Point of View Columns

Playing With Fire

Ever since the 2010 midterm elections, the governance atmosphere has gone from combative to toxic. Partisan goals such as retaining the White House or defeating the incumbent MuslimAntiChristKenyan Outlier Obama are not historically unique in Washington. However, beginning in 2011 a new wave of Teapublican terrorists have swarmed into the nation’s capital with the stated goal of dismantling the federal government and rolling back the rights and liberties of minorities, women and immigrants – and anyone else that they don’t like.

This notion of Teapublican state sponsored institutional terrorism is a new feature in American politics where a virulent and well-financed faction in Congress has basically held the federal government hostage in the name of its extreme agenda. Not since the dark days in the run up to the Civil War have we seen elected officials in Washington speak so comfortably about dismantling the government and shutting it down.

Most recently, the Teapublican Terrorists have threatened to shut down the entire federal government if the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – is not totally defunded. They are taking this position even though Obamacare was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President of the United States – a president who was reelected with Obamacare prominently on his campaign resume.

The Teapublican Terrorists not only seem to be willing to ignore the will of the American people, they are also prepared to ignore the fact that the rightist Supreme Court of the United States, led by its rightwing Chief Justice John Roberts, affirmed the legality and constitutionality of Obamacare. That is not enough for these terrorists who have non-negotiable demands and are willing to kill their hostage if they don’t get their way.

And just because they are carrying a virulent strain of negative obstructionism and institutional sabotage doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious. The Teapublican Terrorists proved this in 2011 when they exacerbated the crisis over the debt ceiling to a point where the United States credit rating was downgraded for the first time in the history of the republic.

Not satisfied with the financial and economic havoc created by this fiasco, the Teapublican Terrorists have determined that the extreme “neutron bomb” of sequestration is actually a viable governance option. And as a result of their concretized and sclerotic intransigence, the federal government is slowly asphyxiating even as you read this column. On the Planet Teapublican this is known as a good thing.

Taking such extreme positions in a governance process that has been relatively successful for over two centuries because of the willingness of stakeholders to compromise and negotiate threatens to overturn the entire process of American governance. The Teapublican Terrorists recognize the fact that the demographics and prevailing social/cultural perspectives of this country are moving in a direction that does not favor them.

Their answer has not been to propose solutions that are better suited to an evolving America. Rather the Teapublican Terrorists are trying to freeze this country in right wing amber. That is why, with gerrymandered Congressional districts virtually insuring a Teapublican majority in the House of Representatives for the next seven years, these Terrorists are trying to roll back voting rights to the time of Reconstruction and to virtually abolish abortion rights and a woman’s right to choose.

That is why the Teapublican Terrorists will never agree to any kind of immigration reform that has a “path to citizenship” because they don’t want twenty-first century immigrants to become citizens. That is because twenty-first century immigrants to America are primarily black and brown and that is not the kind of America that the Teapublican Terrorists want to see.

The Teapublican Terrorists seem to believe that they can continue to dismantle the federal government and that this country will still stand. They seem to believe that they can hold the finances of this country hostage to their ill will and that there will not be long term consequences. They are wrong and they are playing with fire.

It is useful to remember that the history books are full of stories of glorious empires, republics and kingdoms that fell once people believed that the future existence of their nation was inevitable.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – July 26, 2013

With his recent remarks disparaging Latino immigrants Congressman Steve King has once again proven that Teapublicans never run out of racist sewage. Meanwhile Attorney General Eric Holder has taken on the state of Texas and its vicious voter suppression plan. And finally, Jay-Z is a wealthy superstar, adored by millions of fans around the world, but he is no match for Harry Belafonte.

This King is a Pauper

In explaining why he opposes just about everything related to immigration reform except self-deportation and higher walls, Congressman Steve King slimed the millions of men, women and children who have come to this country in recent years as he neatly sanctifies his own immigrant forebears.

Serving a bizarre stew of fiction, fantasy and racism, Congressman King claims that most immigrants coming from Mexico are drug mules. He even went so far as to say that many of these immigrants “have calves as big as cantaloupes” from carrying so much drug weight.

