Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 29, 2013

This week we learned that Michele Bachmann is under investigation for violating campaign law. It is possible that more charges will be added. Meanwhile, every day that the sequestration collar tightens on the American economy we find ourselves headed towards a true cliff. And finally, Nelson Mandela was hospitalized this week and thankfully is recovering. Perhaps other leaders throughout Africa will start to look at him as a model and not only an icon.

Michele Bachmann’s Real Crimes

The news reports from this week revealed that Representative Michele Bachmann is under federal investigation for campaign law violations during her bizarre and clownish campaign for president in 2012. What may be more interesting are the crimes for which she is not being investigated.

Fortunately for Ms. Bachmann there is no law against mangling the English language or distorting the facts until they bear no resemblance to the truth. Fortunately for her there is no law against repeatedly lying about the President of the United States and there is no law against being ridiculous.

If there were laws like these she would be in the process of being fitted for a nice orange jumpsuit right now.

On the Brink

Every day during the past four weeks that the sequestration scenario started to play out there has been a gradual tightening of the noose around the neck of the American economy and the American people. Grover Norquist infamously says that he would like to shrink government to a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub. And he may just get his wish.

Just this past week it was announced that 173 air traffic control towers in smaller airports across the country will be closed. Every day there are reports of the further reduction of the government workforce which, of course, means the further reduction of services provided to the American people.

In Durban, South Africa this week the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) met to discuss economic development and investment in infrastructure. They met to discuss a progressive plan for the future – a plan that envisions growth and a better way of life for the citizens who live in the BRICS countries.

Meanwhile in the USA, the supposed leading nation in the world, the prevailing narrative speaks of austerity, the need to do less with less. The fear of the future is palpable and it is that fear and shortsightedness that is moving this country closer and closer to the brink of true decline.

Grover Norquist and the Teapublican terrorists should be very happy.

Mandela

When you go to the dictionary or Google and look up the word “icon” you would not be surprised if a picture of Nelson Mandela. His iconic biography is the stuff of true legend and he deserves every honor that has been bestowed upon him.

It is important, however, to remember that Nelson Mandela is also a revolutionary leader. Indeed, he is one of only two successful revolutionary leaders in modern history to freely relinquish power (the other being George Washington).

Mr. Mandela realized that the democratization process in South Africa could not be built on a foundation created by a cult of personality, no matter how admirable and honorable that personality might be. By safeguarding the free and lawful transfer of power to his elected successor, Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Mandela set in place a tradition that almost has to be observed by South Africans for generations to come.

The leaders of too many African states should consider the Mandela Model. Too many of these leaders have stayed in power for decades stunting the democratization process and strangling progressive measures in society through their overbearing personality cults.

Nelson Mandela is more than an icon; he should be a role model for anyone who presumes to lead a country in Africa or anywhere else in this world.

Happy Easter and have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Hypocrite’s Oath

As you are reading this column the United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments on two cases involving same sex marriage. One case involves a California law which bans same sex marriage and the other which pertains the federal Defense of Marriage Act which forbids the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages that have been performed legally in the United States. And somehow the conservative point of view is that these laws should be upheld in order to defend the institution of “traditional marriage”. There is so much hypocrisy here it is hard to decide where to start.

We can start by knocking down the straw man of “traditional marriage”. In various societies, including Judeo-Christian societies, the concept of marriage has certainly evolved. Biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac and Moses had multiple wives. Certain elements of the Church of Latter Day Saints have promoted men having several wives and the Catholic Church still considers divorce to be a mortal sin.

Despite these historical precedents and present day realities, a prevailing societal vision has virtually outlawed multiple wives while accepting and codifying divorce. There are Mormons and Catholics who would vigorously disagree with this legal structure and would argue that, in their moral universe multiple wives or the banning of divorce are right.

Somehow this prevailing societal vision slips and slides all over the moral landscape banning multiple wives, approving divorce and, in this current matter arguing that a legal and binding marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And the first question that has to be asked is how government can impose such a determination on the extremely intimate and private lives of citizens?

It can be reasonably argued that marriage is an expression of love and commitment between two people that provides the married couple with a range of obligations, benefits and governmental recognition. Property rights, insurance coverage, adoption and custody of children, spousal support obligations and inheritance protocols are all affected by marriage status.

