Point of View Columns

The 2000 Pound Gorilla

Last week the George W. Bush Presidential Library was dedicated on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Every living former president and President Obama were in attendance and the ceremonies had the expected pomp and circumstance. It was a momentous day for former President Bush and every speech was gracious and respectful of the moment. But one could not help but wonder at how long the 2000 pound gorilla on the podium could remain silent.

There is something to be said for honoring the position – president, governor, chairperson, commissioner – because it is important in maintaining institutional stability and respect. And it is for that reason that no one could honestly expect the 2000 pound gorilla to be invited to speak. Actually, there were a troop of 2000 pound gorillas on the podium at SMU shielded from public view out of respect for the office that President George W. Bush once held.

But after last notes of “Hail to the Chief” fade away it is important to find out what these gorillas might have said:

Gorilla Number One: The reality of the Bush presidency is that it began with the theft of a presidential election. The only recorded electoral theft that was more brazen might have been the faux election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. In 1876 the accomplice to the theft was the Electoral College. In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States ratified this electoral skullduggery with one of the deciding votes being cast by a Supreme Court justice appointed by George W. Bush’s father.

This banana republic imitation was harmful and nearly disastrous to the popular perception of democracy in the United States. But the 2000 electoral escapade was the very public beginning of the Republican strategy of advocating voter suppression and the outright theft of elections.

Gorilla Number Two: This gorilla would be accompanied by the ghosts of anywhere between 100,000 and one million dead Iraqis and 4,486 dead members of the American military along with the shadows of 32,226 wounded Americans, many of whom have no real hope of living a normal life. George W. Bush pursued a war of choice in Iraq, what motivated his choice – oil industry interests?, avenging threats to his father, neocon madness? – no one may ever know.

What we do know is that before the first bomb was dropped on Baghdad the United States government had no reliable proof that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Further, the Bush Administration knew that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States. And the Bush Administration knew for sure that Saddam Hussein was not connected in any way to the 9-11 attack on the United States.

Yet, using the gossamer veil of lies and misinformation, President Bush led this country into a war with horrific results – virtually destroying a country that already had enough challenges under the regime of Saddam Hussein, causing the needless deaths of so many Americans and Iraqis, destabilizing the entire Middle East region – that future generations will have to confront for years to come.

Gorilla Number Three: This gorilla would be representing the clear damage to the economic infrastructure of this country that was directly caused by the policies of George W. Bush. Pursuing unnecessary tax cuts while fighting not one, but two unfunded wars is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Bush Administration actively engaged in a policy of creating a deregulated financial marketplace by suppressing oversight so that there was virtually no distinction between Wall Street and a second rate casino. And when the wheel stopped spinning millions of Americans lost their homes, their jobs and their hopes. The collateral damage caused by Bush Administration can be seen in shuttered factories, Americans with graduate degrees competing for part-time jobs at any wage and the continued redistribution of wealth in favor of the most wealthy.

The American way calsl for every former president to have his/her own library. By that standard George W. Bush is entitled to his presidential library.

But just once I would like for that troop of 2000 pound gorillas to have their say.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 26, 2013

The horrific Boston Marathon Bombing has many in the media calling for the death penalty for the surviving accused perpetrator. Obviously now is as good a time as any for us to think about the death penalty itself. Meanwhile there are now six Democratic senators retiring from the Senate making 2014 a very important year. And finally, Congress has found a way to circumvent the impact of sequestration so that there won’t be flight delays – but what about everything else?

No Matter What You Call It

The arrest and arraignment of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has occasioned the call for the death penalty. Elected officials, media commentators and public opinion seems be frighteningly disposed to put this man to death.

So now is a good time to remember that the United States is one of the few remaining countries to engage in government-sanctioned murder. There are over 140 countries that have outlawed capital punishment, but by clinging to this bit of bloody justice this country joins countries like China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan in equating death with justice.

The irony of those who would deny women the right to choose whether or not have an abortion calling themselves “pro-life” while they call for the state to murder someone or simply stand by without protest is exponentially ironic. This society should be better than this.
Killing someone because they committed a crime does not sound like justice. It sounds like revenge.