Unfortunately, his employment of racist myth to support his lily white America fantasy is nothing new. And when questioned, King was unapologetic and repeated his slimy statements.

And sadly for this country, Representative Steve King is also representative of the new leadership in the Teapublican Party.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Immediately upon the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 states, counties and local governments rushed to implement some of the most restrictive voter suppression measures since the high cotton days of Jim Crow. That the paperwork was already completed before the Shelby v. Holder decision was even announced shows how eager some white people are to suppress the vote of anyone who is not white.

Now Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Department of Justice will take the state of Texas to federal court to challenge the transparently racial and racist redistricting measures that will ensure white rule even as the demographics of the state turn darker every day. For this Attorney General Holder should be congratulated since thanks to the SCOTUS VRA travesty the Department of Justice will have to fight for voter rights trench by trench, case by case – hand to hand combat in every courtroom in every jurisdiction where voter suppression raises its ugly head.

And this is a good time to ask what do you think an Attorney General appointed by President Mitt Romney would be doing? Playing golf or just working on his tan?

Harry Belafonte v. Jay-Z

During the past few weeks there has been a media match going on as a result of lyrics in a song recently released by Jay-Z. Leaving out the profanity and the self-hating racist references, it appears that Jay-Z is criticizing Harry Belafonte for criticizing him for not demonstrating enough social responsibility.

Referring to the iconic Harry Belafonte as “boy”, Jay-Z basically deflects Mr. Belafonte’s criticism by alluding to his own charitable contributions. And we can give Mr. Sean Carter the benefit of the doubt that he and his wife, Beyonce, give significant sums of money to charity.

But Mr. Carter misses the point of Mr. Belafonte’s criticism. Social responsibility is more than giving away turkeys or dollars to the needy. Al Capone used to do that and drug dealers and gang leaders still do it.

Because of his success and popularity Jay-Z has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Paul Robeson and yes….Harry Belafonte. But to do that he would have to contribute to the enrichment of the lives and environment of his fans and supporters and that would mean reversing the decades that he has spent writing and singing lyrics glorifying and romanticizing violence while demeaning and degrading women all the while turning an incredibly racist epithet into some kind of bizarro term of endearment.

That might be a lot for Mr. Carter to do – but wouldn’t it be great to see him try.

Have a great weekend and stay strong!

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Point of View Columns

Stop in the Name of No

Ever since Barack Obama became president the loyal opposition hasn’t been very loyal. The Teapublicans have turned governmental dysfunction into an art form and every American from the right wing of the right wing of the Tea Party movement to the Occupy Movement on the other end of the spectrum is paying the price.

It is no longer arguable that the founding principles of the current Tea Party movement are rooted in the mind bending impact that grew with the reality of a black President of the United States actually being President of the United States. To be sure, the movement to lessen the size of government predates the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama. To be just as sure, the fire, brimstone and sheer rage directed at the federal government can be directly traced to January 19, 2009, when Barack Obama took the oath of office.

We know by admission that the leadership of the Republican (soon to be Teapublican) Party met in Washington on the evening of January 19, 2009 to develop a strategy that would ensure the failure of the Obama Administration. In many circles developing a strategy like this would be considered treasonous plotting.

In any event, as the Republicans morphed into Teapublicans the mood in some parts of the country turned uglier and uglier as the presidency of the KenyanMuslimFascistCommunistTerroristAntiChrist Named Obama continued. Shamefully, the presumably reasonable leadership of the Teapublicans Formerly Known as Republicans stayed silent as racist rage masqueraded as serious policy concerns.

The result of this political voyage through the sewer of resentment and pure hate was the 2010 midterm elections which resulted in a literal a mob of Tea Party nihilists storming into Washington with the twin goals of defeating President Barack Obama and dismantling the federal government. And while this mob, which recalls lily white mobs of another day, was unable to defeat Barack Obama it has done a damn good job of trying to dismantle the federal government.

At a time when this country desperately needs leaders to display leadership, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has proudly employed the filibuster tactic 420 times in efforts to thwart the rational function of the Obama presidency and the federal government in general. His epic use of filibusters in order to make sure that the federal government does not function has had an especially hard impact on all aspects of this country – from its diminished credit rating to the diminished respect that the American people have for government.

