Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – June 28, 2013

The evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court this week is the most racially damaging decision by that Court in exactly 117 years – almost to the day. Meanwhile the end of the DOMA as we know it has been a cause for justified celebration but it is celebration that should be muted given the near death of the VRA. Finally, given the precarious health of Nelson Mandela President Obama’s trip has a somber tinge but it does provide yet another opportunity to put the spotlight on what is good about Africa these days.

RIP VRA

In May of 1896 the United States Supreme Court dishonored itself by confirming the legality and constitutionality of racial segregation in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. For the next 100 years almost every Supreme Court decision on racial matters has been part of incremental progress.

Now, in its most recent ruling the Supreme Court has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, one of the pillars of progress built by the civil rights movement of the modern era. Using sham analysis to mask the obvious intent to disenfranchise black Americans and other people of color, the majority on the court has disgraced itself and desecrated the memory of all of the American heroes, black and white, honored and anonymous, who worked and struggled and died so that civil rights could become a civil reality in this country.

The majority of the Supreme Court should be ashamed of themselves but they are not. They will continue to wrap themselves in the self-righteous literal translation of the Constitution whenever it is convenient and suits their damnable purpose.

Somewhere in the depths of Hell Strom Thurmond, the Ku Klux Klan, Lester Maddox, John Stennis, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and the rest of the members of the unrepentant American racist terrorist movement are celebrating.

DOMAcide

The signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996 was one of the more regrettable aspects of the presidency of Bill Clinton. This law was obviously unconstitutional and was a legislative expression of pure prejudice.

Seventeen years later DOMA has been dismantled by the Supreme Court. While the outcome of this case should have been inevitable – the ScaliaAlitoRobertsThomas wing of the Court has proven itself capable of trampling even the most basic of rights.

While there are twelve states and the District of Columbia where same sex marriage is now legal, that means that there are 38 states that still need to come to the realization that the right to love and care for someone is not something that should be subject to legislative rule or permission.

Back to Africa

As noted, the precarious health of liberation icon Nelson Mandela casts a somber light over President Obama’s trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

While our prayers are with Mr. Mandela and his family we should not that President Obama’s trip does provide the American media and the American business community with an opportunity to focus on the positive aspects of Africa, not only in the visited countries but throughout the continent.

Business expansion, technological progress, increased democratization and gradual but steady improvement of living conditions are all characteristics of large parts of the African continent.

We have to hope that this message about the “other” Africa will resonate long after President Obama returns to Washington.

Have a great weekend!

 

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Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Steve Fox

Saving Ben Franklin

The Royal Mail is for sale. Reuters reported this week that the British government has authorized two investment banks to inititate arrangements for an IPO to sell the Royal Mail… it’s Britain’s largest privatization in the last 20 years. The state-owned Royal Mail could earn the government as much as $4 billion, and earn the banks a sizable commission.

The Royal Mail, founded in 1516 by King Henry VIII, is a major employer and the IPO is fiercely opposed by British postal unions. If the Royal Mail is sold, can the United States Postal Service (USPS) be far behind?

It would be a real shame to waste Ben Franklin’s greatest gift to us – the USPS.

Nowadays, the most famous riders associated with the USPS are probably Lance Armstrong and his bike racing team, rather than the Pony Express. Unfortunately, that scandal takes attention away from the more important news that the Postal Service is set to run out of operating capital in October. It’s been losing a reported $25 million a day, $16 billion during 2012, despite the fact that it raised the price of a first class stamp to 46-cents.

 Running out of operating capital means no money to pay workers or buy fuel for trucks, so no mail delivery. There’s already talk of severely cutting back the Post Office, which is on the verge of bankruptcy due to burdensome retirement fund costs and decline in regular mail because of the Internet. Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting the Post Office from cutting Saturday mail delivery, which would have saved $2 billion a year.

Postmaster General Pat Donahue blames Congressional inaction for most of the financial problems. According to a recent story in US News & World Report, Sally Davidow, a spokeswomen for the American Postal Workers Union said, “Congress is killing the USPS, forcing it to the brink of bankruptcy.” The 112th Congress adjourned before passing a proposed law to cut costs and plug losses. The USPS is a government agency. It’s supposed to be self-sustaining, but it’s regulated by Congress, which keeps voting down proposed postal rate increases.

When I drive around my neighborhood in Norhern California, it brings a smile to my face to see Post Office trucks here. To me, it means the government is still alive and doing the people’s business.

I know many people complain about the Post Office, but it’s better and cheaper than the alternative in any country I know of in the world. A letter mailed on the West Coast will get to its destination, even on the East Coast, in a couple of days. Mail delivery to foreign countries doesn’t cost us a lot more and is also dependable.