It would seem to be a matter of elementary fairness to permit two people to make that commitment and accept those obligations if they choose to do so. To condition that commitment on the basis of gender makes as much sense as conditioning that commitment on the basis of race. And indeed, less than half a century ago there were laws in this country that prohibited interracial marriage, laws that are now properly in the trash heap of history. And it is almost a certainty that laws against same sex marriage are also headed to that trash heap.

But the issue of conservative hypocrisy slithers into the discussion because several states have now legalized same sex marriage. Article 10 of the United States Constitution clearly states that powers not granted to the federal government by the states belong to the states.

Since the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 states have not granted to the federal government the power to determine qualifications or standards for marriage. As a result there are no national standards for marriage and the rules for getting married vary state by state. In Alabama a fifteen year old can get married, in New York that cannot happen. But the state of New York will recognize an Alabama marriage in its courts.

In New York two women can get married. But currently the state of Alabama is arguing that it should not be required to recognize such a marriage. And the right wing of the right wing of the conservative party which wraps itself in the Constitution and worship every word and phrase in that document trample over the principle of state’s rights when it suits their agenda of imposing their presumed moral superiority on others.

That the conservative wing of political policy discourse in this country would wish to use the apparatus of the federal government to override the decisions of individual states with respect to standards for marriage is hypocrisy to the extreme. Because these are the same conservatives who argue against the federal government being involved in everything from health care to civil rights but do not see the absurdity of their desire to federally legislate who people can love.

We will all be awaiting the SCOTUS decision in June of this year. We can only hope that the ScaliaRobertsThomasAlito right wing cabal will follow their own philosophy and do the right thing.

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Point of View Columns

Shell Game for Billionaires

Spring is on its way and the flowers are starting to bloom. But all the scented bouquets in the world cannot hide the stench arising from the sleight of hand shell games that we see being played out in the higher echelons of high finance. Consider that the SAC hedge fund paid a $600 million dollar fine for insider trading last week. This week it was announced that Citibank would be paying a $730 million fine for misleading investors. And neither institution has admitted to wrong doing in the process.

And SAC and Citibank should not be considered outliers or pariahs in the financial community. During the past year Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland have all paid enormous fines, sometimes in excess of a billion dollars for misleading or improper conduct. On the Planet Earth such behavior would be called “stealing”. In the ethereal world of high finance it is called business as usual.

Take a moment to think about how much money an organization would have accumulated through insider trading for it to agree to pay a fine in excess of half a billion dollars. Think about how much money a bank must have made in providing misleading information to investors to justify paying a fine that approaches a billion dollars. Clearly these fines are seen as the cost of doing business – and then only if they get caught.

We see the Teapublicans doing their level best to shred and eviscerate the infrastructure that the Dodd Frank Act is supposed to establish in order to protect the public from wrongdoing by bad actors in the financial community. Instead of closing ranks to insure that a “free market” is also a “fair market”, too many opponents of regulation would rather let the thieves into the temple and walk away with all the profit that they can carry.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Wall Street was deeply involved in the process of investing in the future of this country. Investment bankers made money by financing the creation and expansion of businesses as well aggregating capital to support the development of the infrastructure of this country. Commercial bankers loaned money to small businesses and startups in addition to the blue chip firms.

This is not a reflection through a Norman Rockwell looking glass; these are historical facts that illustrate a very different mindset than what we find in the financial community today. Today technology based “trades” have replaced investment as the fuel that drives the Wall Street engine.

These trades, orchestrated by supercomputers that are linked globally, move enormous sums of money around the world in the blink of an eye 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only jobs that these trades produce are in the banks, investment firms and law firms. The only infrastructure investment arising out of this faux finance would be the addition of a guest home on the summer estate of some hedge fund executive.

The shell game for billionaires entails moving money around and picking up the billions of dollars of loose change that somehow get left behind after every series of transactions. And fudging information to investors and illegally making use of inside information is just part of the shell game. Of course the grimy sweaty sans-culottes of the world aren’t supposed to worry about what is going on with this trans global shell game. And, by the way, don’t ask these would be Masters of the Universe to pay any additional taxes as they climb the greed beanstalk that, for them, reaches to the heavens.

