Point of View Columns

Deja Vu All Over Again

There is always a possibility that the same stars and planets that aligned for Barack Obama during his near mythical campaign and ascent to the presidency will realign once again as he considers a course of action in Syria. What is more likely is that President Obama and this country will learn  once again that if one does not learn from history one is doomed to repeat it.

The carnage and killing in Syria has turned a once repressive state into a charnel house. The body count climbs almost hourly and there is no lack of horrific scenes for the nightly news – every night. It is understandable and human for men and women of good will to want to “do something”.

But when “something” goes beyond humanitarian aid the gears of war begin to grind and the outcome can never be predicted. As you are reading these words President Obama is considering “limited military action”, and we already know that however “limited” the intent might be the Law of Unintended Consequences rules supreme in theaters of war and conflict.

And, as you are reading these words members of Congress seemed to have roused themselves from obstructionist stupor to demand that President Obama “do something” about the ongoing tragedy in Syria. And it is the source of no little irony that many of these same members of Congress have already gone on record as being willing to shut down the American government so as to deny a national healthcare system for Americans. And yet, these same members of Congress will certainly have no problem allocating what will amount to billions of dollars to finance yet another foreign killing exercise by the American government.

But the chicken hawks and fairweatherhawks and the occasional hawks all seem to think that the United States wields some kind of magic wand that freezes the rest of the planet while the American military displays its technological whiz bang wizardry while blowing up military installations and the occasional unintended civilian. They must think that allies and supporters of Syria like Russia, Hezbollah and Iran will simply stand by, frozen in amber, while the United States and its allies of convenience go about their business of “doing something”.

And what good is history if no one ever learns from it? The war in Vietnam, which resulted in over 50,000 American deaths and perhaps as many as a million Vietnamese dead, began with advisors in a “limited” military action.

The American people were promised that the invasion of Afghanistan was a “limited” military engagement and that was twelve years and thousands of American deaths ago.

The Bush-Cheney cabal, lying through its teeth, claimed the overthrown of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of non-existent weapons of mass destruction would be “quick” and would only take a few months, and that was ten years and thousands of American deaths ago.

The kettle of American pseudohawks that would have this country winging towards yet another war also seem to forget the consequences of any kind of military engagement – retribution. There are too many saber rattlers who seem to think that the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean protect American citizens from citizens of other countries where American bombs and bullets have done their work. They might want to ask the citizens of New York City and Washington who survived the 9/11 attacks about the illusion of American invulnerability.

Nevertheless, seemingly rational men and women are discussing military options in Syria as if the Syrians have no way of counterattacking. Whether it is recent Syrian cyber-attacks (newsflash: Syrians know how to use computers and the internet) or disgruntled jihadists from wherever who are tired of Americans attacking Arab and Muslim countries – every American bullet, missile or bomb fired in Syria has the potential of wreaking untold havoc in the United States.

It is hoped that President Obama will not fall into the trap that his enemies have set for him. Having attacked his legitimacy, his citizenship and his loyalty to the United States, these same enemies are now baiting him into taking military action that can only have disastrous consequences for Americans, as well as Syrians. That liberals and progressives who do not want to be seen as “weak” are joining in the unholy chorus only makes it worse.

After all the analysis and debate the conclusion has to be that American military action in Syria is a mistake. It is that simple.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 23, 2013

During the past week we saw the CIA admit that it participated in the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Iran in —- 1953(!!!!). Meanwhile “Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’” is setting box office records which is fine as long as no one thinks that they are getting the full story of black people in the White House. And finally, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is being celebrated on August 24th, what a difference a half century can make.

It’s About Time

The CIA recently announced something that it has denied for years. It turns out that in 1953 the United States did participate in the overthrow of the democratically elected government and its Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and replaced him with the Shah. This subversion of democratic principles was done at the instance of U.S. and British oil companies who thought that the elected president might have socialist leanings and nationalize the oil industry.

The Shah turned out to be a repressive and brutal dictator who was also completely subservient to American dictates. The overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh is one of those things that Iranians resent even though it took place sixty years ago.

