Point of View Columns

Chain of Fools

Perhaps Christine O’Donnell was trying to tell us something during her bizarro senatorial campaign in Delaware last year. She famously stated that she “was not a witch”, but maybe she was trying to tell us that she actually was a witch who was planning to work her black magic in Washington with the other Republican wizards, witches and warlocks.

That would at least be a logical explanation as to how the G.O.Tea Party has been able to spin the facts and flip the scripts at dizzying speeds as it pursues its right wing of the right wing agenda. An examination of the facts does not justify or support that agenda but facts never deter zealots.

The battle cry du jour of the G.O.Tea Party pertains to the need to balance the budget immediately, decrying the wasteful spending that has brought this country to the precipice of financial ruin. The liturgy of the Church of Mean demands that health care, education, social services and arts and culture be sacrificed on the altar of alleged fiscal probity.

The only problem with this faux scenario is that it is based upon the absolute misrepresentation of the facts. According the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – http://www.cbpp.org – a non-partisan research and policy institute working on federal and state fiscal policies and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income Americans, most of the budget deficit can be directly attributed to the Bush-era tax cuts and two misguided and ill-advised wars.

The economic downturn that began in 2008 is a contributing factor to the deficit but it did not precipitate the budget deficits that this country now faces.

The fact is that the Bush-era tax cuts drained billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury. And the Bush-era tax cuts were extended in December of 2010 as the result of a non-negotiable demand of the G.O.Tea Party. As a result, more billions of tax dollars will not be collected by the federal government due to the creation of this “structural deficit”.

The fact is that the two wars started by President Bush were misguided and mismanaged from the very start, resulting in the shameful loss of life and the incredible waste of this country’s financial resources. The war in Afghanistan was never had a goal or a mission that justified the expenditure of billions of dollars.

In bowing to military and political strategic concerns, the Obama Administration has compounded the errors of the Bush Administration by committing more troops and many more billions of dollars to this wasteful and ultimately futile exercise.

The fact is that the war in Iraq started by President Bush was based on lies and guileless deception. There were never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was never a threat to American national security.

Every key member of the Bush Administration knew this and yet this country was plunged in to the mire of bloodbath from which it has yet to fully emerge a decade later. And, in the process, a trillion dollars has been spent building a bridge that truly leads to nowhere.

The fact is that the economic downturn that began in 2008 was not a cyclical occurrence that could not be avoided. The fact is that this near cataclysmic collapse was directly attributable intentional lack of oversight of the same financial markets that are now supporting further tax cuts and budget cuts having been bailed out in 2009.

The Republicans now contend that programs like Healthcare, pre-school education, Medicare, veterans’ assistance, Planned Parenthood and the National Endowment of the Arts should have their budgets eviscerated in order to eliminate deficits that their policies caused. As we should all know by now, this budget battle has never been about dollars and cents.

There is no financial logic to support the G.O.Tea Party budget position. There is the ideological foundation to this budget battle which ultimately would change the purpose and mission of government from taking care of the American people to being a caretaker for a system that will only reward the wealthy and the powerful.

That the G.O.Tea Party has been able to present these baseless budget arguments without the kind of thunderous criticism that they deserve may just be a tribute to their witchcraft and magic. Or perhaps we are just being played for fools.

Point of View Columns

The Needle’s Eye – A Farewell to Gil Scott-Heron

On May 27, 2011 Gil Scott-Heron died, just a few months short of his 63rd birthday. His passing seemed to be so much more than the death of another celebrity or talented artist. For me, and for so many others, it seems like a long-time friend died – a friend that I knew but now wish that I had known better.

Gil Scott-Heron was a fabulous artist, but he was more than an artist. He gave a clear and vibrant voice to a generation that was coming of age in the early 1970’s. For forty years his brilliant commentary tracked the passage of time and events from the inner conflicts of the civil rights era to Watergate to the struggle against apartheid to the struggles that take place in each and every human heart.

His obituary will chronicle his novels, his teaching as a university professor and his legendary body of work as a singer, musician, performer and above all, an artist. His words conveyed truths that needed to be told four decades ago and need to be told four minutes from now. The wit, intelligence and poetry with which Gil Scott-Heron conveyed the truth made it more accessible and more memorable for those fortunate enough to sip from the cup of his artistry.