More Drama on the Way

This past week Montana Senator Max Baucus announced that he will not run for reelection in 2014. That makes six – count them – 6 Democratic senate seats that will be vacant in the 2014 election. If the Teapublicans were to run the table and keep all of their vacant and incumbent seats and peel off the six Democratic seats they will have the majority in the Senate.

If that happens President Obama will be left with learning to become ambidextrous with his veto pen – as he will have little else to do. If you think that the Teapublicans have been negative and obstructionist over the last 5 ½ years, I am sure we haven’t seen the Teapublicans at their tantrum worst if they obtain the majority in the House and the Senate.
While November 4, 2014 seems like it is a long way away, it really isn’t. Circle that date on your calendar now and get ready to vote like your life depends on it…..because in reality it does.

Selective Strangulation

When sequestration kicked in at the beginning of March there was immediate concern that the federal government would immediately grind to a halt. That this did not happen was seen by delusional Teapublicans as proving that the draconian budget cuts imposed by this monstrous, self-imposed suicide mechanism called sequestration weren’t really that bad.

Thoughtful observers have always known that sequestration began the slow strangulation of the federal, state and local governments. The impact has not been immediate but there are already longer lines at veterans’ hospitals, staff cuts in social service agencies and law enforcement agencies are sending their officers home.

This past week the Federal Aviation Agency began furloughing air traffic controllers and that has led to excruciating flight delays across the country. And miraculously, because of the inconvenience to (mostly) business travelers and potential damage to the profits in the airline industry, Congress has acted to restore funding to the FAA that will allow air traffic controllers to work without interruption.

But don’t you wonder why the veterans awaiting critical care, children requiring vital social services and law enforcement agencies that protect us all aren’t as much as priority.

And meanwhile the governmental structure of the United States slowly succumbs to this slow strangulation called sequestration.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Gun Smokescreen

Last week the United States Senate, led by the Teapublican minority, turned in yet another Profile in Cowardice by refusing to pass a diluted, milquetoast, largely symbolic gun control measure. The key element of the defeated bill was background checks. Who could be against that? The question bears consideration. The answer is simple – and it is complicated.

Since the recent gun fueled slaughters in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown, along with the daily firearms carnage that spills blood throughout this country, most Americans have come to expect that there will be another massacre – the only question being when and where? One would think that the fact that over 30,000 Americans die due to gun violence every year would make gun control something of a priority. Certainly the fact that the United States has the highest rate of gun violence of any developed nation is an embarrassment and a tragedy.

Nevertheless, gun control measures have been repeatedly opposed, diluted and defeated by the so-called defenders of “the right to bear arms”. Aside from the fact that there are serious differences of opinion and perspective when it comes to the Second Amendment it is clear from all of the writings of the framers of the Constitution and subsequent judicial decisions that none of the rights in the Constitution are absolute.

For example, the First Amendment to the Constitution proclaims freedom of speech. But it is quite clear that even with that freedom no one has the constitutionally protected right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater or to advocate the violent overthrow of the government or to publish child pornography. The right to freedom of speech is conditional.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unlawful searches and seizures by the government. But agents of the government can obtain a warrant and search your home, your bank accounts and your internet records. Indeed, if there is a perception of imminent danger agents of the government can seize you and search your person on the street without a warrant. Just ask the proponents of New York City’s odious Stop and Frisk policy. The right to freedom from searches and seizures is conditional.

One wonders how the advocates of the Second Amendment have transformed the right to bear arms into some absolute right. One would think that reasonable measures that control the possession and use of firearms only makes sense in a civilized society. That is why the nonsensical notion that any government involvement in the ownership and possession of firearms is heretical is just that – nonsense.

The fact is that most of the loudest advocates of absolute gun rights are also on the far right conservative side when it comes to restricting the rights of free speech for people with whom they don’t agree, peaceful assembly of people whose causes they don’t like, freedom from illegal search and seizure for people whose politics they don’t like and a woman’s right to have an abortion. These selective absolutists don’t even bother to defend the inconsistency and hypocrisy of their position. And they will shoot anyone who believes otherwise.

Recent polls tell us that 90% of all Americans are in favor of some kind of background check prior to gun purchases. Yet the United States Senate could not find 60% of its members willing to support such a basic measure that could only help to protect all Americans.

