honor for his martial accomplishments.

Rather than jump down the rabbit hole with Haley Barbour and the pitiful adherents to this concept of Southern “heritage” and “tradition” I am choosing to stand on the solid ground of history and fact. For too long the flying of Confederate flags, the celebration of the secession of southern states and the glorification of the “Southern way of life” has been the subject of debate. It is time for that debate to end.

The entire way of life in the southern states that seceded from the United States was based on slavery. Unlike the Germans at the end of World War II who claimed that they were unaware of the horror of the concentration camps, every conscious white man, woman and child in the South was absolutely aware of the forced bondage of millions of black men, women and children.

Like their moral bretheren the Nazis, the slave owners, slave masters and slave traders along with their wives, children and political supporters established an awful but efficient system because it was to their advantage. The Nazis chose the Jews, the slave owners chose black people.

Their approaches were similar. The religious and philosophical gymnastics used to justify the enslavement of black people would have sounded familiar to the Nazis as they justified the persecution and murder of Jews.

There was nothing endearing, uplifting or worthy of praise in a system that bought, sold, tortured and oppressed human beings on a daily basis. There is no honor in a “heritage” that accepted the brutalizing of the spirit of the slaves – and the slave masters. The “Southern way of life” embraced and endorsed rape, murder, torture and degradation. There is simply no escaping these facts.

I do not believe that the men and women whose family trees have their roots in the South should engage in eternal penance. I also do not believe that these men and women should blithely engage in the creation of a mythical history that absolves the sins of their mothers and fathers.

This is not only disrespectful of the memory of the men and women who suffered their entire lives as the property of a society as cruel and despicable as any in modern history. It is also dangerous, because by ignoring the facts of history we run the risk of not perceiving its recurrence.

The Confederacy was the American Reich. It was a relatively successful social and economic system that was built on the belief that the supposed inferiority of some people could be used for the benefit of the majority. There were psychic as well as economic values to this system – feeling superior to someone, anyone, anesthetizes the pain of personal insecurity and failure.

Like the Third Reich, the American Reich was worth fighting for, long after defeat was guaranteed. The “way of life” – legal and legitimized bias, prejudice and cruelty was worth dying for, and hundreds of thousands did just that.

Like the Third Reich, adherents of the American Reich continued to guard the flame of their wretched dream. The Nazis took to hiding in Argentina and Paraguay awaiting their return to glory. The Confederates went lurking in the dark woods of the South, wearing sheets, engaging in silly rituals and murdering black people in the middle of the night.

The dreams of the Third Reich have dimmed. There is no United States governor who would give cover to the Nazis. There are no statewide celebrations of the Third Reich (in the United States or Germany) replete with goose steps and brown shirts.

However, the dreams of the American Reich seem to be alive and well in too many places.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 18, 2011

The first tendrils of Spring appear in seeming defiance of Winter’s presence. The Arab world is simmering and no one knows what broth will ensue. U.S. states are returning billions of dollars to the federal government as their citizens search for jobs. And Donald Trump continues to act as if he was a direct descendant of Barnum.

The Missing Safety Valve

In all of the discussion and controversy concerning the political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East there has been no shortage of theories and pronouncements as to what caused this frenzy of political awakenings. The internet and Facebook are given as major enablers of the ongoing rebellions and revolutions. The not so glowing example of democracy at work in Iraq is rarely cited.

But we should certainly consider the fact that over the past decade the United States and most countries in Europe have imposed more restrictions on immigration either through legislation or administrative practice. These restrictions have given special attention to those seeking to leave North Africa and the Middle East. Could there be a connection here?

After all, in the past educated and ambitious and eclectic men and women from places like Tunisia and Algeria and Egypt could emigrate to someplace and pursue their hopes and dreams.
Whatever their motives, many of them shared a common dissatisfaction with the status quo and the marble ceiling that was constructed over their ambitions.