There have been statements to the effect that Gil Scott-Heron was the “Godfather of Rap”, a title he vehemently rejected. Clearly the title is based on a facile appreciation of his work – it was so much more than combining words that were spoken (or sung) with music. That combination has been with us since our ancestors explored the caves and crevices of the Olduvai Gorge.

But listen to bold spirit of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and the tearstained heart that is given a voice in “I’ll Take Care of You” (from his last album) and you realize that he was so much more than godfather of anything. He was an original talent who found a way to help us understand his message as well as the voices in our own hearts.

Gil Scott-Heron was unconventional in so many ways. He never fit through the “Needle’s Eye” about which he sang as a young genius. But one of the reasons that genius is so rare is that it is rarely appreciated in its own time. He made choices with his art that were not “commercial”, only brilliant. He made choices with his own life that some decried as self-destructive, yet he continued to create magic until he died.

Thanks to technology his voice will live on and my son and his friends and children will have the privilege of listening to Gil Scott- Heron and finding the truth that is in his words, the brilliance that is in their own souls and the power that is in their hands.

Pain and pleasure are entwined in our lives from birth to death. Today I am pained at the thought of the death of Gil Scott-Heron. Today I am pleased to have been able to have the person and the artist known as Gil Scott-Heron in my life for almost four decades.

He never fit through the needle’s eye. Magicians rarely do, and for that we should be thankful.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 27, 2011

This week we watched what’s left of the reputation of Arnold Schwarzenegger go up in flames while the alleged sexual predator Dominique Strauss-Kahn made bail and is holed up in Tribeca. Meanwhile, the Republican presidential derby is in such disarray that Sarah Palin is feeling the fire in her well-fed belly. As the killing of Osama bin Laden fades with each succeeding news cycle hope grows that expecting change in America’s Afghanistan war strategy makes more sense than waiting for The Rapture. And finally, we should take a minute to consider what caused the presidential candidacy of Mitch Daniels to be strangled at birth.

She’s Baaack!

Reams have been written about the lack of quality candidates in the G.O.Tea Party corral. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Doubting Donald Trump, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour or former Arkansas governor (and Fox News star) Mike Huckabee were certainly correct in assessing their chances of beating Barack Obama as being between slim and you’ve got to be kidding.

Still, it is amazing that the renegades and rogues are taking over the G.O.Tea Party asylum. Congressman Ron Paul who proposed abolishing the Federal Reserve Bank and just about everything else is a leading candidate. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who doesn’t have the good sense to be quiet so people only think that she is ignorant, is also a leading candidate. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is tied up in knots trying to explain his tawdry and hypocritical marital history while trying to be a “common man” with a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s. And he is a leading candidate.

And now, the grisly grizzly mom herself, Sarah Palin, has announced that she has that “fire in her belly” and is seriously considering running for president. Perhaps she is hoping that the American people will not recall her spectacularly self-centered flame out after the Tucson Massacre. Or she may think that the current crop of candidates has set the bar so low that she can sashay into the field and carry the G.O.Tea Party banner in an electoral contest with President Obama.

President Obama should be so lucky.

Are We There Yet?

The death of Osama bin Laden gave rise to much discussion regarding the meaning and import of his departure from the global stage. A key item that has been raised relates to the expectation in some circles that bin Laden’s death gives the Obama Administration the perfect opportunity to reconfigure its Afghanistan strategy, flipping the script, so to speak.

After all, a cogent argument can be made that al Qaeda has been definitely, and probably fatally, decapitated. The causus belli for the American presence in Afghanistan was to wipe out the al Qaeda base of operations that plotted the 9/11 attack on the United States. That mission has been accomplished.

Billions of dollars are being spent in Afghanistan every week while police, teachers and hospital workers are furloughed in the United States. Over $100 billion dollars will be spent in Afghanistan this year while programs ranging from Planned Parenthood to Head Start are being cut or put “on the table” of Republican budget chopping frenzy.

The loss of treasure and loss of life is insupportable. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is crippled. No American is safer in the United States because of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It is time.

Are we there yet?

The Tragedy of Mitch Daniels

Last week Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced that he would not be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. It will come as no surprise that I am not a great fan of Governor Daniels, yet I find the cause for his departure to be troubling and tragic.

News reports indicate that the reason for his presumptive departure from the race is that his marital history includes a story about him and his current wife divorcing and then remarrying 4 years later. In the interim Mrs. Daniels married another man and then divorced him to remarry Governor Daniels.