The search for the reason for this disconnect begins with a search for the money. Tremendous sums of money are funneled into the National Rifle Association and into the political war chests of American legislators by representatives of the gun lobby. The gun lobby’s position is quite clear – any restriction or control on the sale of guns could lead to a loss of sales and profits. In the world of weapons manufacturers – sales and profits outweigh human life every single time.

The American system of capitalism has created the highest material standard of living of any country in the history of this planet. Free enterprise has resulted in railroads and the Hula Hoop, and it has all led to many forms of progress. But unconditional free enterprise can result in murderous and cannibalistic strains of capitalism where the damage and destruction of society is acceptable if it serves the false gods of sales and profit.

The hypocrisy of gun rights advocates who would restrict constitutional rights except when it comes to guns is shameful. The willingness of the gun lobby to sacrifice your life, and that of your family, in the cause of sales and profits is unspeakable.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 19, 2013

By refusing to pass even a diluted gun control measure the U.S. Senate effectively restarted the countdown for the next gun massacre. Meanwhile, the bombing at the Boston Marathon highlights the consequences of waging a global war on terror. And finally, congratulations to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine for publishing letters from alumni who fought in the Civil War and doing it the right way.

Ground Hog Day

This week the U.S. Senate refused to pass even a diluted, watered down, milquetoast version of President Obama’s original, transformative gun control proposals. By virtue of this shameful inaction, the Senate guaranteed that even in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Massacre, and even with the blood of over 2000 gun victims since Sandy Hook still soaking the landscape, there will be more gun massacres and there will be blood.

The countdown to the next massacre has already begun. We know when – it will be soon. We just don’t know where – except that it will be somewhere in America.
Meanwhile the Senate wears its shame like a garish but tattered garment that belongs in the trash heap of history.

Boston Blowback

As you are reading this the facts surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing are still being sorted out. What we already know is that the bombs employed this week are very similar to the bombs that have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq.

You don’t need to be a devotee of Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum to make an educated guess that the people behind these bombings have some connection to the global surges of violence. What we also know is that after a dozen years the American war on terror has probably created as many enemies as it has killed and that collateral damage can have unpredictable results abroad – and at home.

We will await further word on the details of the Boston Marathon bombing but it is not too early to once again think about how the American war on terror can be managed in such a way that blowback does not become inevitable.

Go Dartmouth!

When the May/June issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday I held my breath. The cover story featured letters from Dartmouth alumni/students who fought in the Civil War.

I readied myself for yet another glorified romanticizing of the Confederacy by placing letters from the treasonous Confederate soldiers on a par with letters from Union soldiers.

Thankfully there was not a single letter from a defender of white supremacist slavery and for that the editors of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine are to be congratulated.
The next step would be to remove or amend the plaque at Dartmouth which honors the 73 Dartmouth alumni who died in the Civil War, including 10 who fought for the Confederacy. I cannot imagine a memorial honoring Dartmouth alumni who died in World War II including a reference to alumni who fought for the Nazis.

Hopefully one day there will be an understanding that honoring the treasonous defenders of white supremacy, racism and slavery is pretty much the same thing.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Valuable Free Advice

There is an old saying about free advice is worth what you pay for it. And that is usually true. But as we watch the Teapublicans serially insult black Americans and consistently embarrass themselves as they “reach out” to the black community it might be a good idea for them to listen to some free advice – just this one time.

First of all, it is not useful to find other black Teapublicans who say the same horrible things that white Teapublicans say. One would have thought that the lesson would have been learned during the deafening lack of black support for the doomed Herman Cain presidential bid or as evidenced by the infinitesimal dribble of support for the ill-fated re-election campaign of Mr. Horror Show himself, the unlamented Allen West.

Teapublican/neocon nonsense still doesn’t make sense to most black Americans, even if the nonsense is being pitched by the likes of Clarence Thomas or Condoleezza Rice. No matter whom the spokesperson might be the message still matters.

And that brings us to another fundamental problem. The Teapublican Party has to stop treating its abysmal ratings in the black community as a marketing problem. The challenge is greater than finding a new logo or a devising a catchy slogan. The disconnect is real and rooted in real problems.

A bit of history – as late as 1960 the black vote in America was evenly divided between the Republican Richard Nixon and the Democrat John Kennedy. Within the next four years the tide of black voters going in the direction of Democrats became a tsunami. What happened? The Civil Rights bills happened with the leadership of a Democratic president and Congress.