We can go back to the fact that more regulation and more enforcement of those regulations might prevent some of the more egregious offenses. But the mindset in too much of the financial community is similar to players in some kind of Grand Game using supercomputers, offshore accounts and impenetrable documentation to grab as much money as possible. And if you get caught, you pay a fine that comes nowhere near the actual profit accumulated during a round of the Grand Game.

Perhaps the Masters of the Universe will realize that it is possible for them to make money through investment in the future and the financing of the dreams and plans of others – if they would only take a break from their computer simulated Grand Game.

I would not, however, recommend holding your breath waiting for this to happen.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 15, 2013

This past week saw the presidential elections in Kenya conclude with Uhuru Kenyatta being declared the winner. The United States commended the Kenyan people on having orderly elections – one can only hope that some people noted the irony. Meanwhile recent news articles have detailed numerous black and Latino advocacy groups allying themselves with soda manufacturers. This is more than ironic, it is shameful. And finally, in some random reading I came across the Emmitt Till Unsolved Crimes Act of 2007. That there is a need for such a law speaks volumes.

The Land of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King

The Kenyan presidential elections concluded with Uhuru Kenyatta being declared the winner and the new president. Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of the legendary liberator, Jomo Kenyatta, and he was elected by a narrow margin. So narrow that his opponent is challenging the election results in court as you are reading this.

The United States State Department issued a statement commended the Kenyan people on holding free, fair and peaceful elections. And at first glance it would seem a gracious commendation from the bastion of democracy to an emerging democracy in a key African country.

But we cannot escape the irony. The United States is where over 25 state legislatures have proposed legislation specifically limiting the right to vote in order to suppress voting by minorities and the poor. The United States is where the Voting Rights Act of 1964 is under attack and on the Supreme Court chopping block.

And then there is this scenario – a presidential candidate loses the popular vote but is able to contest the election through irregularities in a state where his brother is the governor. The election is decided by a Supreme Court where two of the nine judges were appointed by that candidate’s father. One of the judges refuses to recuse himself when it is discovered that his son is a partner in the firm arguing in favor of the candidate. And the candidate wins by stealing the election.

Did this happen in Kenya? Nope.

Try the United States of America in 2000. George W. Bush was the candidate. Jeb Bush was his brother governor. George H.W. Bush was the father president who appointed the judges. Antonin Scalia was the Supreme Court justice who refused to recuse himself.

It would seem that the good old USA needs to do some serious housecleaning before pronouncing judgment on other democracies, emerging or otherwise.

Sugar Shame

News reports last week detailed a (perhaps not) so strange relationship between numerous black and Latino advocacy groups and the soda industry. That would be the same soda industry that is vigorously fighting any attempt to limit their ability to persuade Americans to guzzle more and more cheap empty calories in the name of refreshment and…………get this…………..freedom.

Unfortunately it is common knowledge that diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease are plagues in the black and Latino communities. Guzzling huge amounts of soda and eating gargantuan portions of fatty, salty fast food only exacerbate this crisis.
So why would black and Latino advocacy groups partner with the purveyors of slow death in their communities. As the saying goes, “follow the dollar”.
And that is a sugar shame.

The American Nightmare

There is something called the Emmitt Till Unsolved Crimes Act of 2007 that was passed with bipartisan support by the Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush. The purpose of the law was to reopen investigations into 112 unsolved murders in the South that were almost certainly perpetrated by white supremacist terrorists. Imagine such a bill being passed today!

The fact that such a law was necessary is truly a sad commentary on the history of the civil rights movement in this country. The fact that six years later 90 of those 112 cases are still unsolved is shameful.

But in this age of right wing partisanship, Teapublican assaults on government and the faux “post-racial” wonder dust that is being sprinkled around, it is unlikely that the resources necessary to bring about justice will be allocated anytime soon.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Knowing the Difference between Right and Wrong

Michael Bloomberg has been mayor of New York City for almost twelve years. During that time he has placed an unprecedented governmental focus on the health of the citizens of New York City. Many of his initiatives such as banning smoking in public places and cutting down on fats in foods have provided a measurable benefit to New Yorkers and life expectancy has actually gone up in Gotham City. But some people just don’t seem to know right from wrong.

I recall that when the ban on smoking in public places was initially proposed I thought that this was an unnecessary governmental intrusion. After all, the thinking went, when you go to a bar or a nightclub you expect that people will smoke and most restaurants had established no smoking sections. But what about the waiters, waitresses and bartenders?

