Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 27, 2013

Right now we are watching right wing terrorists hijacking Congress and doing their best “Thelma and Louise” imitation as the federal government hurtles towards yet another fiscal cliff. If you feel like you have seen this movie before – it is because you have. And, not satisfied with simply shutting down the federal government, the radical Teapublicans propose to also shut down the source of basic nutrition for millions of Americans. And finally, it wouldn’t be the New York City mayoral election without something bizarre and Joe Lhota and Adolfo Carrion are searching for Marxists and Leninists in Bill de Blasio’s closet as you read this column. Good luck guys!

Heading to the Cliff – Again

The Teapublican terrorists in Congress seem to wallow in the notion of holding the federal government and the American people as hostages while they demand that the majority of Americans kowtow to their distinctly minority agenda.

Having discovered that they can get the attachment of this country, and indeed the world, by throwing well-timed tantrums, a cabal of Teapublican members of Congress (who only represent about 18% of the American people, by the way) have managed to cause the credit rating of this country to be downgraded in 2011 and bringing about the sequestration debacle in 2013.

Now, in their continuing effort to abolish Obamacare – a law that has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court and has been effectively approved by at least 53% of the American voters in 2012 – the Teapublican wing of Al Qaeda is now threatening to first shut down the federal government next week and, if they don’t get their way, they plan to have the United States government default on its trillions of dollars of debt.

And playing the role of Geppetto with these Teapublican puppets are the Koch brothers and other right wing billionaires who plan to profit from the wreckage that their little Pinocchios will bring about.

It is about time to cut the puppet strings.

Let Them Eat………Nothing

If nothing else, the right wing of the right wing in Congress is consistent in its fanatical adoration of meanness. There are very few sane observers of the national landscape who do not recognize that hunger remains a serious problem in this country. Despite the terrible ravages of obesity – many Americans simply don’t have enough to eat in this Land of Plenty.

And it is against this backdrop that the Teapublican Terrorists have decided to demolish the food stamps program in the name of budget austerity. And somehow they have not seen the shameful nature of such a proposal – most recipients of food stamps are children and their mothers and the elderly. The myth of the able bodied man just chomping away on his food stamp funded steak dinner is just that – a myth.

And it appears the notion of compassion for those in need is becoming a myth in the halls of Congress.

Marxism in New York

As the New York City mayoral election moves into the final round, the three major candidates, Bill de Blasio, Joe Lhota and Adolfo Carrion have numerous major issues to address – income disparity, equity in law enforcement and affordable housing are a few of the many concerns. Since Mr. de Blasio is in the lead in all of the polls, it is reasonable that Mr. Lhota and Mr. Carrion have attacked him.

What is incomprehensible is that both Mr. Lhota and Mr. Carrion have spent an inordinate amount of time (that is any time) criticizing Mr. de Blasio because he and his wife went to Cuba for their honeymoon almost 20 years ago. And these Terrible Twins have gone on to express concern that Mr. de Blasio might have socialist or Marxist leanings.

Such a dog of an argument might hunt in Miami but this is New York City. And it is likely that most New Yorkers, if asked about Marx, would say “Groucho?” or “Harpo?” before believing that two mayoral candidates are seriously mentioning Karl in the middle of the campaign.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

The United States of Gun

Given the proximity of the Washington Naval Yard gun massacre, as well as its incremental horror, one could have hoped that Congress would have taken time out from cutting food stamps allocations and trying to eliminate Obamacare to pay attention. One would have hoped in vain. To the collective shame of this country, the Washington Naval Yard joins Aurora and Tucson and Sandy Hook and Fort Hood as another synonym for atrocity while the Congress does absolutely nothing.

The Teapublicans and the right wing of the right wing are adamant in their defense of what they contend is their constitutional right to own an unlimited number of guns including those that serve as hand held weapons of mass destruction.

Even the most common sense proposed limitations, such as background checks for mental illness and criminal records are met with outrage and implacable opposition. The fact that gun massacres with multiple deaths upon multiple casualties have become a part of the American way of life is met with a call for more guns in the hands of more Americans.