Not to be outdone, House Speaker John Boehner has led the Teapublican kamikazes in repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2010 knowing that the bill will not be repealed and without offering anything like a rational legislative alternative. Speaker Boehner and his fellow Teapublican Terrorists simply want their limited constituency to know that they voted against Obamacare – now 39 times and counting. The fact that their votes have nothing to do with governance and that in no way have they helped a single American gain better health care options and alternatives is of no importance in their alternate universe.

We have become so anesthetized to the appalling antics of the Teapublican Terrorists that we sit by with only muted protest as infrastructure crumbles, government workers are furloughed, Head Start programs evaporate, food stamps wither and veterans wait in interminable lines in in neglected VA hospitals. There seems to be no bottom to the Teapublican well of bile and rage and nihilism. And in the process the entire American public, including Teapublicans suffer.

Opposition is a natural and normal part of democracy. Simply put obstructionism and nihilism is not. This is a lesson that the Teapublicans have yet to learn.

But the rest of us are learning this lesson in real time.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – July 19, 2013

The aftermath of the wrongheaded and racially stained verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman leaves black parents in a real quandary – what survival lessons should be taught? Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has fashioned himself as some kind of avatar of Washington gridlock, and he is proud of it. And finally, the City of Detroit has filed for bankruptcy. This is a sad story that may also be a precursor of things to come.

What is the Lesson Plan?

In her first interview since the Zimmerman trial, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin offered a heartbreaking observation – one shared by black parents across this country. She said that she had “no clue” what to tell her surviving son regarding the best course of action to take to stay in alive in circumstances similar to the one that cost Trayvon Martin his life.

Clearly walking down the street in a lawful fashion is not enough to insure that a young black man will come home alive. Just a clearly, taking notice, much less offense, to being followed by a suspicious or “creepy” white man could be a fatal decision.

In the event that her surviving son is confronted by a white man with no apparent or stated affiliation with law enforcement, he is supposed to………….what? Assume that all white men are well-intentioned and submit to detention and questioning? Should he run for his life? Should he resist as most young white men are taught to do?

It is a shame that there are no useful answers to these questions. And it is shameful that the Zimmerman case will not be the last of its kind in these United States.

The Champion of Dysfunction

When he first took his oath of office as a United States Senator Mitch McConnell swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. A thorough search of the Constitution will not reveal a provision that gives anyone the right to impair and impede the orderly function of the federal government for purely partisan reasons.

Yet, as Minority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell has instigated over FOUR HUNDRED FILIBUSTERS in order to impair and impeded the operations of the federal government. Everything from legislation to routine presidential appointments are held up, sometimes for years, at McConnell’s behest, serving his goal of crippling the Obama Administration and diminishing its legacy.

When Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 19, 2009, he swore that he would do everything in his power to make sure that President Obama was a one term president. We all know how that turned out.

Now, McConnell’s goal is loftier – the systematic destruction of the federal government by employing strategies of delay, obstruction and more delay.

Mitch McConnell is a political terrorist who wears a filibuster vest instead of a bomb vest.  

As Detroit Goes So Goes…….?

In the 1950’s Detroit was one of the largest cities in the United States with a population of 1.8 million people. Today Detroit has a population of 700,000 people and has filed for bankruptcy.

There are a lot of reasons for this disastrous decline of what was once one of this country’s greatest cities – governmental mismanagement, relocation of core businesses (including the automobile industry), the flight of the middle class (black and white) and seemingly no sustainable vision for the future.

The structural dysfunction of the city’s finances occasioned by pension costs cannot be ignored as well. Many cities, counties and states will be watching the outcome of the Detroit scenario as the mayors, managers and governors know that they could be next.

Have a great weekend and stay strong!

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Twelve Lessons from the Zimmerman Trial

It took approximately sixteen hours for the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman to arrive at the verdict that acquitted him of all charges related to his having killed Trayvon Martin. This stunning demolition of the concept of “justice for all” has a sad and macabre “Groundhog Day” quality to it as American history reeks with the stench of the tradition of black men and women being killed without criminal consequences for the killers.