What did the Republicans do? The Republican Party became the equivalent of a Buenos Aires safe house for the diehard Dixiecrats and segregationists who simply would not abide national acceptance of justice and equality for black Americans. And it is that heritage which stains the nearly lily white, Southern-dominated Teapublican Party to this very day like a bizarre Scarlet Letter that most black Americans can see quite clearly.

This disenchantment is real and visceral. The heritage harks back to the days of Jim Crow and lynchings and Birmingham bombings, and it resonates even for black Americans who were not alive for the Scottsboro travesty, the Little Rock riots or the executions of Till, Schwerner, Chaney, Goodman and King. And until the leadership of the Teapublican party can come to grips with this fundamental set of facts there are not going to be many “inroads” into the black community.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is a libertarian zealot who believes in minimalist government (except when it came to his accepting Medicaid payments as a practicing physician). In the past he has done a rhetorical fan dance on the issue of the historic civil rights bills of a half century ago, sometime saying that he wouldn’t vote for them and sometimes saying that he would have. But he has also stated that the Republican Party “won” the black vote in 1865 and that it has to find a way to “win” the black vote again.

Senator Paul should reference the earlier advisory not to treat this matter as a marketing contest. He should also study history a little more closely.

Even a cursory understanding of the peculiarly unique institution of American white supremacist slavery would lead to the consequent understanding of what Emancipation meant to black Americans. It literally meant life itself – a life without fear of being killed on a whim, or having your children sold or having your wife raped before your eyes with no legal recourse. Emancipation meant an opportunity to believe in tomorrow, a belief which had been denied to black Americans for over two hundred years.

Emancipation was championed by Republicans and that is why black Americans voted for Republicans as a matter of faith. To use Rand Paul’s unfortunate choice of words, Republicans “won” the black vote by transforming the lives of black Americans.

Democrats in turn began to make “inroads” in the black vote during the 1930’s by instituting the New Deal which again transformed the lives of all Americans, including black Americans. Democrats ‘won” the black vote by transforming the lives of black Americans.

For Teapublicans to change the balance of political choice in the black community it will have to propose transformative, not cosmetic, changes. A new logo, a black Teapublican with the same Old South message will simply not work. Transformation will work. It is that simple and that complicated.

This free advice, if taken, could be valuable.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 12, 2013

During this week we watched in wonder as the United States Senate voted in favor of debating a much diluted gun control bill. This is what passes for courageous action in 2013. Meanwhile what do Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford have in common? They have a shared belief in redemption. But do voters agree? And finally, it appears that as a political leader Dr. Ben Carson is a great neurosurgeon.

Fake Gun Fight

Since the Newtown Massacre there has been considerable energy and emotion spent on a campaign for reasonable and useful gun control measures. Since the Newtown Massacre over 2000 Americans have died from gun violence. The irony is apparent.

The United States Congress has given us a kabuki theater presentation that pretends to convey a serious effort to pass gun control legislation. The only thing is that the proposed legislation is now so diluted that any progress on this issue will be largely symbolic.

It was announced on Thursday that the Senate has voted to allow a debate on gun control legislation that features background checks for selected gun purchasers and…..well, that’s pretty much it. And to think that some senators have been proclaiming their courage in agreeing to debate a bill that should have been passed two decades ago.

Not exactly the next chapter of “Profiles in Courage”.

The Age of Redemption

A couple of years ago then South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford disappeared on the Appalachian Trail only to surface in Argentina in the arms of his mistress. Very soon thereafter he was resigned as governor.

A couple of years ago then Congressman Anthony Weiner claimed that texted photos of him in his underwear were the work of photo shopping hackers. Soon thereafter he admitted to being the being the adventurous phototexter and resigned as governor.

Seventeen years ago the President Bill Clinton famously proclaimed that he “did not have sex” with Monica Lewinsky. Soon thereafter he admitted that he did have sex with Monica Lewinsky and was impeached for lying during a deposition in the subject.

These three men all clearly believe in the powers of redemption. President Clinton has famously revived his seemingly shattered career by surviving impeachment, establishing the Clinton Foundation and reestablishing himself as one of the most influential political leaders of this era.

Mark Sanford, after doing his penance in obscurity, decided that the people of South Carolina needed him to represent them in Congress once again. And the Teapublican voters in a primary agreed with him and now he is a candidate for Congress.