The fact that this entirely private and personal matter would have any impact on the presidential aspirations of anyone can be traced directly to the ravenous maw of the American press machine. Governor and Mrs. Daniels were quite correct in thinking that the media would focus on the marriage-divorce-remarriage story to the exclusion of anything else that Candidate Daniels might have to say.

Reporters and commentators would be frothing at the mouth while recounting every detail of this couple’s life together and apart. Not only is this wrong, the Daniels story is a teaching moment for anyone else who might seek public office.

Everyone has aspects of their private life that they would rather not be part of a CNN “Breaking News” story. And everyone has a right to that privacy, even candidates for public office.

There is not even a hint of illegal or even improper conduct associated with the Daniels’ story. It is just the story of a couple who are living their lives. And it is not the business of the press or the public to make these kinds of inquiries.

The departure of Mitch Daniels from the presidential race is a shameful commentary on the American press and the American public.

Finally, for the sake of all of us, Point of View has now been declared a Cornel-Free Zone.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Alone in the Ebony Tower

The recent controversy surrounding the unfortunate personal attacks on President Obama by the once-respected Professor Cornel West could be written off as just another story from the United States of Stupid. There are an infinite number of such stories, recent ones including the $500,000 Tiffany’s line of credit enjoyed by the “populist” Newt Gingrich the manic media obsession with the marital life of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

But the Cornel West story is different in a very important way. His comments and his personal line of attack were not explosive, but they were corrosive. There is no way that a relative lightweight like Cornel West could collapse the Obama presidency with his pseudo-intellectual hoots and catcalls.

However petty, personal and disrespectful commentary gets more media coverage than any serious criticism of the policies and actions of the Obama Administration. Unfortunately many of the same people who read the National Enquirer for their news and get their facts from seminars held in barber shops and beauty salons are the same people who will pay attention to the likes of Cornel West. And they all vote – or don’t vote, based upon bits and pieces of information and nonsensical chatter such as the squawks that recently emanated from one of Princeton’s Finest.

If left unchallenged, over time commentary becomes fact. Cornel West has questioned whether Barack Obama is a “progressive”; he has also questioned whether he is truly connected to the black community in America. When Cornel West was selected as the arbiter of these matters is certainly a matter of some debate and mystery. Yet there are otherwise intelligent men and women who will listen to this nonsense. And they all vote -–or don’t vote.

The many critics of Professor West have pointed out the validity and need for a robust discussion, and where necessary critique, of the policies of President Obama, as would be the case for any president. But any African American who doesn’t recognize that the first African American President of the United States is a special case needs their head examined, and soon.

The insults, degrading remarks and insane rhetoric directed at Barack Obama by the right wing of the right wing are unprecedented. To suggest that these attacks are not in some way connected with the racial and racist concerns would be delusional. That Cornel West would join in this madcap chorus is minstrelsy, pure and simple. Professor West may not lecture about the Stockholm Syndrome in his classes at Princeton, but he is certainly a walking illustration of this malady.

When queried as to how his attacks are different from those emanating from the G.O.Tea Party and the right wing of the right wing, West had a facile response. He (correctly) pointed out that much of the so-called grassroots Tea Party movements are financed by “billionaires and plutocrats”. He then (insanely) stated that he spoke for the otherwise voiceless “masses” that have either been ignored or further oppressed by the Obama Administration.

My research does not indicate the moment in time when Cornel West was anointed as the voice of the “masses”. He presumably considers the thousands of black congressional, state and local elected officials (elected by the “masses”) as being mute and complicit in the sins of President Obama. And finally, Professor West is seemingly oblivious to the great harm that he can be the result of his attacks.

Much in the same way that Ralph Nader was directly responsible for the election of George Bush in 2000, Cornel West’s ravings born of personal pique and misplaced self-importance could persuade just a few voters to not vote for Barack Obama in 2012. A relatively few black voters in key states that stay home in solidarity with Princeton’s Finest could tip the election in favor of a Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann.

Clearly it is news to Professor West that politics is about the achievement of the possible while striving for perfection. Questioning Barack Obama’s “blackness”, calling him a “black mascot of Wall Street” and suggesting that he is afraid of “free thinking black men” (which presumably includes the Princeton-based bit actor in “Matrix Reloaded”) does nothing but energize the right wing of the right wing while degrading and corroding support for the president.