I hadn’t thought about that angle. Bartenders, waiters and waitresses inhaled the equivalent of several packs of cigarettes every week with the attendant health issues – emphysema, cancer, etc. So banning cigarettes in bars, clubs and restaurants made a lot of sense once we started to think about the collateral consequences.

Similarly, banning the sale of half gallon size “cups” in restaurants and certain establishments did strike some as unnecessary governmental inclusion. And it might seem that way until we realize that the size of soda servings has increased to such monstrous proportions not because of consumer demand but because soda (and fast food) providers have learned that people will consume larger and larger portions if they are offered, thereby increasing profit margins.

Once we realize that humongous soda servings are not a liquid expression of individual liberty it is then time to think about the collateral consequences. The regular consumption of large amounts of empty calories has been proven to impact upon health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

While everyone is presumably entitled to kill themselves, obesity, diabetes and heart disease cause a gradual demise over a period of years rather than some dramatic departure. And during that period of years individuals suffer needlessly while they place dramatic and unnecessary burdens on the healthcare system. Reducing the size of soda servings seems like a small step when you take into account the suffering and societal expense that could be saved.

More recently, the Bloomberg administration started an ad campaign in New York trying to discourage pregnancies among teenagers. The advertisements are not cute and peppy; they tell teenagers about the real consequences of teen pregnancies – life altering, negative and mostly borne by young women. Not a snappy happy set of advertisements, but there is always the chance that a few teenagers will pay attention and in the process make decisions that will allow them (and their eventual children) to have a better quality of life.

Incredibly, Planned Parenthood criticized the ad campaign as a “scare campaign” that creates “stigma, hostility and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy”. Somehow, in the universe of the leaders of Planned Parenthood in New York City, there is something positive, ennobling and enriching about teen pregnancy and heaven forbid that someone should splash the cold water of reality on teenagers who may know how to create a pregnancy but have little or no concept about how to plan and care for the consequences.

I can only guess that the leadership of Planned Parenthood in their private lives does not soft pedal the idea of teenage pregnancy to their own children. And I am positive that the executives of Planned Parenthood do not dwell on “alternative aspirations” when discussing such a serious subject with their own teenagers.

There is a serious disconnect between the advocates of “freedom” for other people – the freedom to die of obesity, the freedom to die of lung cancer, the freedom to endure pregnancy as a teenage mother or father – “freedoms” that they would never seek for themselves or for their own children.

We can all understand the importance of principle, but principle needs to be grounded in the reality of its application and consequences.

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Weekend Edition – March 8, 2013

Every week brings its surprises as well as its common current events. Take for example Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster, delaying the confirmation of the Director of the CIA for what turns out to be a fundraising talking point. Meanwhile Roger Ailes, the wannabe genius behind Fox News felt liberated to call President Obama “lazy”. What will he think of next? And finally, while you were sleeping or reading about Kanye and Kim or just trying to pay your bills the Supreme Court heard oral arguments that could lead to the overturning of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. We all may want to pay attention to this one.

The World According to Rand

This past week Teapublican Senator Rand Paul wasted the time and money of the American people by staging a theatrical filibuster in order to hold up the confirmation of John Brennan as the Director of the CIA. Ultimately, when Senator Paul had to use the men’s room after twelve hours of blather, the filibuster ended and Mr. Brennan was confirmed.

What did Rand Paul prove? He proved to his Teapublican base that he was willing to hold up the processes of American government to prove a point. And as a result he is now raising millions of dollars from like-minded chowder heads who think that the answer to all of their problems is chaos.

The irresponsibility prize for this week goes to Rand Paul.

Searching for the Right Word

Last year was not a good year for Roger Ailes. The so-called brains behind brainless Fox News saw himself as the master puppeteer who would use his network to con the American people into voting against their own best interests by electing Mitt Romney.

As we now know, that just didn’t happen. And Roger Ailes and his minions have been left to wonder how could it be that they are not as smart as they thought they were.

Clearly Roger Ailes has gotten past the point of reflection and self-analysis and is resuming his role as attack dog for the right wing of the right wing. In a recent interview he referred to President Obama as “lazy”. Presumably he self-edited “no-good” and “shiftless” out of his comment, but these commonplace racial slurs were lurking just below the surface.