Conscientious black parents in this country give their children American Survival lessons at a very early age lest they run afoul of the third rail of racism that lies hidden just below the surface all throughout these United States. The Zimmerman verdict provided yet another mandatory teachable moment. Ever since the jury of five white women and a Latina determined that the killing of Trayvon Martin did not warrant any punishment whatsoever, it has been important to think about twelve lessons that black parents need to be teaching their children until they can recite it by rote:

  1. For over two hundred years it was impossible for a white person to be arrested, much less convicted for killing a black person in the American South.
  2. Until the Civil War, very few white Americans did anything to prevent this ritualized and legalized slaughter of black human beings.
  3. For over one hundred years after the Civil War black men and women were routinely lynched by white terrorists. These lynchings took place not only in the South but in places like Indiana and New York’s Long Island. Records do not indicate that any white person ever faced legal consequences as a result of participating in this terrorist activity.
  4. During the wholesale lynching frenzy, most white Americans went about their business and there is no record of any Congressional action outlawing lynching despite a few pathetic efforts to do so.
  5. During the classic years of the Civil Rights movement so many black Americans were killed without the killers ever being arrested, much less prosecuted, the United States Congress passed a law in the early part of this century empowering the Justice Department to reopen so called “cold cases”. Not surprisingly, most of the perpetrators have either died or continue to walk the streets.
  6. Despite the history of institutionalized, routinized and culturally acceptable violence being perpetrated against black people in America, the myth of the barely controllable black brute has become a part of white American reality justifying the routine use of deadly force, capital punishment and the imposition of crippling prison sentences through mass incarceration.
  7. In any encounter with the police or any other law enforcement representative, a black male can anticipate being held to a different standard regarding his conduct as his mere existence can be seen as a potential threat and he is considered to have the inherent capacity to become a wild and dangerous brute at any moment.
  8. In order to survive encounters with law enforcement representatives, a black male must be fully conscious of the perspective of those representatives, recognizing that raising his voice, gesticulating or looking angry could be seen as sufficient reason for the use of deadly force.
  9. Because of the prevailing myth of the black brute, black males must be self-aware in their interaction with white people who are not a part of law enforcement given that there are over 300 million firearms in the United States and the overwhelming number of them are owned by white Americans.
  10. The combination of the myth of the black brute has combined with “stand your ground” statutes to produce a toxic environment for black males where any argument, confrontation, fight or contentious encounter with a white person can have lethal consequences that will be deemed legally justifiable.
  11. The principles of self-defense in the American justice do not apply to black people when the presumed attacker is white. It is clear to all rational observers that if the “black George Zimmerman” had shot and killed the “white Trayvon Martin” and claimed self-defense he would have been arrested on the spot, convicted of killing the “white Trayvon Martin” and he would have begun serving his second year in prison by now.
  12. As a black male, you are not assured of a right to safety or to be free from random acts of lethal violence even if you are smart, college educated, well-spoken, well dressed, polite,  aware and law abiding. To stay alive you will also have to be lucky.

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Weekend Edition – July 12, 2013

Last weekend a train carrying fuel oil crashed and nearly destroyed a town in Quebec, Canada. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned? And while the U.S. has moved from #1 to #2 in the world’s obesity rankings (thanks to Mexico), the United States remains #1 when it comes to the largest incarcerated population in the world. And finally, while we await the verdict in the Zimmerman trial we can take a moment to wonder what would happen if the script had been flipped.

The Price of Progress

When a hand brake slipped on a trainload of fuel cars, the train crashed into a small town in Quebec, Canada killing at least fifty people and virtually destroying a huge section of that town. The accident appears to have been caused by human error or mechanical failure.

What we know about this modern era in which we live is that, despite all the safeguards and backup systems, there will always be accidents caused by human error and mechanical failure. Which has to make the idea of adding huge pipeline systems in this country is such a good idea.

We know that there are already serious safety concerns being expressed regarding the proposed XL Pipeline. Maybe we should look north to consider the potential consequences of disregarding those concerns.