Perhaps Cornel West will be satisfied with a Palin or Pawlenty presidency in 2013. This is not the future that I wish for my son or the children of this country. If he can’t see the error of his ways perhaps he might have the good grace to just be quiet.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 20, 2011

This week Cornel West proved that it is possible to be a fool and a hypocrite simultaneously; Congressman Peter King is out to prove once more that hind sight is 20/20 and Newt Gingrich may turn out to be more of a fool and a hypocrite than Cornel West. It has been quite a week.

The Shame of Cornel West

Cornel West has clearly decided to shed the shreds of credibility and integrity that used to attend his unkempt frame. It is more than shameful that Princeton Professor Cornel West decided to refer to President Obama as the “black mascot of Wall Street”.

Presumably the erstwhile rap video walk on has taught his students to marshal facts and present logical and coherent arguments in support of whatever point of view they might wish to express. No one would criticize Professor West for articulating serious policy concerns and considerations. But “black mascot”? C’mon Cornel!

Not being satisfied with a racist ad hominem attack, Dr. West had the temerity to opine as to the “blackness” of President Obama given the fact that his mother was white and he was raised for several years in Indonesia. Seeming to read directly from the birth playbook, he tried to argue that with a Kenyan father and a white American mother President Obama was not fully connected with the experience of black Americans.

Presumably Cornel West has in his possession a certification of his own blackness. I am not clear how teaching at Harvard and Princeton, institutions that have never been bastions of blackness, provide him with the credentials to judge the “blackness” of anyone.

More to the point, it is unconscionable for Cornel West to engage in a gutter-born, personal attack on President Obama that is such an obvious mime of the attacks of the birthers and Tea Party cohorts. Perhaps, in addition to his divinity degree he also has a degree in minstrelsy.

The fact that Barack Obama has not returned multiple phone calls from Cornel West is a testament to the good judgment of Barack Obama. The fact that he didn’t get prized inaugural tickets seems like a personal problem that should be filed along with his obvious need for hair care and an orthodontist.

Unfortunately, until now Cornel West has had sufficient stature and respect that his comments are listened to and circulated throughout this country. His stature now matches his diminutive frame. His respect has evanesced. That he would launch such personal and uncivil attacks on the first African American President of the United States is unworthy of the reputation that he used to have.

Wednesday Afternoon Quarterback

The death of Osama bin Laden has been seen as some as an opportunity for this country to move forward in dealing with terrorist threats to its security. “Some” does not include Congressman Peter King (R, NY) the chairman of the House Security Committee.

This past week he announced that he will be holding hearings on what transpired in the killing of bin Laden by U.S. military forces. It can be predicted that there will be more calls for the gruesome photographs of the dead leader of Al Qaeda. Certainly there will be a need for the Obama Administration to try to respond to detailed inquiries while avoiding security breaches – always a balancing act.

I have heard of Monday morning quarterbacks who have all of the bright ideas and second guesses the day after the game. Congressman King and his G.O.Tea Party cohorts seem to fall into the Wednesday afternoon quarterback category as the last game is so far in the past tense and right this very moment the Obama Administration is focused on putting another bull’s-eye on Saif al-Adel, the recently announced presumptive heir to Osama bin Laden.

Knowing that the Republicans are intent on second and third guessing President Obama will not scare al-Adel. Knowing that the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress are focused on a tomorrow that may find him missing might give him pause.

Stupid Newt Tricks

Last week Newt Gingrich announced that he is running for president. This week he may have second thoughts.

He appeared on “Meet the Press” and clearly (and correctly) criticized the draconian Medicare reform plan of Congressman Paul Ryan as “right wing social engineering”. When the right wing of the right wing hollered like a stuck pig he recanted and stated that any use of “Meet the Press” quote would be a “falsehood” since he had now recanted. Clearly “I take it back” is a reasonable rhetorical tool on the Planet Newt.

Last week it was also disclosed that Newt Gingrich’s wife had an unpaid Tiffany’s bill of between $250,000 and $500,000. I would think it would be hard to attack the “Washington elite” while your wife is running up six figure tabs at Tiffany’s. Welcome to the real world Newt, I am sure that the residents of the Planet Newt will understand.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Ball of Confusion

Even a non-partisan observer of the Republican efforts to find a challenger for the 2012 presidential election would be more than baffled at the clownish cavorting that has taken place during the past year. The entire process seems that it has been produced and directed by Barnum & Bailey.

