Point of View Columns

Time to Handle the Truth

In the aftermath of the Oscar awards, now is as good a time as any to recall great movie classics. In “A Few Good Men”, the Jack Nicholson character, in a climactic moment, states “….you can’t handle the truth!” When it comes to the budget-sequestration calamity in the making, it is time for all of us to handle the truth about this impossibly abominable situation.

By now even minimally aware Americans have dragged themselves from their X-boxes and reality shows long enough to realize that something terribly wrong is going on in Washington. This country has been held hostage by terrorist Teapublicans who have wrapped themselves in a budget/deficit bomb vest. By reason of the strategic position that they hold in only one section of one branch of government, the House Teapublican terrorists believe that they have the ability to impose their will and vision on Congress, the President and the American people. And so far it seems that they are right.

Ever since the Teapublicans came to Washington in 2011 they have used their leverage in constitutionally mandated budget deliberations to threaten to collapse the American government and the American economy. Since many of these American jihadists claim to be avid readers of the Bible, one can only imagine that the story of Samson collapsing the temple in order to defeat his enemies is particularly appealing.

But the arena of public administration is not the appropriate forum for biblical metaphors. In 2011 Teapublican threats and intransigence on the issue of raising the budget ceiling for the federal government resulted in the downgrading of the American credit rating for the first time in history. The collateral damage from this unprecedented self-inflicted wound is incalculable but we can be sure that every man, woman and child in this country has paid a price.

Now, having sipped from the cup of power, the Teapublican terrorists are inebriated and should not be allowed behind the wheel. But there they are, back behind the wheel and driving this country straight into a wall with the funny name – “sequestration”.

For a group of politicians who act as they have personal and exclusive ownership of patriotism, it is amazing that the Teapublican terrorists are willing to risk the collapse of the American economy in order to adhere to their twin obsessions of shrinking government at every turn and never, ever, raising taxes. The damage done to the economy and this country in 2011 has already been recounted. The potential damage from sequestration can only be estimated.

For example, we know that 750,000 civilian defense workers will be furloughed almost immediately. But that does not tell about the employees in the barber shops, convenience stores and supermarkets in the communities where these 750,000 civilian defense workers live. The words “ripple effect” immediately come to mind.

The crippling of the American airline system because of air traffic controllers being furloughed is no small matter. American business depends on the airline system and delays will have a very real consequent effect. The statistics will bear that out as the Teapublican terrorists revel in their ability to destroy, impede and damage.

Osama bin Laden can rest in peace knowing that the Teapublican terrorists are doing more to damage this country than he could have ever imagined. In his most feverish nightmare visions bin Laden could not possibly have seen huge chunks of the American government shut down – by Americans! He certainly could not have imagined domestic terrorists running amok through the halls of Congress as they try to thwart and gut every programmatic initiative that is designed to make life better for the American people.

The truth is that this entire budget-deficit-sequestration turmoil has nothing to do with the budget, the deficit or sequestration. This turmoil is simply the battleground that a cadre of domestic terrorists has chosen in order to promote their vision of dismantling government leaving corporate, financial and industrial interests as the only true sources of power in this country.

The truth is that the greatest enemies of this country are not in Afghanistan, Yemen or Iran. The greatest enemies of this country are in Washington and they go by the name of Teapublican terrorists.

Point of View Columns

Dancing on the Edge

In celebration of Black History Month the Teapublican right wing caucus is doing its level best to make certain that the first black President of the United States presides over the collapse of the American economy thereby confirming every junglebunnyspearchuckersambo myth that fuels their hate for Barack Obama. As you are reading this column the United States is less than two weeks away from a self-imposed cataclysm that arises from the alarming willingness of some Americans to consider institutional suicide as a strategy.

A little background is in order – during the near disastrous debt ceiling negotiations of 2011, the furor and frenzy associated with Teapublican intransigence and illogic resulted in the downgrading of the credit status of the United States for the first time in history. In the rubble and debris left from the collision of the mindless with common sense a “sequestration” feature was devised for the end of 2012.

The idea was that impossibly draconian budget cuts and government service reductions would be imposed if a budget compromise could not be negotiated by the end of 2012. The thinking was that no one – Republican, Teapublican, Democrat or lunatic would want to see the government apparatus and the financial infrastructure come crashing down and that a deal would certainly be worked out, even if it had to be accomplished by self-imposed duress.

In December of 2012 the can was kicked down the road to the beginning of March 2013 and now the Teapublicans are taking the incredibly stone headed position that unless President Obama and the Democrats accede to their demand that no taxes are raised in the budget deal they are willing to allow the consequences of sequestration to flow over the head of every American man, woman and child.