Since 9/11, most of these “dissenters” do not have the option of moving to America or Europe. But their dissatisfaction with the status quo has not abated. The result has been the turmoil that we see every day and we will, in all likelihood, continue to see the drive for change.

It may turn out that Europe and America were the safety valves for the oligarchs and monarchs in the Middle East and North Africa. And it would appear that the safety valves just aren’t there anymore.

A Constant Struggle to Stay Behind

On November 2, 2010, the voters in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida elected Republican governors who ran on very conservative platforms. These men all claimed that the root cause of many of the problems of the citizens of their respective states was the federal government.

Since their election, all three of these governors have rejected and returned billions of federal dollars that were intended to finance high speed rail systems. These dollars were also intended to provide jobs and income for men and women in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

That would be Ohio with a 9% unemployment rate, Wisconsin with a 7% unemployment rate and Florida with an 11.6% unemployment rate.

The rail infrastructure of this country is woefully behind that of most of the developed world (including China) and it needs to be improved everywhere and now. The men and women seeking work, any kind of work, in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida most certainly would welcome federal government “interference” that came in the form of a paycheck.

When ideology overcomes common sense, the outcome is almost always a poor one.

Donald Trump for Pope?

Two weeks ago Donald Trump announced that he was “seriously considering” running against Barack Obama in 2012. He clearly assumes that his serial corporate bankruptcies and thousands of stranded bondholders will somehow disappear from the national memory banks by November of 2012.

Last week Mr. Trump announced that he was “seriously considering” purchasing a controlling interest in the New York Mets. Presumably he doesn’t think that Mets fans have suffered enough.

Who know what’s next? But Pope Benedict should watch his back!

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Dumb and Dumbest

These are serious times – the economy, the environment, threats of terrorism, the economy, unresolved wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy…….you get the point. If there was ever a time for men and women engaged in public service to be focused on the “service” part of their job it would be now.

It is, therefore, scary in a creepy kind of way, that perhaps as many as a dozen state legislatures are in the process of drafting or considering bills that would require presidential candidates to provide documentary proof of their citizenship prior to being on the ballot.

The genesis for this singularly stupid initiative is presumably strategy straight from the Bozo School of Public Policy at the University of Dim Bulb that contends Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States and that the American people should never be “tricked” again.

As you are reading this article the legislatures in Connecticut, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma are contemplating bills that have already been drafted and are ready for formal consideration. That would be Connecticut with an 8.6% unemployment rate. That would be Texas with an 8% unemployment rate. That would be Missouri with a 9.2% unemployment rate. Oklahoma is sitting fat and happy with a 6.6% unemployment rate.

Of course unemployment is just one issue that state legislatures might wish to examine. The national obesity crisis has reached pandemic proportions. The implementation of the new national health care program will require a great deal of focus for years to come. The energy crisis is at the door and the environmental crisis is already set to cloud the dawns of tomorrows that our children will inherit.

Various polling services have produced results indicating that one out of every four American voters does not believe that President Obama was born in the United States. When polling the Party of No, over 40% of Republican voters believe that he was born outside of America.

These numbers are stunning and numbing when you realize that absolute documentation and verification of this man’s birth in Hawaii in 1961 has been a matter of public record for years.

Political analysts have committed acts of amateur psychology in trying to understand how and why so many people have entered the twilight zone and stayed there. We have noted in prior columns that other Republican presidential candidates were born outside of the United States (George Romney was born in Mexico and Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona prior it to becoming a state and John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone) and there was never a sustained clamor regarding nativity.

Some are of the opinion that the election of an African American President of the United States offends the laws of nature for these “birthers”. A black man being president ranks right up there with rocks falling up and pigs flying – it is something that is not possible and cannot be accepted as fact –ever. Hence we have presumably sane men and women scurrying around in their state capitals trying to “make sure that this never happens again”.

It is also important to note that the “birther” movement is a distinctly partisan initiative. The G.O.Tea Party and its minions are the lone and lonely foot soldiers in this lost cause. And as they tilt at windmills that they imagine to be dragons citizens of this country are worried about their jobs, the economy, their safety and their children’s future.