That may seem like a long time to hold a grudge until you ask some of our friends in Mississippi and Alabama how they feel about the Civil War that ended almost 150 years ago.

Did the Butler Really Do it?

From the reviews that are out it appears that “Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’” is the fictionalized story of the life of a real African American butler who worked for eight presidents in the White House. In the movie, the black butler becomes more than a servant; he becomes an offline advisor providing useful insights and suggestions sotto voce.

While some may be growing tired of the seemingly endless stream of Hollywood movies that depict black people serving white people – see “Driving Miss Daisy”, “The Help”, etc., it might be useful to point out that there is a movie about black people in the White House that has yet to be made.

For example – E. Frederic Morrow was the first black advisor the President of the United States. He actually did advise President Eisenhower in the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education case and he played a pivotal role in the decision making process that sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas.

So it may be that there is no need to fictionalize the importance of black people in the White House. The story is already there, waiting to be told.

Another March on Washington

The fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington will be commemorated on August 24th. Hundreds of thousands of people are certain to gather and remember an important moment in American history.

The thing is…..in 1963 we were marching for some very important things like basic civil rights, voting rights. The goals of the 2013 March on Washington are more difficult to articulate after righteous memorial.

Something to think about.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

 

 

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Point of View Columns

A Tale of Two Bloombergs

There is a big digital clock in the offices at New York’s City Hall counting down the last days of the mayoral tenure of Michael Bloomberg. Now that there are less than five months remaining on what will be a twelve year term, it seems that this is as good a time as any to begin a retrospective on the Bloomberg Era in New York City. And it is fair to say that any analysis will arrive at the conclusion that it is A Tale of Two Bloombergs.

Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001 as a “virtual” political rookie. Buy many people forgot the “virtual” part of the description because Michael Bloomberg may not have ever run for political office before, but he certainly was no rookie when it came to politics. He wielded his unlimited funds and his media empire in the political process and was not a stranger to the arena where he was now the main attraction.

Michael Bloomberg rode into office on a tidal wave of cash that had only one donor – himself. That meant that he was not beholden to any interest group by reason of their financial support. That also meant that he felt that he didn’t really have to listen to anyone else unless he wanted to.

In telling The Tale of the Two Bloombergs, it should be clear that Michael Bloomberg introduced the people of New York to expanded visions of what the world’s greatest could be – and should be. As a result New Yorkers saw amazing (and free) art installations that encompassed all of Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Bloomberg the visionary shared that vision with the people of New York and then, amazingly, he made many things happen. There is no doubt that Michael Bloomberg and Robert Moses would have gotten along famously if they had ever met.

Bloomberg the visionary installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and turned out to be absolutely serious in bringing about a green, environmentally friendly culture to business, industry and everyday New Yorkers. But in The Tale of Two Bloombergs, even while New York became greener, Michael Bloomberg routinely flew around the world in one of the jets from his private fleet – arguably the most environmentally unfriendly way to travel known to humankind.

Perhaps most importantly, Mayor Bloomberg implemented serious public policy measures in the area of health that have saved lives. Most famously, the ban on smoking in most public places has certainly saved thousands of lives over the past twelve years and for the foreseeable future. “Nanny State” naysayers notwithstanding, the visionary Michael Bloomberg proved once again that government can be a force in transforming – and saving lives.

The Tale of Two Bloombergs also has shown us Michael Bloomberg playing a maniacal Captain Ahab to the White Whale of “Stop and Frisk”. Even as the majority of New Yorkers, the federal court and the United States Department of Justice have seriously questioned the tactic, Michael Bloomberg has refused to even acknowledge the possibility that black and Latino young men are being constitutionally violated by the extreme measures employed by the New York Police Department.

Bloomberg The Inflexible either cannot, or will not, see that there may be another side to the narrative that he has articulated. And it is Bloomberg the inflexible who is channeling his inner Alabama Governor George Wallace by stating that his administration will not cooperate in any way with the federal court decision regarding “Stop and Frisk”. And it is Bloomberg the inflexible who has now gone so far as to suggest that public housing residents should be fingerprinted raising the specter of the Slave Codes from long ago and apartheid-era identification cards from not too long ago.