Even though President Obama won the presidency by three million votes (more than the combined plurality of George W. Bush’s two elections), even though the Democrats continue to control the Senate, even though Democrats in the House of Representatives won one million more votes than the Teapublicans, the Teapublicans are acting as if they actually won on November 6, 2012 and that they are calling the shots.

But it is finally time to be very clear about the source of this near maniacal opposition to the Obama presidency. While President Obama is certainly progressive in some of his views and policies, he is certainly not anywhere near the left wing of American politics. The signature piece of his first term, the Affordable Care Act, was modeled after a proposal designed by a Republican think tank.

Government spending has actually decreased by six percent during the first term of the Obama Administration. The economy has improved by every reasonable indicia and major corporations are overflowing with cash as they see record profits quarter after quarter, year after year.

But looking for the logic in the opposition to President Obama is a fool’s errand. One must understand that the core of the Teapublican Party is in the South, the same states that were part of the only revolt against the United States. These are the states that were so enamored of slavery that they were willing to fight to the death to maintain that hellish institution.

The South is where black dreams have gone to die for centuries and the South is where black men and women were hung from trees within the lifetime of just about everyone reading these words. The South is so far from post-racial that it cannot even spell the word.

If this seems harsh keep in mind that it is in the South that the Confederate flag still flies – a flag that is as repugnant to black Americans and all people of good will as the Nazi Swastika is to Jews and all people of good will. The South is where the state of Mississippi ratified the thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution (outlawing slavery) JUST LAST WEEK.

The shameful and despicable venom of racism still flows freely through the veins of Southern politics and their Teapublican avatars come to Washington with a very clear vision of an America where there will never be another black president. To them, Barack Obama is an accident of nature, an aberration that will never happen again. And they see their sole mission being to obstruct and destroy anything and everything that he proposes, even if it damages the entire country.

It is this kind of logic that led to the Confederate States of American fighting a suicidal war against the United States, a war that left the South in ashes and in shame. This time that logic is back in full force in Washington and the damage it brings will not be confined to the South.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 15, 2013

The Teapublican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address was typical – a futile effort to go back to the future. But this time, with the unlikely team of Rubio and Paul there seems to be an effort to revive comedy teams. Meanwhile New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right by effectively decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. It is the right step of a journey of many more miles. And finally, with the announced resignation of Pope Benedict Catholics and many others are hoping that the new pope will begin his reign by confronting the reality of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.

Slapstick and Punch Lines

Amazingly the leadership of the Teapublican Party thought that it would be a great idea to put Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul on national television to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union address. It wasn’t a fair fight.

Barack Obama may be one of the great communicators of all time, and when he is on his rhetorical game it is hard to say who is in second place. Last Tuesday he was on his game and with applause echoing through the Capitol Senators Rubio and Paul were asked to counter an awesome performance. They both failed – miserably.

Marco Rubio looked like the loser of a high school student council presidential debate to seem like the adult that he was not, reciting talking points that seem to come from the Young Americans for Freedom playbook of fifty years ago. And then he made this magical transition from Teapublican Savior to Water Boy as he virtually ducked off the stage to get some water in the middle of his presentation.

Rand Paul looked like someone who had just climbed out of a laundry hamper and sounded like someone who didn’t think that anyone was listening. His right wing of the right wing soliloquy repeated themes that were soundly rejected by the majority of American voters but he did his best voice in the wilderness imitation.

During the heyday of old time comedy there were comedic teams like the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis, to name a few. We can now add Rubio and Paul to the All Star Clown List.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles…..

New York City Michael Bloomberg announced this week that possession of small amounts of marijuana would no longer result in arrest or being put on an individual’s criminal record. The impact of this directive will mean that hundreds of thousands of mostly young black and Latino men will not have to go to jail for an “offense” that simply doesn’t exist in Colorado and is rarely enforced in suburbs of a different hue. This will also mean that fewer of these young men will be marginalized in the workforce because of a petty criminal record.

That is a great step in the right direction. The next step would be to retroactively eliminate such arrests from the criminal record of the hundreds of thousands of victims of this egregious policy. And the next step after that? That would be to totally eliminate the outrageous “Stop and Frisk” policy which torments hundreds of thousands of young men of color in New York City every year.

The New Pope’s Challenge

The announced resignation of Pope Benedict touched off a flurry of commentaries about his eight year reign and what he should or should not have done while serving as pope. Certainly historians will have plenty to discuss.