The American public has been subjected to the spectacle of a so-called “Grizzly Mom” who used to be governor of Alaska acting as if she knew something about anything. That Sarah Palin, a person so obviously allergic to knowledge and a stranger to original thought could have ever been seriously considered as a presidential candidate is a stunning commentary on the poverty of the Republican field of potential candidates.

And then Ms. Palin went from “grizzly” to just plain grisly when she made her unfortunate and incredibly self-centered comments after the Tucson Massacre. Since then she has continued to happily pocket millions of dollars from television shows and speeches, but even the G.O.Tea Party stalwarts don’t take her as a serious contender.

Last weekend Mike Huckabee, the former 300 pound governor of Arkansas and unsuccessful presidential candidate in the 2008 cycle announced that he would not run for president in 2012. I have to presume that Mr. Huckabee thought that most of America was waiting with bated breath for his Decision 2011.

In point of fact his decision not to run may have been the most eloquent expression of his intelligence in recent memory. After all, this is the same Mike Huckabee who has stated repeatedly that he does not believe in evolution and believes that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs (seriously). This is also the same Mike Huckabee who carried the soiled and discredited banner of the now discredited racist birther zealots.

In the end, Mr. Huckabee clearly decided that he would rather continue to make millions of dollars as a part of the Fox News Empire. Certainly he can at least make money spreading lies and mistruths. It is pretty clear that it was never going to get him elected president.

At the beginning of this week Doubting Donald Trump announced that he is has made his “Decision” and he will not be a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Doubting Donald’s announcement could not have been a surprise for anyone who watched him being barbecued and French fried at the White House Correspondents Dinner on the eve of the announcement by President Obama of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

It is presumed that he is still applying salve to his scorched and bruised ego as he scuttles back to his personal Trump World where he is still the center of the universe. He will not be scuttling for free, however, as it has also been announced that his faux reality show “The Apprentice” will be renewed for another season, bringing more unearned and undeserved dollars into the Trump coffers.

I have to wonder if and when the G.O.Tea Party adherents will recognize that they are being played in such an obvious and sleazy fashion. The most humble of hookers recognizes a pimp, what happened to the Republicans?

It is clear that Palin, Huckabee and Trump have all used and abused the platform that was provided to them by G.O.Tea Party stalwarts who believed that these individuals were providing some kind of answer to their call for an alternative to Barack Obama.

Palin, Huckabee and others have used this legitimate political interest to burnish their “brands” and make untold sums of money in the process.

I don’t believe for a minute that the recent announcement by Newt Gingrich (Newt Gingrich???) that he is running for president is legitimate. Newt Gingrich knows that he hasn’t had an original thought since his ill-fated Contract with America” almost two decades ago.

Newt knows that he is still tarred with the brush of responsibility when it comes to the shutdown of the federal government during his otherwise undistinguished tenure as Speaker of the House.

Newt also knows that the American public (especially American women) will not react favorably when they learn that he served divorce papers on his first (of three wives) wife as she was coming out of cancer surgery.

While most people are able to accept a dollop of hypocrisy with their political brew, it will be hard for Newt to explain how he could seek to impeach President Bill Clinton for his indiscretions at the exact same time that he was having an extramarital affair with one of his staff members.

What Newt also knows is that in building a “brand” it only matters that his name is spelled right. Newt will, at some point in the next 6-8 months withdraw as a candidate and go on to reap more revenues from his impressive array of corporate entities.

And the G.O.Tea Party will have been pimped again.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 13, 2011

This week the governors of the Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida discovered that they had so much money that they could refuse over $2 billion in infrastructure funding from the federal government. And now there is Newt Gingrich as presidential candidate, threatening to “Win The Future”, whatever that may mean. And finally revisionists like Condoleezza Rice continue to try to spin the past and take undeserved credit for the death of Osama bin Laden while taking no blame for the bloody quagmire called Iraq.

We’re in the Money?

This past week the governors of Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, seemingly chained to anchor of a truly stupid campaign promise, rejected an allocation of approximately $2.4 billion in federal funds that were to be used for infrastructure development related to high speed rail construction. It should be noted that the governors of New York and several other steps happily took the allocation of these dollars that were initially intended to help the citizens of Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

The unemployment rate in Ohio is now 8.9%. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is currently 8.1%. The unemployment rate in Florida is running at 10.6%. And these numbers are not abstract statistics. These numbers represent men and women who are out of work as they watch the last wisps of the American dream blown away by the winds of poverty and hopelessness.