Bloomberg the inflexible has been unapologetic and unrepentant in the face of the facts that the senior officials of his administration reflect so little diversity that there almost has to be an intent to bar all but a few people of color from the higher echelons of Team Bloomberg. Indeed Team Bloomberg has turned out to be whiter that the senior team of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who is the godfather of diversity and affirmative action denial.

Finally, by spending approximately a quarter of a billion dollars of his own money in getting himself elected three times, Michael Bloomberg has skewed the political process in New York City for the foreseeable future. If he wasn’t writing the playbook on how to buy elections, it certainly looks like it.

So the Tale of Two Bloombergs is complex and not given to simple analysis. Michael Bloomberg probably doesn’t care whether history will be kind to him. We can hope that history will tell the whole truth.

Wallace Ford is the principal and founder of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm, a professor at Metropolitan College of New York in New York City and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 16, 2013

Because there is no bottom to the Teapublican Dumb Bucket, we were treated to another helping this week – this time in the form of a petition. Meanwhile, North Carolina will be dusting off its “Whites Only” and “No Colored” signs any day now. And finally, the mess of a morass in Egypt is yet another lesson on why restraint has to be the watchword in American foreign policy.

The Bottom of the Dumb Bucket

One of the developments of the new media/communications age in which we live is that virtually any group or organization or cadre of insane asylum escapees can get the White House to post a petition with the requisite number of signatures.

This is why last week the White House had to respond to a petition filed by right wing of the right wing gun worshipers who wanted to disarm the Secret Service security detail that guards President Obama.

Their theory was that if public schools should be made gun free zones then so should the White House.

A brief review of history shows that there has never been a proposal to disarm the Secret Service since there has been a Secret Service – until now.

Can’t wait to see what’s next in The Bottom of the Dumb Bucket.

Back to the Future

This past week the governor of North Carolina signed a bill that so severely restricts, restrains and represses voting that it might have been modeled after the laws that used to govern the Old South at the turn of the century, the 20th century that is.

Without even a fig leaf of propriety or a passing reference to justice, it will quite simply be a lot harder for some people to vote in that state. And it was the intention of this legislation that “some people” would be minorities, the poor, the young and the elderly – most of whom typically vote Democratic and most of whom voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

It is ironic that, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington North Carolina is providing reasons to march all over again.

 

Beware of the Slippery Slope

The turmoil and violence in Egypt should be a lesson to all of those who think that it would be a really great idea for the United States to “do something”, that “something” being the start of some kind of military presence and involvement. We have heard the same drumbeat being played when the song was about Syria and Libya not too long ago.

The sad reality is that there are simply times when the United States really has to stand back. Unless and until there is some clear action that this country can take that will unequivocally protect the United States while actually solving a conflict somewhere else diplomacy will have to suffice.

Vietnam was the lesson 40 years ago; Iraq was the less 10 years ago. We do not need Egypt to be another lesson.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

What a Difference a Day Makes

Monday, August 12, 2013 will be noted as an important day by those who pay attention to what goes on in this country. Because after all of the A-Rod, Anthony Weiner and Lindsay Lohan stories, there are actually some very important issues of justice that are being addressed. And how they are addressed is going to make a huge difference on how all Americans will live in the days and years to come. And we can start with today’s “Stop and Frisk” court decision.

Today, Federal District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in a 195 page decision that for close to a decade the New York City Police Department has systematically, intentionally and institutionally violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos through its eternally controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. Her decision does not mince words and leaves New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly without a legal leg to stand on.

For example, the City of New York argued that the high proportion of blacks and Latinos who were stopped reflected the high proportion of crimes committed by blacks and Latinos. Judge Scheindlin correctly and logically pointed out that stopping virtually all black and Latino young could not be justified because some black and Latino men commit crimes.

What is astounding is that the case itself brought to light the fact that over the past decade millions (yes, millions) of stops of the “Stop and Frisk” variety were inflicted on black and Latino young men (88% of the stops). Yet less than 10% of these stops resulted in reasonable cause for arrest and less than 5% who were stopped were ever convicted of a crime – and in the overwhelming majority of those convictions the crime was possession of small amounts of drugs (usually marijuana).