It is also important for the next pope to finally and decisively confront the five thousand pound gorilla in the Catholic living room. Unless and until every aspect of the global child abuse scandal (which is most certainly over a century old) is exposed and addressed many people of the faith and outside the faith will view the Catholic Church with suspicion.

It has not only been the horrific tales of continual abuse all over the world that has shocked and dismayed, it has been the institutional cover up of the crimes and the criminals. The steadfast refusal of the leaders of the Catholic Church to fully address not only the criminals but also the enablers who have masked this institutional disgrace is unbecoming of a religious institution with over a billion believers.

We can only hope that the new pope will see that now is the time to right the wrongs by confronting them.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

The Real State of the Union

This Tuesday evening President Obama will address the nation, and the world, and deliver the first State of the Union address of his second term. As we listen to his presentation and to the inevitable commentary from pundits and commentators it might be a good idea to actually consider the state of this union of United States. As is the case in many instances there is good news and not so good news.

The not so good news is that there is a hardcore cohort of right wing zealots who have seized virtual control of one of the two major political parties in this country. The Teapublican agenda is dismissive of all aspects of history that do not support their base philosophy which is that government is the enemy of the people and should be curtailed or eliminated wherever possible.

Such a perspective neatly avoids the reality behind the reason that this country is truly exceptional. Indeed, without free, compulsory, universal public education – a national highway infrastructure – an unparalleled network of public and private higher education institutions – a social safety net that provides healthcare, food and housing for a huge segment of the populations – a relatively reliable system of laws, rules and regulations – this country would not only be unexceptional, it would be on its way to Third World status – only bigger than most such countries in that category.

Somehow, the right wing of the right wing has bought into this Ayn Rand grim fairy tale that divides all of humanity into makers and takers. And in this fractured fairy tale, the makers are all self-made men and women who have succeeded solely by reason of their talent, skill and overall superiority. These “makers” don’t bother to explain how the lights work and the water runs in their self-made universe.

And the Teapublicans have become so convinced that they are absolutely correct that they have adopted a terrorist philosophy whereby the end justifies any means. So far those means have included insulting the President of the United States at every turn, trying to subvert the electoral process throughout the country and threatening to collapse the economic infrastructure of the United States.

So far the insults have fallen short as President Obama doesn’t dignify the mudslinging with a response – well, there was that time that he barbequed Donald Trump at the National Press Club Dinner, but who could blame him? The Teapublicans in state after state tried to suppress the vote in the 2012 election, and while they were not successful they are also not finished trying to pervert democracy in this country – The RobertsScaliaThomasAlito wing of the United States Supreme Court will weigh in on the Voting Rights Act very soon so buckle your seatbelts.

Finally, Teapublican craziness was cited by numerous financial analysts as the reason why the credit rating of the United States was downgraded in 2011. Now they are trying to make you believe that doing the flamenco on the edge of the fiscal cliff is some kind of patriotic strategy when that strategy is the real job killer in this economy.

The good news is that people who believe in a progressive approach to public policy, government and life have found a political voice. That voice does not belong only to Barack Obama although he is a hell of lead singer.

The last election proved that there are men and women throughout this country who are willing to stand up to the Teapublican lyingbullyingintimidating tactics and speak out for what they believe in. This growing New Majority is voting for candidates who are also willing to stand up to the pseudo-tsunami that the Teapublicans would have us believe is the wave of the future.

The 2012 election also illustrated that the battle lines are no longer between the red states and the blue states. The battle is not a class issue in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, the battle lines are between those who believe that the role of government must include compassion, innovation and continual renaissance. In the other corner are those who believe that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs and that government has no role to play until they need help – then the tune is different, if only for a few days.

The State of the Union is a precarious one, to be sure. The final good news is that justice, compassion and a progressive vision of the future are sure to triumph.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 8, 2013

If you are anywhere in the Northeastern part of the United States you can see snow just by looking out your window. The blizzardpocalypse that suddenly showed up is one more opportunity for the climate change deniers to visit that famous river in Egypt – DeNile. Meanwhile, as you went through your weekly routine the Royal Bank of Scotland paid $610 million in fines to American and British authorities as a penalty for rigging LIBOR. Can you say slap on the wrist? And finally, the Super Bowl seeming had something for everyone including a blackout and an exciting game – but did Beyoncé really need to be the pole dancer du jour?

The Egyptian River

The weather is in the news more and more. Supersized hurricanes are preceded by apocalyptic firestorms – and the tsunami in the South Pacific this past week barely got a mention in the papers. Now a mega-blizzard, not seen in over a century, is lashing the United States from Maine to New York.