The USPS carries mail by pack mules to the Havasupui Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Mailmen on snowmobiles take it into the wilds of Alaska. The mail gets delivered to 160 million American homes 6 days a week. According to Bloomberg Businessweek magazine: “It may be the greatest bargain on earth.”

The answer to keeping the Post Office alive is simple and easy.

Let the Postal Service charge more for their stamps and other services. In fact, they should charge a lot more for the 84 billion pieces of junk mail Americans got last year. Instead, the Postal Service recently cut a deal with a major junk mail provider giving them a 45% discount over standard mail rates. Let the USPS raise prices and see what the market will bear. Politicians should stay out of this.

The Post Office has more than 700,000 employees, despite 60,000 layoffs last year. In exchange for keeping their jobs and the Postal Service alive, postal workers can be asked to do more than just deliver the mail. They already have a fleet of federal vehicles and knowledge of local neighborhoods. They could, in order to keep their jobs and benefits, be put into service as early assessors of damages in emergencies

They already know the neighborhoods and most of the residents. My bet is that they would be happy to do this, both to keep their jobs and also because they are – in the true sense of the words – civil servants.

Seeing the mail trucks disappear or come less often would be a terrible loss, both in practical and cultural terms. It would be worse than seeing the milkman trucks disappear, the ones that used to deliver fresh milk, butter, cream and eggs daily, which they did when I was a kid in the Midwest.

A retired postmaster wrote recently that “the American people built the postal network,” not Congress.  The American people can also save the Post Office, by telling their Congressional representatives to focus on doing something this term before adjourning once again with nothing accomplished.

The USPS serves us well; it’s reliable and an important source of jobs. It’s up to we the people to save it before Congress fails to do its duty once again. They should at least consider the legislation that’s already been drawn up. If Congress was as efficient as the Post Office, it wouldn’t be suffering the low approval ratings it is.

Some conservatives have suggested “privatizing” the Post Office. I’d suggest “privatizing” Congress, but it often seems that’s already happened, given the influence of lobbyists and business interests.

Steve Fox is a former national correspondent for ABC TV network  program Good Morning America. He has also reported for other ABC News programs, such as 20/20, Nightline and World News. He covered stories ranging from the Fall of the Berlin Wall, drought and famine and genocide in Africa, the Olympics and U.S. national elections and political conventions. He started his career as a local TV news anchor and reporter in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and a newspaper reporter in Southern California. He has won Emmy Awards and other industry accolades. Following his 30-year career in journalism, he worked briefly as a public relations executive for a global firm and taught multimedia journalism at a San Francisco University. He is currently a freelance writer.

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Point of View Columns

Somebody is Watching You

Edward Snowden had better hope that his fifteen minutes of fame are worth the next several years of anxiety that he will be experiencing. It is not clear how Mr. Snowden is a traitor or a hero for revealing what most of us already know. But whoever thought it would be a good idea for him to go from China to Russia to Cuba in his flight from prosecution and his quest for asylum might want to have their head examined.

As an employee of a National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden is one of over one million people with Top Secret clearance. The sheer number of individuals with Top Secret clearance reveals that there aren’t very many secrets left in this country or in this world, for that matter.

Ever since Mr. Snowden released the NSA files indicating this gargantuan monitoring system that encompasses everything from phone calls to e-mails, there has been a reprise of that scene from the movie “Casablanca” where the corrupt Inspector is “shocked” that there is gambling going on in a night club while simultaneously receiving his bribe. The American press, civil liberties groups and predictably the right wing of the right wing have excoriated President Obama and his Administration for the continuation of a surveillance program that began during the Bush-Cheney Administration.

But before looking at the technical, strategic and policy issues related to the Prism program it is useful to reaffirm the facts of the world in which we live today. The expectations of privacy in the 21st century are fundamentally different from one hundred years ago or even twenty years ago.

The almost universal use of the internet for communication, commerce and recreation has lulled the global public into the dreamland of expectation – expecting that use of the internet is somehow private. And that delusion has continued even though most sentient beings realize that companies ranging from Google to Amazon to McDonald’s are tracking the use of the internet for various marketing and commercial purposes.

Computer technology is such that nothing is ever deleted and nothing can ever be retracted once that “Send” button has been pushed. Despite the various encryption features related to everything from personal banking to the recording of grades, no one should be surprised that there is no such thing as ultimate, iron clad security when the internet is used. Indeed, even a computer with no connection to the internet has a memory that retains its memory until it is thrown into a cauldron of molten steel.