Anthony Weiner should take heart. Coming out of the shadows of self-imposed seclusion he has broadly hinted that he may run for Mayor New York City. And before anyone discounts his chances, it might be useful to remember that in American politics there is always a second act.

Carson Quickie

Dr. Ben Carson is not simply an accomplished black neurosurgeon. He is one of the most accomplished neurosurgeons of any background in the world. His personal narrative is awesome in its inspiration having come from a humble background to attain incredible personal and professional excellence.

It came as some surprise, however, when Dr. Carson was recruited on to the Teapublican “We Need Black People” Tour and began to speak about his political philosophy. Up until now we had only heard Dr. Carson speak in uplifting terms, his soaring oratory inspiring thousands, if not millions.

However, the Other Dr. Carson appeared on the Tour and spoke about his staunch conservative philosophies. And he was alright until he compared same sex marriage with bestiality. And then it was time to bring down the curtain on the brief political career of Dr. Ben Carson who, as a political leader is a great neurosurgeon.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Land of the Rising South

Like a bad smell that just won’t go away, the myth of the glorious South refuses to die. Incredibly and unfortunately, that myth has enjoyed a recurring renaissance since the founding of this country. And now that myth has morphed into a nihilistic political philosophy that is far from quaint and very close to dangerous.

While racism and slavery were very much a part of the way of life in all thirteen of the original colonies, as much as gravity and oxygen in the air, slavery drove down its deepest sociopolitical roots in the primarily agrarian Southern colonies. The incredible wealth fueled by cheap human labor satisfied the monetary needs of a few and slaked the thirst for superiority of the many. This combination of monetary and psychic satisfaction was so potent that the Southern colonies, once they became states, were willing to fight to the death to preserve this peculiarly horrific institution called white supremacist slavery.

History tells us that the division between North and South played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution which shamefully labeled black slaves 3/5 of a human being and established a bicameral legislature which insured that states with smaller populations (the Southern states at the time) would be on a par with states with larger populations. The structure of this new government also locked in provisions which allowed a minority to obstruct, delay and sometimes destroy initiatives that represented the will of the majority.

A brief stroll down the memory lane of American history reveals that two of the first three presidents were Southern slave owners (Washington and Jefferson). However the last Southern slave owning president was Andrew Jackson and since then very few Southerners have become president.

Woodrow Wilson was the first Southern elected in the modern era and he brought his racist roots with him into the White House with the infamous premiere viewing of “Birth of a Nation”. The next Southerner elected president was Lyndon Johnson and since then only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were born Southerners elected to the White House (the two Bushes were born in Connecticut).

Despite being denied the presidency, the South has wielded inordinate power, first in foiling the civil rights movement for the first half of the twentieth century and now in seeking to dismantle the federal government in the first two decades of the twenty first century. Utilizing the leverage built into the legislative process by Washington, Jefferson and the other slave owning Founding Fathers, the Southern way has impacted this country, particularly on matters of race, all out of proportion to the moral, economic or demographic weight of the region.

Now the Southern strategy has morphed into a political philosophy that, if adopted by the country as a whole, is virtually suicidal. The federal governmental infrastructure is a key reason why this country, even with all of its flaws, has been successful in establishing a standard of living and a way of life that is historically remarkable. The idea that “government is the enemy”, a Southern lie promulgated by Ronald Reagan in a faux Southern moment, comes from the fact that in the South the federal government has indeed been the enemy of the Southern way of life.

It was the federal government that outlawed slavery and essentially burned the South to ground in the process. It has been less than two centuries since this bit of business was concluded and that is a blink of the eye in historical – and cultural – terms.

It was the federal government that dismantled the apparatus of Jim Crow and legalized segregation, using federal soldiers, federal judges and federal prosecutors to enforce this process. That took place less than fifty years ago, a mere heartbeat in historical terms.

In the Southern narrative, government as “the enemy” fits very nicely with those who would wish to dismantle government so as to reduce taxes to an afterthought as they amass untold wealth. Government as “the enemy” also fits in nicely with neoconservative thought that would reduce government regulations in industry and financing letting the market forces prevail (another term would be letting market forces run wild).

It would seem that this would be a good time to connect the dots before this country follows the stars and bars over the cliff.

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