That the police department of a major American city would inflict such draconian measures upon a large and much maligned segment of the population is stunning. “Stop and Frisk” as employed in New York has been nothing less than despotic in its implementation and incredibly corrosive when it comes to the relationship between the police department and the minority communities of the polyglot capital of the world known as New York City.

The only surprise is that some people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, are surprised that an impartial judge would find the City of New York to be at fault. And we can only hope that in the future the common effort to prevent and deter criminal activities does not give rise to other “simple” solutions that so casually violate the rights of millions of Americans.

And, on this same day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will instruct U.S. attorneys across the country to limit charges in drug cases so as to limit the terms of incarceration that are imposed. Attorney General Holder pointed to the fact that although this country has 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. Clearly this astronomical incarceration rate is expensive ($80 billion per year) and just as clearly indicates a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

As the so-called War on Drugs approaches the half century mark it is clear that this war is beyond “winning”, whatever “winning” was ever supposed to mean. The War on Drugs did give rise to a private sector corrections industry and widespread corruption within the law enforcement sector. And it has also resulted in the horrific decimation of communities of color across the country as men (and increasingly women) in these communities are arrested and convicted and sentenced and incarcerated in much higher proportions than their white counterparts.

Interestingly enough, Attorney General Holder and the Obama Administration did not take this matter before the politically hogtied United States Congress. Even though the drug sentencing proposals have widespread bipartisan support at the state level, it is now a sad fact of life that any proposal with “Obama” connected to it is virtually DOA when it arrives at the door of the House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Holder and President Obama picked a good time to remind the Teapublicans in the House what the word “executive” in the Executive Branch actually means.

All in all a good day for justice.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 9, 2013

Sometimes it is useful to remember that elections do matter. Thinking about a Mitt Romney presidency provides some perspective. Meanwhile, in light of Russia granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, we are already hearing the clarion call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics next year – and why do these call always come from the right? And finally, while we already knew that the Teapublican playbook calls for the dismantling of the federal government, the new playbook calls for making sure that the federal government just doesn’t work.

Elections Do Matter

In the 2012 presidential campaign over $1 billion was spent in order to persuade voters that there was a real difference between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Obviously the majority of voters chose Barack Obama to lead the country for another four years.

But, for those who continue to suggest that there was only a marginal difference between the two candidates (the ever loquacious Tavis Smiley and continuously quotable Cornel West come to mind) think about this: Right now the Department of Justice under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to undo the horrific damage caused by the recent Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act.

This has required the Department of Justice to fight voting rights battles state by state, court by court. What do you think that an Attorney General appointed by President Mitt Romney would be doing?

Some more food for thought: The Department of Justice is reviewing the murder of Trayvon Martin for possible civil rights violations. That would be the U.S. Department of Justice headed by Attorney General Eric Holder who was appointed by President Barack Obama. What do you think that President Romney’s Department of Justice would be doing about the travesty of George Zimmerman’s acquittal last month?

In the weeks and months to come more examples of the difference between a thankfully mythical Romney presidency and the actual presidency of Barack Obama will be offered for your consideration.

We can be assured that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West will be to absorbed with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West to pay any attention.

The Revenge of the Nerds

In 1980 the United States boycotted the Olympics that were to be held in the Soviet Union because of a dispute regarding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation the Soviet Union led a boycott of the Olympics held in Los Angeles in 1984.

While this political posturing went forward, the hopes and dreams of thousands of Olympic athletes were obliterated. If they were American they simply could not compete in 1980 and had to compete in a flawed Olympics in 1984 if they were still around. Many other athletes from around the world were caught up in the boycott and there was absolutely no impact on Soviet policies in Afghanistan.

Now Senator Lindsay Graham and other wannabe tough guys in the Senate and House are calling for the United States to boycott the Winter Olympics that are to be held in Russia next year as retaliation for Edward Snowden being granted temporary asylum in that country.

Aside from the fact that boycotting the Olympics would be cutting off the nose of American athletes in order to spite the global face of the United States, logic tells us that such an action would have absolutely no impact on the current Snowden-asylum impasse. The only people that would be hurt would be American athletes many of whom have trained their entire lives for one shining Olympic moment in 2014.