The incredible extremes of weather events are impossible to ignore. And there are boatloads of reputable scientists who connect the dots of these weather events to climate change caused by global warming.

Nevertheless, the climate change deniers, many of whom also believe that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs when God created the Earth 6000 years ago somehow have a voice in this very serious discussion about how to save the planet. Of course it is very difficult to keep a ship from sinking when some of the passengers and crew don’t believe that the ship is even sinking in the first place.

Meanwhile, let it snow, let it snow!

Highland Heist

While you were basking in the afterglow of the Super Bowl and were still trying to decide which commercial you liked best, it was quietly announced that the Royal Bank of Scotland is paying $610 million in fines to American and British authorities for rigging LIBOR over a period of years. By any standard $610 million seems like a pretty hefty penalty. But….

…..the London Interbank Offered Rate or LIBOR is the rate by which almost every financing on the planet is established. That would include your home mortgage, your credit card interest rate and the financing charges on your cellphone bill. Just imagine how much undeserved and illegal profit a major financial institution could amass if it was part of the rigging of LIBOR. That would be the Royal Bank of Scotland, among other banking firms.
When you think about it $610 million is a mere slap on the wrist, the cost of doing business. I have to believe that RBS made a whole lot more than $610 by rigging LIBOR over the years. But slaps on the wrist are what pass for enforcement on the planet of the rich. Jail terms are clearly for those who actually use ski masks.

By the way, RBS announced that all of its employees who were involved in this scandal have been fired or reprimanded. Not a word about returning any money.

What could I be thinking?

Super Bowl Shuffle

The latest Super Bowl was a lot of fun. Great game, entertaining commercials and a cavalcade of African American women that was stunning and impressive. Jennifer Hudson was memorable, Alicia Keys was elegant and Beyoncé…..well, I am wondering if I am the only person who thought that her pole dance/lap dance.

I am wondering what kind of image she sought to convey to the millions of African American girls who literally idolize her. In a costume and dance routine that literally left nothing to the imagination I have to believe that somehow, someway Beyoncé could have done something different and better when presented an opportunity to convey a message of dignity.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

The Real Takers

Two recent news items carved into the public consciousness the true extent and hypocrisy of the Teapublican right wing and its myths. Several Teapublican members of congress dismissed all attempts to reach out to the Latino community, lumping all of that community with other supporters of the Democratic Party who are “takers”. As that vile commentary made its rounds it was announced in Davenport, Iowa that one Russell Wasendorf, Sr., the founder of the Peregrine Financial Group was sentenced to fifty years for stealing in excess of $215 million.

One of the many lows of the Romney campaign was the leaked video of Mitt Romney claiming that 47% of the American people were in effect “takers”, receiving a multitude of unearned benefits for housing, food, education and healthcare. It was, Mr. Romney believed, this 47% that would never vote for him and would always be looking for the Democratic handout that was waiting around the corner.

Of course Mitt Romney was half right. It wasn’t 47% of the American people who didn’t vote for him, it was more like 53%. But he was wrong in labeling and libeling so many Americans as “takers”, simply because the social safety net that they helped to create and pay for actually works.

But Mitt Romney and the Teapublicans are totally wrong in implying that there is this class of Americans – 53%, 10%, 1%, it doesn’t matter – who have achieved wealth and success through their own hard work and sheer genius. Such an analysis ignores the public education system, the highways, the commercial banking infrastructure, law enforcement and healthcare that create an environment where businesses can thrive and prosper. And no, they didn’t build that!

But the Teapublican shadow dance also tends to distract from another reality which the Peregrine case illustrates. Mr. Wasendorf founded an investment company, ran it for almost thirty years, stole $215 million of other people’s money and by all accounts never made a single penny. Yet Mr. Wasendorf was a respected member of the 1% club with estates, private planes and an office building to show off his edifice complex until, that is, the entire house of cards came crashing down.

And just in case we should think that Peregrine case is an outlier let us not forget Bernie Madoff ($18 billion stolen – 150 year prison sentence), Allen Stanford ($7 billion stolen – 110 year sentence), and Thomas Petters ($4 billion stolen – 50 year prison sentence).

Meanwhile, with stunning regularity firms like Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America pay staggering fines of hundreds of millions, and in some instances billions of dollars for “improper practices”. Of course this punishment does not include criminal penalties for the perpetrators also known as the beneficiaries of these “improper practices”

It is important for us to understand that none of these examples are outliers. Great wealth many times is the result of “sharp” practices that are many times made illegal after the fact. The “sharp” business practices that created the fortunes of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan gave rise to an entire infrastructure of laws, rules and regulations. Those “sharp” practices were unfair and would now be illegal and in some instances crimes.