In The World According to Roger Ailes “post-racial” means being able to call the first black president of the United States everything but a child of God.

Wake Up Everybody

The late Teddy Pendergrass recorded a hit song, “Wake Up Everybody”. Perhaps it is finally time for all of us to wake up.

Incredibly, the Supreme Court of the United States has heard oral arguments on a case where the state of Alabama is seeking to overturn the Voting Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds that it is no longer necessary in the post-racial nirvana in which we now live. To make the irony more delicious, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts seemed to support the Alabama argument by asking if the South was more racist than the North.

The simple answer is that there are no Confederate flags flying over the state capitols in the North and the stars and bars are flying over every state capitol (in one form or another) in the South. That should be conclusive evidence that the myth of a post racial America is a fable that has yet to be told.

Have a great weekend!

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The Difference Between White Robes and Black Robes

Sometimes irony just isn’t very funny. The Supreme Court is currently considering a case where it is contended that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 should be overturned as it is no longer necessary. Wouldn’t you know that the case is being brought by the State of Alabama. And wouldn’t you know that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks that is just fine.

A quick tutorial – the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1964 to provide a legal framework that would protect black people in the South who were regularly lynched, bombed and massacred for trying to exercise their right to vote. The fact that much of the violence directed against black men and women (and their white supporters) was sanctioned by the southern state and local governments made it absolutely necessary for the federal government to step in.

The law has stated that before any state can make any fundamental changes in the voting process those changes have to be approved by the United States Department of Justice. Not surprisingly, there are nine states on the federal government’s “watch list”, and all nine states are southern states, each with a bloody and grisly history of violence against black people, especially when it comes to voting.

We now fast forward to 2013 and the attorney general of the state of Alabama comes before the Supreme Court of the United States and argues with a straight face that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 is no longer needed because Alabama, like the rest of this country is in a post-racial era and there need be no further worry about government-sponsored discrimination against black people or other minorities.

Incredibly, if you are reading this during the daytime, the state flag of Alabama, a St. Andrew’s Cross modeled after the Confederate flag is flying over the state capital in Montgomery. For some perspective, imagine a German provincial government disavowing anti-Semitism while flying a flag “modeled after the Nazi swastika” and you can understand why the United States Department of Justice along with black people of Alabama look at that state’s post-racial contention with something less than confidence.

Now comes Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, he of the ScaliaRobertsAlitoThomas right wing cabal. Although he had a singularly undistinguished career as a lawyer he somehow has stumbled onto the pages of American history as one of the architects of the highjacking and theft of an American presidential election in 2000.

Not satisfied with that unfortunate distinction, Justice Scalia is now taking the lead in rolling back the legal and legislative accomplishments of the civil rights movement. During oral arguments he had the temerity and reptilian insensitivity to refer to the Voting Rights Act of 1964 as another example of “racial entitlement”.

Where does one begin with racism soaked in stupidity and ignorance? In 1964 Justice Scalia was 28 years old and a lawyer who had already graduated from Georgetown University and Harvard Law School. It is impossible that he was not aware of that Birmingham, Alabama was known as “Bombingham” because of the relentless bombing attacks carried out by white citizens against black people who sought to exercise their right to vote.

Antonin Scalia may feign ignorance, but he had to know about the four black girls that were killed in a Birmingham church bomb because that church was the base for civil rights efforts. He had to know about Schwerner, Cheney and Goodman and Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo and the Ku Klux Klan and George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama blocking the entry of a black woman who wanted to attend school.

To term the Voting Rights Act or any civil rights legislation “racial entitlement” is either ignorant or racist. That is because one would have to be ignorant of the institutional racism that consistently denied civil rights and humanity to black people since the ratification of the Constitution that sanctioned slavery in 1789.

One would have to be a racist to think that dismantling an legal and legislative infrastructure that imperfectly protects the rights of blacks and minorities could possibly be a good thing. Antonin Scalia is the son of an Italian immigrant family that never faced obstacles to the exercise of his civil rights as his father could literally get off a boat from Sicily and immediately walk a paved road to citizenship.

How dare Antonin Scalia and the AlitoRobertsScaliaThomas cabal try to deny that right to black Americans or anyone else? There may be a day when specific civil rights legislation to protect the rights of blacks other minorities and women is not necessary.

This is not that day and Antonin Scalia should know that.

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