Given the facts that our expectations of privacy are radically different, it is curious that there is such controversy regarding the NSA tracking patterns – not content – of cell phone calls and internet communications in order to discern possible links to terrorists or terrorist activities. This surveillance program involves the oversight of billions upon billions of messages and calls with an accompanying set of algorithms that allow the NSA to pick up on suspicious links.

To date there has been no assertion that this activity been used to harass or attack political opposition to the current Administration. Further, there has been no record of warrantless review and surveillance of the content of monitored communications. There have been, however, assertions by the NSA that over fifty serious terrorist attacks have been thwarted by reason of this Prism surveillance program.

What is clear is that this surveillance program is not necessarily the first stage of “1984” played out 29 years later. What is also clear is that a war on terror against actors who don’t wear uniforms, who don’t have a flag and who don’t have a home country is not a war that can be fought via conventional means.

President Obama has called for a reassessment of the so-called war on terror and now would also be a good time to reassess the tools for fighting that war.

In the meantime, Edward Snowden might want to hire a new travel agent.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – June 21, 2013

It is been a hectic few week for the Teapublican Krazy Kweens – Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. One is coming back and one is going back. Meanwhile the Teapublican Krazy Kings in the Congress have redefined the word “Neanderthal” in their views towards women. And last, but certainly not least, it turns out that the Teapublican strategy to save America includes a work requirement for food stamps.  

Hello and Goodbye

A few months ago Fox News mercifully reported that Sarah Palin’s contract would not be renewed and the American people would be liberated from having to watch her pincer assault on common sense and good taste. During her ill-fated tenure as a commentator on Fox News Sarah Palin contributed less than nothing to rational, intelligent and useful discourse on American political issues.

But Fox giveth, and Fox taketh away. This past week it was announced that the Grizzly Mom is returning to Fox News and that she will continue pirouetting her way around anything that might even resemble the truth.

Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, the Krazy Kween with the faraway look in her eyes announced that she will not run for reelection in 2014. Which begs the question, if the citizens of a congressional district would vote for Michele Bachmann, isn’t it possible that may elect someone worse?

The Syrian government may have killed as many as 90,000 of its citizens during the past two years. The current regime is blood soaked and tyrannical and is clearly opposed by a significant portion of the Syrian population. And while there is no doubt that the current regime should be dumped in the trash bin of history, there is a lot of doubt as to what, or who, should replace it.

Alley Oop

Given the recent behavior by the male Teapublicans in the United States Congress it would appear that they actually believe in a version of reverse evolution – growing dumber and more coarse by the moment. Remember that this is the party of “actual rape”, transvaginal wands and shaming rooms in abortion clinics.

Now they have outdone themselves by proposing legislation that endeavors to nullify Roe v. Wade and leave women with no reproductive choice whatsoever. One of the more shameful aspects of this Teapublican episode is that only six Teapublicans did not vote in favor of the referenced legislation. And while this legislation will never pass the Senate and would be vigorously vetoed by President Obama, it is a sure bet that the legislation will be dragged out of the misogynous slime where it was created by Teapublicans time and time again.

And it is interesting to note that these so-called “pro-life” zealots are against reproductive choices for women but slice away at every social service program that will help the people (children who will become adults) who are in this country because a woman exercised her reproductive rights to have a child.

The result of the proposed severe restrictions on reproductive rights will be more unwanted pregnancies. In that context, the result of draconian Teapublican austerity measures will certainly result in more misery for more Americans.

Will Work for Food

In their never ending attempt to spew forth cruelty disguised as budgetary austerity, this past week the Teapublicans proposed draconian cuts to the food stamp program. For good measure they also included a work requirement as a part of the food stamp program.

Aside from the fact that a lot of people are receiving food stamps because they can’t find work there is also the slimy feel of self-righteousness about this proposal. Because there is a clear assumption that anyone seeking the assistance must be a con artist disguised as a hungry child or an elderly woman.

There will always be individuals who will seek to take advantage of charity but that is simply no reason to soak the social safety nets in the waters of meanness.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Slip Sliding into Syria

One definition of insanity describes recurrent behavior that always has negative results but persisting in that behavior anyway. Modern history has shown that American military intervention rarely yields positive results but we still hear the calls to battle from armchair hawks resting safely in their ergonomically designed chairs. And now the call for war involves Syria.

The current situation in Syria is certainly dire and horrific. It is estimated that in the past two years over 90,000 Syrians have died in the constant clashes between insurgent forces and the Syrian government. Indeed the Syrian government has unleashed everything from chemical weapons to jet and missile attacks on its own people.