Rather than demonstrating some semblance of common sense or even a half profile in courage, Republican leaders have stood by and let the dumbness run amok.

This foolishness may satisfy the right wing of the right wing, but “birther” legislation will not rebuild this economy or replenish the reservoirs of hope and confidence that are dangerously low. “Birther” legislation will not provide a single job or save a single business and it certainly will not help even one child learn how to read and be competitive in the global economy.

One might be tempted to just let the Republicans run around in these dumb, self-destructive circles, but these times demand sober discussion and serious debate on the issues of the day. And while the G.O.Tea Party continues to read the Constitution out loud and engage in pyrrhic battles in Congress, everybody suffers from the inertia that is the consequence of their self-indulgence.

“Dumb and Dumbest” is a movie that has not been made as yet. It is very clear who should be cast in the starring roles.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt a few moments before this column was written and the beat goes on. Ruling elites in the Middle East, the Caribbean and Africa are watching with great interest. Meanwhile, here in the United States:

The Luck of the Kenyans?

“The Luck of the Irish” is a well-known phrase, but who knew about “the luck of the Kenyans”? It is rare that the word “luck” and “Barack Obama” have been linked in considering the first two years of his presidency.

The near collapse of the American economic system approached a cataclysmic meltdown in this country. More than 8 million people lost their jobs during these first two years of the Obama Administration and unemployment rates continue to hover above 9%.

President Obama has had to manage near biblical disasters like the BP oil spill and he has the daily challenge of avoiding the Vietnam-like replay that haunts this country’s every moment in Afghanistan. And all the while the economy is making a seemingly grudging recovery that is virtually imperceptible to too many Americans.

And yet, when one considers the leading potential Republican candidates it is hard to believe President Obama’s apparent good fortune. Consider the field:

-Mike Huckabee – The former governor of Arkansas and a failed candidate in the 2008 primaries, Mr. Huckabee fervently believes that two people named Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs and wants this belief to be taught to American schoolchildren as scientific fact.

-Mitt Romney – The former governor of Massachusetts and a failed candidate in the 2008 primaries has tried mightily to convince the public that the universal healthcare plan that he instituted in Massachusetts is not the healthcare plan supported by President Obama – except that it is. The fact that he is a Mormon guarantees that the notorious religious intolerance of the right wing of the right wing of the Party of No will rain down on his head if he gets anywhere near the nomination.

-Michelle Bachmann – The doyenne of the Tea Party movement, Ms. Bachmann comes across as a zanily miscast cheerleader with a script that is devoid of facts or logic. Her singular contribution to recent political discourse was to characterize President Obama as a “socialist”. She has also been known to make stupid people look smart.

-Haley Barbour – The current governor of Mississippi as a presidential candidate would have to explain how his state manages to rank last or near last in almost every indicia of quality of life for its citizens including literacy and health care. His rose-colored recollections of the bloody days and murderous nights in Mississippi are bound to offend African Americans and anyone with a decent knowledge of history.

-Newt Gingrich – The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Gingrich is noted for having been complicit in the closing of the federal government not once, but twice. He also distinguished himself as a great humanitarian by serving divorce papers upon his wife as she awakened from breast cancer surgery.

-Donald Trump – Really? Several corporate bankruptcies and thousands of disgruntled bondholders might prove to be awkward for The Donald to explain. No need to mention his hair.

Congressman Ron Paul wants to do away with Social Security, Medicare and distribute six-guns to children (the last item is a joke…I think). The former governor of Alaska is virtually irrelevant to this discussion and is still struggling to get both of her Pradas out of her mouth since the Tucson Massacre. And then there is a larger cast of unknown wannabees.

And that’s pretty much the field. One has to believe that given a choice between Barack Obama and any of these Republicans yearning to “take back America” the American electorate will go with the incumbent.