It will come as no surprise that three governors are all recent G.O.Tea Party candidates, elected this past November. Clearly they are men of their word. Just as clearly, their words are toxic.

And Now There is Newt

Newt Gingrich has now declared himself a candidate for the presidency of the United States. His campaign slogan is “Win The Future”, a meaningless phrase that might be better used in connection with the sale of condo units.

It is clear that Newt Gingrich is counting on the collective amnesia of the American electorate. We are supposed to forget his failed tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives when he was directly complicit in the shutdown of the federal government.

We are also supposed to forget him carrying a torch and pitchfork, calling for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Presumably we should forget his blatant hypocrisy in being engaged in an extramarital affair when he wasn’t busy with impeachment proceedings.

More recently Newt Gingrich is counting on you and me forgetting that he has called for a virtual crusade against Islam which has only served to cause more turmoil in the troubled relationship between this country and a faith adhered to by over a billion people.

Perhaps we are also expected to forget that it has been Mr. Gingrich who has termed the current President “dangerous” and a “socialist” while giving elbow-nudging support to the now completely discredited birther movement.

I would hazard a guess that it is much more likely that we will forget Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate before we forget his many transgressions and failings.

Memories Are Made of This

It appears that Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush Administration just can’t let it be. The op-ed columns and news shows have been flooded with these discredited faux warriors’ claims that it was the Bush Administration that should be given credit for the downfall of Osama bin Laden.

President Obama noted in his announcement of the killing of bin Laden that the work over the military over the past ten years resulted in the success of two weeks ago. He was gracious enough not to point out that the Bush Administration was directly responsible for the thousands of lives and billions of dollars that were wasted in a stupid war in Iraq and a misguided mission in Afghanistan resulted in a loss of focus.

It is clearly too much to expect that Rice, Cheney, et. al. would demonstrate similar graciousness.

Have a great weekend!

Be My Guest

Guest Column by Congressman Gregory W. Meeks

The Killing of Osama bin Laden:
Now That Was Really the Week That Was

Like most New Yorkers and most Americans, I have been consumed with contrasting emotions from the instant my congressional alert, blackberry, cell phone, land line, email, and television went off repeatedly and almost simultaneously late the Sunday before last with news that Osama bin Laden was dead and President Barack Obama would shortly speak to the nation. The president’s his words resonated throughout the nation as he confirmed what hundreds of millions of Americans had longed for nearly ten years to hear.

Four days later, I was among the firefighters, police officers, current and former elected officials, and families of 9/11 victims, who joined President Obama at Ground Zero for a wreath-laying ceremony that closed a painful chapter in the ongoing saga of America’s war with al Qaeda, the world’s foremost terrorist network.

It was at this moment that my contrasting emotions asserted themselves. While it was great to see a new World Trade Center rise from the gigantic hole Osama bin Laden left at the site and in our hearts, I remembered visiting Ground Zero a few days after the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Standing amid the rebuilding, my mind flashed back to the vastness of the carnage I had witnessed, the smell of death, the simmering debris, the first responders and volunteers risking their own health and safety to sift through the rubble in hope of finding survivors, and the constituents and friends who were among the 3,000 Americans and other nationals that Osama bin Laden targeted in the war he declared on America.

All faiths teach that we should not revel in the death of any human being. I admit to feeling no remorse for the demise of bin Laden. Nor am I critical of those Americans, mainly young, who flocked to the White House, Ground Zero, Times Square, and other locations by the thousands to cheer the success of an amazingly difficult mission and to acknowledge the commander-in-chief whose exceptionally courageous decision making had brought America to such an extraordinary triumph.

I distinguish between being triumphant and triumphalism. The latter has no place in our foreign policy or antiterrorism efforts. The president deserves our congratulations for his leadership in helping the nation walk this fine line.

I agree as well with his decision not to release photos of bin Laden’s corpse. Within minutes all sorts of paraphernalia bearing that morbid image would have been available on the internet. Within hours venders would have been hawking t-shirts with that likeness at every imaginable public event.

Deeper reflection explains the spontaneous turnout. Think of burden Americans bore on 9/11 and since. Think of the age range of most the people who turned out. They were grade schoolers when the attacks occurred. Fear of another bin Laden-inspired terrorist attack has been all they have known.