By any definition the Assad regime in Syria has lost all legitimacy and should not continue to maintain power. And that, of course, is what the civil war in that country is all about. And where the bad guys are so impossibly bad it is easy to see how the opposition can be seen as the good guys, the noble warriors for peace and liberty – freedom fighters if you will.

But, as Marvin Gaye once said, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear”. It turns out that some of the Syrian “freedom fighters” have serious and credible links to al Qaeda. Certainly a significant number of the insurgents hold a vision of radical Islamic Syria, ruled by Sharia law and certainly not inclined to be friendly to the United States and very likely to be inclined to be friendly with stated enemies of this country.

Syria is very complicated and we now see the Obama Administration traveling down the same slippery road that resulted in bloody quagmires in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The goal of regime change that removes the Assad regime seems like a good one but only if one has a clear picture of what the successor regime is going to be like.

The Bush-Cheney cabal told the American people that the regime of Saddam Hussein was evil and that regime change was the only answer. In point of the fact, the only answer that the American people received was soaked in the blood of thousands of killed and wounded American troops and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. The only answer the American people received came at a price of close to one trillion dollars and this answer has reduced a major country in the Middle East into a chaotic black hole.

A quarter of a century ago the Reagan Administration of Iran-Contra infamy told the American people that the opposition to the Russian occupation in Afghanistan were freedom fighters and deserved the military support of the United States. Yet one of those “freedom fighters” turned out to be none other than Osama bin Laden who personally orchestrated the murder of thousands of Americans.

Now we are seeing increasing pressure being put upon President Obama to “do something” even though “something” might end up being yet another disastrous misadventure for this country. Even a “no-fly” zone requires more than jet planes, it also requires pilots and at some point American military personnel will be in harm’s way resulting in a sadly familiar automatic escalation of violence and further military involvement.

And all along there is no clear vision as to what the desired outcome in Syria would be, only that there is some kind of humanitarian mandate that the United States must follow because innocent people are being killed. But innocent people are also being killed in Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chechnya to name just a few killing fields around the world.

The notion that the United States should take the leadership role in ridding this planet of the violent impulses that are as old as humanity itself can only lead to disastrous results. The supporters of armed intervention in Syria will not be making any personal sacrifices but the soldiers that will be killed, and their families will certainly pay the price.

And the American people will certainly pay the price for yet another war of choice with no exit strategy – yet another war without end.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – June 14, 2013

With over 90,000 people killed during the past two years, Syria is in the news for all the wrong reasons. And now, people who forget the Law of Unintended Consequences want to make things worse. Meanwhile, the Teapublican Klown Show just never takes a day off, especially when it comes to degrading women. And finally, the slow strangulation of this country continues courtesy of your friendly Teapublican terrorists.  

Serious About Syria

The Syrian government may have killed as many as 90,000 of its citizens during the past two years. The current regime is blood soaked and tyrannical and is clearly opposed by a significant portion of the Syrian population. And while there is no doubt that the current regime should be dumped in the trash bin of history, there is a lot of doubt as to what, or who, should replace it.

Given the multiple moving parts in this scenario it seems bizarre that there are calls from Congress for President Obama to “take action” and to support the “freedom fighters”. It is all the more bizarre when we realize that these armchair hawks clearly have no sense of history and indeed may have taken leave of their senses.

The disastrous Vietnam War began with a call for the United States to “take action”. The Korean War begun in the 1950’s has never officially ended and remains an ignition point for wider conflict. Any call for “action” can quickly lead this country to a slippery and bloody slope that resolves nothing and guarantees an unending American death toll.

And just because someone opposes a tyrannical regime does not make them “freedom fighters”. Just ask the 43 American relief workers in Egypt who have been sentenced to decades in prison by the “freedom fighters” who now occupy the seat of power in that country.

And let us not forget that when the United States supported the mujahedeen “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan two decades ago, one of those “freedom fighters” was Osama bin Laden.

Now would be as good a time as any to recall the lessons of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

EWS – Existing While Stupid

Incredibly but inevitably, the Teapublican Klown Kavalcade manages to combine stupidity with misogyny in ways that are both appalling to humanity and incredibly insulting to women. Much of the language employed by these Klowns is so completely crude and ignorant that it must take a certain talent to be that wrong.

The latest Klown Kontest winner is Congressman Trent Franks who just had to say that it is rare that rape results in a pregnancy (!!!!!). This was supposed to be a reason to remove the rape exception to abortion protocols – as in no abortions even in the instance of rape.

Arguing that if only one woman were to be impregnated by a rape it would be one person too many would be a first step into the Bizarro World where Congressman Franks resides. The real point, the only point, is that women should have absolute control over their bodies including decisions regarding pregnancy.