It’s a long way to November 6, 2012. But given the challenges that he faces, Barack Obama is a very lucky president to have this class of potential opponents. Maybe there is something to the “Luck of the Kenyans”.

Blind Justice

Justice is supposed to be blind. Justice is not supposed to be deaf and dumb. Consider the recent case of Ms. Kelly Williams-Bolar in Ohio who was imprisoned for placing her son in a school district in which she did not reside. Not surprisingly her motive was to provide an opportunity for her son to get a better education.

We don’t have the space to consider all of the factual and legal issues but given what we know imprisonment seems an outrageous and cruel response. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime, if there was a crime.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Lohan continues to sashay down the boulevard wearing an allegedly stolen necklace and all anyone wants to know is who designed the dress that she wore to court. Go figure.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Obama’s Egyptian Puzzle

Beginning with the very recent demise of the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, President Obama has been confronted by a change in the house rules that have governed American foreign policy in the Middle East.

The current governmental crisis in Egypt is already being replicated in Yemen, Algeria, Syria and Jordan and only a political Pollyanna of the highest order would think that the turmoil will end there.

Libya is on high alert. The House of Saud in Saudi Arabia is watching everything that is happening everywhere. The leadership of the United Arab Emirates is uncomfortable, unhappy and in all likelihood they are keeping their private jets fully fueled and at the ready.

When he became president, Barack Obama was presented with certain orthodoxies regarding U.S. foreign policy – certain accepted facts. A central theme with respect to the Middle East and Africa was that stability was more important to American national interests than the aspirations of the average citizens in countries located in the Middle East and Africa.

The United States has supported the stability (and longevity) of monarchies, oligarchies and dictatorships in these two regions in exchange for support of American policies, strategies and initiatives.

These have ranged from anti-communism during the Cold War to support for the American “war on terror” in its various forms and manifestations. Support for American policies with respect to Israel, war against Iraq, war in Afghanistan and opposition to the regime in Iran has been the currency that purchased American support.

This seemed to work well when the United States built coalitions and secured statements of endorsement for the two wars against Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. The tempering of Arab hostility towards Israel from military to simply rhetorical has also been a part of this not so simple equation.

The political awakening of the people in many Middle Eastern and African countries has complicated the equation. With or without American support and endorsement, regime change is coming to these regions.

With or without American support there will be new leadership, new priorities and new visions being articulated in the near future. The right of self-determination is not an American right, it is a human right and that right is now being claimed by more and more people.

Incredibly, but predictably, some critics of the Obama Administration have actually gone on record to suggest that the United States should continue to support soon-to-be-deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because he has been a “reliable ally” of this country.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, conveniently omits reference to the many billions of dollars that have flowed to this “reliable ally”, enriching Mr. Mubarak, his family and his coterie of supporters, enablers and sycophants. For a billion dollars most people would be reliable.

During the mythologizing of Ronald Reagan that continued over the weekend with the celebration of his 100th birthday, there has been little reference to the inconvenient truth regarding his foreign policy. Wherever and whenever American business and political interests benefited, this country supported and endorsed dictatorial regimes and oligarchies around the world, especially in the Middle East and Africa.

President Obama inherited an American foreign policy tradition that many supported as long as the odor of oppression, torture and repression wasn’t unbearable. Of course, now the winds of change are blowing that odor in all directions and it is the unenviable task of the Obama Administration to come up with a new playbook right in the middle of the game. It’s just like trying to change tires on a moving car.

President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton have been very clear in supporting the concept of change in Egypt, for example. They have not allowed the United States to be anchored by the Reagan policy of supporting stability even in the face of repression. They have recognized the inevitable nature of the change that is sweeping across the region and are taking useful steps to keep America relevant instead of insuring that it will be reviled.

The eternally recalcitrant members of the Party of No will continue to suggest that facing reality doesn’t make sense. But in point of fact the Obama Administration is taking the logical path by supporting and endorsing a process of change.

In this case, it is also the right path.

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