Think of the cost to America and the world: The cost of the destruction of the World Trade Center and the damage to the Pentagon, extraordinary in itself, and the expense of rebuilding both; the direct and indirect destruction of over 100,000 jobs; the setback to aviation and commerce, which pushed the economy to the verge of recession.

Without bin Laden’s leadership in conceptualizing, approving, planning, financing, and carrying out the 9/11 attacks, there would be no war in Afghanistan and no pretext for the invasion of Iraq with the combined cost of several trillion dollars. Homeland security, which has drained our treasury of at least another trillion dollars, wouldn’t be part of our lexicon.

Then there’s the cost of fear and the restructuring of American democracy, American values, and American everyday life with the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, Guantanamo, the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, and the profiling of Muslim Americans. There’s the cost of bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, the suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole, the first bombing of the Twin Towers, and the cost to our confidence of bin Laden’s ability year after year to elude capture to the point that most Americans thought it would never happen?

But it has happened. And it has happened on this president’s watch and under his leadership. Saying so does not diminish the efforts of previous administrations.

What diminishes this singular achievement – above all, the skill, courage, and capability of the military personnel that undertook this mission – are claims that finding bin Laden justifies the use of torture; attempts to belittle the caliber of President Obama’s national security team; efforts to make stories out of non-stories about whether or not Mr. Obama’s bump in the polls will last; and navel-gazing that questions why the Navy seals shot an “unarmed” bin Laden.

These are “insider stories.” Whether or not the death of bin Laden works to Mr. Obama’s favor in the next election is quite beside the point. I believe the more details the public learns about how difficult this mission actually was and about how much could have gone wrong, the more they will appreciate having a commander-in-chief who is detailed and decisive in his decision making, intelligence professionals who are persevering and exceptionally competent, and a military composed of men and women of extraordinary courage and capacity who will get the job done however long it takes and to whatever venues the pursuit of justice takes them.

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks represent the Sixth Congressional District of New York

Point of View Columns

Tales from the Crypt

Not surprisingly the news of the summary execution of Osama bin Laden pursuant to an executive order from Barack Obama dominated the news right through this past weekend. In a stunning display of icy coolness and steadfast resolve to keep his promise, President Obama did not flinch when presented with the opportunity to dispatch the living symbol of terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the besmirched and discredited alumni of the administration of George W. Bush dusted themselves off to take an undeserved victory lap. Dick Cheney crowed that the successful assault on bin Laden “probably” was due to intelligence derived from torture. Mr. Cheney is about as credible on this point as he was about his outright lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that he used to justify America’s blood soaked and irresponsible venture into that country.

In point of fact Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense at the time, argued quite forcefully that torture was not the instrument by which the U.S. military gained intelligence. Of course Mr. Rumsfeld is discredited by his failed strategy of an attack on Afghanistan that had no ultimate goal, save the capture of bin Laden. And it was on the Rumsfeld Watch the bin Laden escaped the U.S. forces at Tora Bora.

Condoleezza Rice has been mercifully silent during the past two years leaving us without reason to point out that she zealously participated in the lies, incompetence and witless plotting that lead to the twin debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ms. Rice correctly pointed out that the military-intelligence apparatus that resulted in the demise of bin Laden had its origins in the Bush Administration.

Clearly demonstrating that she is a willing stranger to the truth, Ms. Rice then went on to once again misinform the American public by omitting the fact that by the end of the Bush Administration the capture of Osama bin Laden was not a priority and all urgency in that regard had dissipated as energy, blood and treasure were mistakenly directed towards Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Ms. Rice then went on to state that in giving the order to kill Osama bin Laden Barack Obama “did what any President would have done”. Aside from attempting to once again insult the intelligence of the American public, Condoleezza Rice also seeks to gratuitously demean and denigrate the executive abilities of the current President.

Even some of the most mean-spirited anti-Obama zealots have grudgingly admitted that Barack Obama demonstrated leadership and decisiveness – as well as intelligence. Condoleezza Rice’s boss was famous for acting upon the impulses from his “gut”. And it was his “gut” that caused hesitation at Tora Bora. It was the Bush “gut” and the connivance of Ms. Rice and her colleagues that misguided the United States into a war in Iraq.

Barack Obama uses his brain instead of his “gut” and the results are apparent to all but the still-besotted Condoleezza Rice. Now troops are being withdrawn from Iraq. Now Osama bin Laden is dead. And now there is a rational and compelling reason to begin bringing U.S. troops back from the maw of war in Afghanistan that continues to await them.

Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice have had the good grace and/or the good sense to be quiet so as not to encourage comparisons between the current Administration and the one in which they served and in turn served the American people in such a disgraceful fashion.

We are now reminded that it was during the Bush Administration that the wrong headed strategy that called for the pursuit of Saddam Hussein, a thug who represented no danger to U.S. national security, was at the expense of decapitating al Qaeda by capturing or killing Osama bin Laden.

We are now supposed to believe that the lies of the past are now the truth of the present. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice have done grievous damage to this country, as did most of the national security team during the Bush Administration.

To rise out of the crypt of history and try to dim the luster of the Obama Administration is unseemly, uncalled for and an attempt to perpetrate another set of lies and mistruths.

There are thousands upon thousands of dead and wounded American troops who don’t have a voice and cannot ask this awful triad what was their motivation. We can ask them now if we care to hear more lies.

History is ultimately determined by who is telling the story of the past. The Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice unholy trinity would have us believe in a history that just didn’t happen. We must be certain to disbelieve the lies and believe the evidence that is before us in the present.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 6, 2011

The week began with the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Amidst the jubilation there was reflection on the true import of the event. And within moments the G.O.Tea Party chose finally link George W. Bush to current events in America thereby raising the question, what about everything else? This being America, even the death of a certified villain is a cause for controversy – should the photographs of his shattered corpse be released? Once again, President Obama had the right answer.

The Death of Osama bin Laden – cont’d

The death of Osama bin Laden is full of ironies, both large and small. Having French fried and barbequed Doubting Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents dinner, President Obama managed to time his announcement of bin Laden’s demise in such a way that it preempted the showing of Doubting Donald’s “Celebrity Apprentice” show/sham.

On a much more serious note, President Obama’s decision to kill the mastermind of 9/11 revealed an iron will that many of his critics doubted existed. These critics were then required to eat a heaping portion of crow as they lauded Obama’s actions.

Predictably, some members of the G.O.Tea Party could not resist sipping from the cup of partisanship and promptly announced that the killing of Osama bin Laden was the direct result of former President George W. Bush’s so-called war on terror, in the process trying to minimize the leadership role of President Obama.

It is fair to state that the apparatus that ultimately killed bin Laden had its beginnings during the Bush Administration. But if we are going to dredge Bush 43 out of the dustbin of history the G.O.Tea Party needs to also recognize that nearly 10 years, thousands of lives and billions of dollars were wasted fighting bogeymen in Iraq while Osama bin Laden lived in relative safety and comfort in Pakistan.

We will never know if bin Laden would have been captured or killed sooner if the United States hadn’t spent almost a decade trying to exorcise George W. Bush’s oedipal demons in Iraq. What we do know is that enormous amounts of resources were focused away from bin Laden and that the focus on the al Qaeda leader became an American priority from the very first days of the Obama Administration.

The results of this change in policy are there for all who care to see. Now the question arises as to whether the event of bin Laden’s death will occasion a further change of policy that will get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan on a more accelerated basis than originally planned.

It would be shames to see over 100,000 American troops continue to be mired in the muck of needless, pointless war without end.

To See or not to See

This being the second decade of the century of connectivity and communications, within 24 hours of the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden there was a clamor for the White House to release the presumably gory images of the dead villain. Some calls for the release were based on prurient motives to be sure.

Some sought the release of the photos to “prove” that bin Laden was truly dead. This motive was accompanied by the musty odor of the recently deceased birther controversy.

Opponents of the release reasonably argued that it was, in the first place, inappropriate and unnecessary to display images of this dead man. Further, and also reasonably, there is a real concern that the release of the photographs by the White House will inflame many in the Muslim world, not only al Qaeda supporters and operatives.

President Obama made the decision to withhold the release of the photographs. His statement that “there is no need to spike the ball” says it all.

This should remind us that George W. Bush proudly made his decisions with his famous “gut”. President Obama clearly thinks before he acts. The difference in results could not be clearer.

Mother’s Day

Sunday marks Mother’s Day and I would like to send a special greeting to all the mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, foster mothers and caregiver. It is wonderful to celebrate this day. Of course, we should honor and celebrate mothers every day of their lives and ours. A special blessing to them all.

Have a great weekend!