“Actual” rape, “rare” rape – these are all in the vocabulary of the ignorant and should not be part of any rational discourse on the subject.

But we know that Congressman Franks is not the last Klown in the Teapublican Klown Kar. Another one is coming soon.

Slow Dance

The stealth strangulation of the American government continues as the direct result of the sequestration catastrophe that exploded over three months ago. Because the catastrophe was not as immediate as a hurricane or an earthquake there has been a tendency on the part of the Teapublican terrorists and their media enablers to declare that the impact of sequestration has been minimal.

When the furloughing of air traffic controllers precipitated chaos at airports across the country Congress acted to plug that one particular hole in the dike. And again the Teapublican terrorists tried to act as if all was well once the planes were flying again.

But ask the disabled veterans who have to wait at longer and longer lines at VA hospitals if all is well. Or perhaps this new branch of American terrorism should ask the people who are dependent on public housing how they like sequestration now that fewer Section 8 vouchers are available – over 8,000 fewer in New York City alone – over 8000 families in just one city who will have to somehow secure safe and affordable housing with no safety net thanks to the Teapublican terrorists.

There are literally thousands of federal programs that are slowly bleeding to death, serving fewer Americans every day and creating the grotesque scenario of record highs on Wall Street while misery expands on Main Street.

This slow death has many victims and we have the Teapublican terrorists to blame, plain and simple.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

The Rise of the Know Nothings

About 150 years ago the Know Nothing Party had a (thankfully) brief fling with fame and popularity advocating the “purification” of America by limiting the influence of immigrants. How ironic is it that now, in the second decade of the 21st century, the descendants of targets of the Know Nothings have become Know Nothings themselves, treating American citizenship as some kind of divine gift that should be sparingly granted to immigrants to this country.

The current debate over immigration reform carries the unmistakable scent of collective national amnesia. Except for Americans who have only Native American ancestors, every single living American citizen is the descendant of immigrants. African Americans can rightly claim that their ancestors were unwilling immigrants but they were immigrants nevertheless. If one wishes to argue the existence of American exceptionalism, one can begin with the notion that being an “American” is a concept more than a genotype.

A time traveler from the 19th century would be amused and then appalled to see the descendants of Irish immigrants braying about the unfitness of the immigrants of today. In the not too distant past Irish immigrants were portrayed as barely human with bestial traits that should automatically deny them the glories of American citizenship.

And it was not too long ago that immigrants from Italy and from Eastern Europe were considered to be inferior and absolutely unfit for American citizenship. Into the twentieth century more “senior” Americans thought of the new citizens as diluting and demeaning the very core of this country.

And the so-called “blue bloods” of American society, those who trace their lineage to the Mayflower or some long ago entry into this country should be reminded that the overwhelming majority of early immigrants to the American colonies were former prisoners, indentured servants and fugitives from bankruptcy who were generally thought of as the miscreants of European society. The immigrants of that era who were fleeing religious persecution would certainly be thought of as odd, if not dangerous, cultists.

The point of this bit of historical perusal is that, with very few exceptions, no one is in a position to take the high and mighty high ground when it comes to immigration. It is almost, almost laughable to hear the likes of Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio adopt a “hard line” when it comes to immigration when Cubans were not exactly welcome in Texas, Florida or anywhere else until after the ascent of Fidel Castro.

One does not have to look far into anyone’s family tree to realize that it is beyond hypocritical to advocate harsh restrictions on immigration or to propose such painful paths to citizenship. If the citizenship process advocated in many Teapublican proposals were in place in the early 1900’s millions of Americans today would still be living in Italy, Russia, Germany, Ireland…..you get the idea.

It should be clear that the anti-immigrant and anti-immigration movement is fueled by the fact that today’s immigrants come mainly from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Today’s immigrants are truly people of color and white Americans continue to be terrified by the notion that they will one day be the minority in “their own country”.

The fact is that most of the hardliners on immigration are white Americans along with their Latino sock puppets like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The fact is that if most of the 11 million undocumented residents of this country were blue eyed blonde émigrés from the Ukraine and Germany and Scotland and Ireland and Sweden there would not be this hue and cry regarding so-called illegal immigration.

The fact is that this country, indeed this planet, has always been about change and evolution. Countries change; cultures change and the way we live will always change and will never stay the same.

Legend tells the story of the Danish King Canute who had his throne put on the shore so that he could show his subjects that there were things, like the tides of the sea that even a king cannot command.

So it is that there are tides of change that the Teapublicans and the hardline opponents of immigration cannot command no matter what.

 

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