The point is that the real “takers” in American history have not been “welfare queens” getting a few extra food stamps. The real “takers” have been the men and women who have cheated and stolen and lied their way to unimaginable fortunes. To the extent they have been subtle enough to employ their chicanery without a ski mask, these “takers” end up in boardrooms, boards of trustees and in some instances Teapublican campaign finance committees.

Misdirection is one of the oldest ploys in just about every sport and certainly in politics. While filling the airwaves with complaints about the mythical “takers” from Ayn Rand’s fairy tales – students on scholarship, parents feeding their children, veterans receiving health support, elderly citizens receiving care and sustenance – attention is diverted from the brazen robberies that take place every day.

Most people in business are honest. But there are too many who are dishonest and who populate an ever growing den of thieves. These robbers represent the true burden on society and the drain on the economy.

Just because the robbers wear bespoke suits and custom-made shirts while being driven by their chauffeurs doesn’t mean that they aren’t the real “takers”.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 1, 2013

The first month of the New Year has come swirling to a close and while spring may be a little less than two months away there is already something in the air – the sound of Teapublicans on the run. In the aftermath of Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearing two numbers come to mind – 19,000 (the number of females raped in the military in one year) and 2 – the number of times that senators asked about this issue. And make no mistake, the Teapublican madness is alive and well in states like Texas which has a lot to say about the textbooks that your child learns from, wherever you may live. And finally, “The Central Park Five”, a documentary by Sarah Burns has been released. Three words – “please see it”.

Chuck Hagel – The U.S. Senate – and the Numbers Game

Former Senator Chuck Hagel appeared before the Senate Armed Forces Committee regarding President Obama nominating him to be Secretary of Defense. All of the headlines had to do with Senator Hagel being “grilled” by the likes of John McCain (“….was the surge a good idea”) and Lindsay Graham (“……name a single war crime committed by Israel”).

The clear intent of the Teapublicans at the Committee was to embarrass Chuck Hagel and President Obama while defending long since dismissed neo-con policies that have cost this country thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. And this line of questioning neatly avoided the very real fact that the Secretary of Defense does not define military strategy or create foreign policy for the United States.

Meanwhile, only Senator Gillibrand of New York and Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut stepped away from the media sideshow to ask Senator Hagel about one area in which the Secretary of Defense does have total control over policy and its implementation – the safety of all military personnel.

The rapes and sexual assaults committed against female members of the military are appalling in their frequency, viciousness and institutional acceptance. A woman in the American military has twice the chance of being raped as her counterpart in civilian life. How can this be?

We can be glad that the point of was raised and Senator Hagel promised to make this item a priority. And that is a much more important priority than trying to prop up dusty and damaged neocon ideals.

Deep in the Heart of Stupid

No matter where you live in these United States, if your child goes to public school there is a very good chance that textbook choices made by the Texas State Board of Education will determine the books that your child reads. California and Texas being the two largest purchasers of public school textbooks have tremendous sway over what actually goes into these textbooks.

And we should be very wary that representatives of a state that elected George W. Bush two times and Rick Perry three times have anything to say about learning anywhere in this country. But they do.

In addition to the right wing revisionist claptrap that adopts a “Gone with the Wind” version of slavery the members of this board have sought to slam the door shut on basic scientific facts. Believe it or not the Texas State Board of Education is pushing for evolution to be taught as an alternative scientific theory right along with the theory that the earth was created 6000 years ago and that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs.

It would be funny if it were not so pitiful. American students already rank 27th in academic achievement in recent global surveys. It is bad enough that the second most populous state in the Union is churning out students who will have medieval notions about this planet. A few years of Texas style education nationally and we will see this country plummeting towards third world status.

Central Park Five

In 1989 a female jogger was raped, beaten and left in a coma in Central Park in New York City. Within hours five young men of color were arrested and eventually indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison. But…..they didn’t do it.

The so-called Central Park Five are lucky only in the sense that this travesty occurred in 1989 instead of 1889 where the extrajudicial response to an accusation that men of color had sexually attacked a white female resulted in pre-trial lynching.

Sarah Burns, the daughter of the legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, has directed “The Central Park Five” showing how a combination of racism, panic and institutional inertia can result in a horrific miscarriage of justice. See the film – read the book – see what you think!

Have a great weekend!