Let us hope that saber rattling will not take the place of sane and sober foreign policy.

Traveling at the Speed of Mud

Approximately two weeks ago the Senate confirmed the head of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau after only………., get this, seven years of delay and obstruction. Approximately three weeks ago the Senate confirmed the Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau after light speed deliberations of two years!

These delays are part and parcel of a Teapublican strategy to throw enough sand into the gears of the federal government until it simply stops working. On the Planet Teapublican this passes for sound public policy.

Loyal opposition is one thing. Destruction of the federal government itself does not border on treason, it is treason. The sooner it is said the better.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

 

 

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Point of View Columns

Here’s What’s Wrong with Cornel West

It appears that ever since he did not get the prized inaugural tickets that his massive ego demanded, Cornel West has been determined to claw and gnaw at the presidency of Barack Obama. While he is free to permanently and totally disagree with any and all of the policies espoused by President Obama, it might be useful for Dr. West to remember that with freedom comes responsibility. And in that regard Cornel West has come up short – so to speak.

From the time that he took office Barack Obama has been subjected to ridicule and disrespect rarely seen in modern times. While it is true that John Adams was labeled a “hermaphrodite” and Abraham Lincoln was called a “baboon” and a “gorilla”, one would be hard pressed to recall another president who was called a “liar” from the floor of the House of Representatives by a member of the House of Representatives. President Obama’s wife, children, mother and mother-in-law have been fair game in the game that is being played by the right wing of the right wing.

Part of this has to do with the mud and dirt that one must endure when entering the political arena – just ask Bill Clinton or read about the full frontal attacks on Franklin D. “Rosenfeld” by the right wing of another era. But, as has been noted many times, there is a sharper and barbed edge to the arrows shot in the direction of Barack Obama and it is not being overly sensitive to suggest that this is because he is the first black President of the United States.

It is, therefore, odd and troubling that someone like Cornel West, a self-styled intellectual and self-anointed spokesman for oppressed black people, has taken it upon himself to castigate, demonize and trash the Obama legacy. One would think that there are enough white right wing zealots available to do that job – and then there are always the two Alans, Alan West and Alan Keys, if there is a need to add some color to the attack tag team.

As an accomplished academic, Cornel West has taught at Princeton and Harvard and is currently on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary. Although his multiple degrees do not include history or political science, it is fair to hold Dr. West to a higher standard of awareness than the man or woman on the street – wherever that street might be.

And by that standard it is incomprehensible that a presumably intelligent and educated man like Cornel West would engage in hurling playground invectives and insults at Barack Obama in the hope of…..what? Is he seeking to encourage thoughtful discourse and criticism regarding the policies of the Obama Administration? That is hard to believe when he labels the first black President of the United States “a lap dog for Wall Street”.

When he calls the man for whom over 90% of voting black Americans selected – twice – “a Rockefeller Republican in blackface”, exactly what point is he trying to get across? Aside from the very clear point of making sure that the name “Cornel West” stays in the media spotlight no matter how irrelevant he is becoming.

And in the middle of the distress and dismay following the despicable and damnable verdict in the George Zimmerman case did Dr. Cornel West offer some solace to the parents of Trayvon Martin. Did he try to put the case within the historical context of the seeming devaluation of black life by American institutions?

Of course not. Cornel West, a clear master of self-promotion, chose that very sad and somber moment to label President Obama “a Global George Zimmerman”, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. In doing so Cornel West misdirected attention away from serious consideration of the Zimmerman trial and verdict to…..you guessed it, Cornel West. And one can be certain that this attention helps Cornel West as he charges $30,000 – $50,000 per speech as an advocate for poor black people. The irony is simultaneously inescapable and miserable.

The truth of the matter is that when the history of the Obama Administration is written decades from now, or next year, Cornel West will warrant something less than a footnote. He is a self-promoting and self-serving rhetorical provocateur who continues to do more harm than good every time he opens his mouth.

Perhaps one day Dr. West will come to grips with the fact that with freedom of speech comes some sort of responsibility for what one says. But don’t hold your breath.

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