Undisputed Champion

Thanks to the proliferation of sugar, junk and empty calories in the American diet this country has held the unenviable title of being the world’s most obese nation. But there must be something in those tacos because now Mexico is #1 while the United States has waddled to the #2 position.

However there is still an area where the U.S. is the undisputed champion. The largest incarcerated population in the world resides in the United States. Certainly a major reason for this dubious distinction is the farce of a so-called War on Drugs that is going into its fifth failed decade.

It is clear that imprisoning so many people has done very little to eliminate drug use in this country. It is also clear that violent explosions are still commonplace throughout this country.

Perhaps it is finally time to consider alternative approaches to law enforcement other than “locking them up and throwing away the key”.

Flip the Script…..Please!

The Zimmerman trial is lurching to an end and we await a verdict. Whatever the verdict it is useful to ponder an undisputed truth.

If George Zimmerman was black and Trayvon Martin was white the “black” Zimmerman would have been arrested on the spot for killing the “white” Trayvon Martin. Right now the “black” Zimmerman would be well into serving the second year of what would certainly have been a very long prison term.

Have a great weekend and stay strong!

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Lessons from the Zimmerman Trial

There is something about America and trials and court decisions. The 1733 trial of Peter Zenger in New York City laid the foundation for the First Amendment. The Dred Scott decision in 1857 shamefully affirmed the legitimacy of slavery in this country. The Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 began to finally dismantle the infrastructure of institutionalized racism in this country.

There have been many “trials of the century” – Sacco-Vanzetti, the Scopes “monkey” trial, the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – but there was something about the murder trial of O.J. Simpson which mixed a rich combination of circus plus drama plus the most prodigious exploitation of racial taboos since the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. That O.J. Simpson was acquitted of killing a blonde white woman has struck many white Americans as the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the planet.

This bit of retrospective is important in looking at the Zimmerman trial because even though a black man is not on trial, the defendant’s perception of black men is a central factor in this case. Unlike the O.J. Simpson case the Zimmerman case is not a whodunit. It is clear and freely admitted that George Zimmerman intentionally fired the fatal shot that killed Trayvon Martin.

The question in the Zimmerman case is whether the defendant had the legal right to kill Trayvon Martin. The defense has argued that his fear and mistrust of a “suspicious” black person caused him to confront the murder victim. The defense has further argued that once he engaged in a confrontation with Trayvon Martin he had a right to kill him since he was in fear of his life.

It is important to note that in the South it was legally impossible for a white man to be convicted of killing a black man until 1865. After that it was virtually impossible for a white man to be convicted of killing a black man and the number of exceptions to this brutal rule would not take up much space in this column.

The Zimmerman case must be seen within this historical context – in the South white men (including Latino white men) have had an historical right to kill black men even if they are the aggressors, the instigators or even the terrorists (see the Ku Klux Klan). The fear of inherent blood lust that resides in every black man has been seen as sufficient justification for killing black men who talked back to a white man, looked askance at a white man or struck a white man.

Seen within this context, it is understandable how the local police did not even arrest George Zimmerman at the time of the murder. It is understandable how the laws and public perception work in another of the benighted former Confederate States so that the killing of a young black man is considered justifiable simply because the shooter said so.

The toxicity of this situation is compounded by the almost ubiquitous presence of guns in America and in Florida in particular. Combined with the “Stand Your Ground” law which no longer requires individuals to try to avoid confrontation, it is perfectly understandable how Trayvon Martin was killed and why George Zimmerman shot him. And it is perfectly clear that if there was no gun Trayvon Martin would still be alive as it is doubtful that George Zimmerman would have ever approached him in the first place.

The only remaining question is whether the jury – a six member panel comprised of six women, five of whom are white – will somehow find George Zimmerman to have some responsibility for the death of Trayvon Martin. It is hard to believe that the devaluation of the lives of black men, a tradition that dates back to slavery, still slithers through the subconscious minds of too many white Americans.

For those who would argue against this assessment consider the Martin-Zimmerman fact pattern and reverse the racial identity of the actors. Does anyone doubt that the “black” George Zimmerman would have been arrested for killing the “white” Trayvon Martin?

The answer may be the harshest lesson that we learn from the George Zimmerman trial.

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