What is peculiar about this adamant and absolute Teapublican defense of the right to bear arms is that it does not extend to the right to vote. The same right wing avatars that are incapable in compromising on any limits, controls or oversight regarding the right to possess firearms have no problem with the multiple barriers to voting that are being erected across this country. In fact, the same Teapublican legislatures that trample even modest gun control proposals into dusty fragments are the same legislatures that are passing voter suppression laws the likes of which have not been seen since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In North Carolina for example, new voter suppression laws have been passed with the express purpose of making it more difficult for minorities, the elderly and the young to vote. The fact that members of these demographics are not part of the Teapublican base of support is not coincidental.

And so, we are now witness to the irony that it is easier for a black man in North Carolina to own a gun that it is for him to vote. Somehow in the fevered brains of the predominantly white Teapublicans in North Carolina and elsewhere fear black people who vote more than they fear black people who own guns.

The naked illogic of this situation should be obvious as the exercise of the right to vote is far more important to the preservation of democracy and democratic institutions than individual gun ownership. Unless you believe that there are federal black helicopters about to lift off and come and take you away, voting presents a far more effective and rational way to establish and promote policies.

Say what you will about the Teapublicans, but they have managed to turn selective hypocrisy into an art form. Somehow the right to bear arms is an absolute right that should not be subject to any limitation whatsoever.

However, even though the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a woman has a constitutional right to choose an abortion, the Teapublicans in many states have taken so many steps to limit that right to choose that the right is virtually meaningless for women who desire such medical services.

While the right to own guns, rifles, shotguns and assault weapons is inviolate on the Planet Teapublican – the right to vote of minorities, the elderly and anyone who is not a reliable supporter of the Teapublican Commandments can be modified and limited to make their right to vote virtually meaningless.

Indeed, to an observer from another country, it would seem that the only right that is absolute in the Teapublican Constitution is the right to own a gun. And it may be only a matter of time before this country is properly renamed “The United States of Gun”.

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Playing with Fire (Part II)

It appears that, for the moment, the Obama Administration has avoided the potential twin disasters of involving this country in yet another war-not-war in the Arab-Muslim world while simultaneously being repudiated by a majority of the people who voted for President Obama in 2012. In a scene straight out of “The Perils of Pauline”, none other than Vladimir Putin stepped in and put forward a proposal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Fortunately, the Obama Administration put a leash on its military dog and agreed to stand down.

We will now witness a series of diplomatic and political maneuverings that may or may not result in the destruction of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction. In the meantime we cautiously hope that President Obama will not come to the conclusion that he has to declare another “red line” as justification for this country committing unilateral acts of war.

While we can slowly exhale as this country grudgingly retreats from the brink of yet another war without end, we should take a moment to determine how this dilemma came about. We have been told that somehow, after the death of over 100,000 Syrians, the use of chemical weapons finally made this multi-year massacre too horrible. The fact that the United Nations had not as yet come to this conclusion was brushed aside with talk of the “moral imperative” that makes this country “exceptional”.

It is always dangerous to believe in any person or any country being infallible. It is also dangerous for the President of the United States to seriously believe that the unilateral use of military force is justifiable even when the security of this country is not directly (or indirectly threatened). And it is definitely dangerous for us to believe that we won’t find this country slip sliding to another blood soaked precipice under this president or a future president, unless and until the people of this country start to rethink this whole business of “exceptionalism”.

Historically speaking there are certainly “exceptional” aspects pertaining to the establishment of representative government, however flawed that government was at the outset, even to this day. But there is nothing particularly exceptional about countenancing the slavery of black Americans.

And there is nothing noteworthy about a governmental policy of genocide committed against Native Americans or denying suffrage and basic rights to women for over a century or a legalized apartheid system that succeeded slavery and whose vestiges remain to this day. And there is certainly nothing “exceptional” about a country that acknowledges incredible economic and quality of life disparities as the “American Way”.

This country is made up of many good people who desire a just and fair society – however that may be defined. But the people of this country have an “exceptional” capacity for believing that unilateral American military action makes sense to the rest of the world. And Americans have the further “exceptional” capacity for believing that any retaliation is unjust, unwarranted and deserving of further retaliation. Of course, this is exactly how wars have been started since the beginning of time.

The United States of America should not be branded as either the Policeman of the Planet or the Global Bully. There is no reason for this country to undertake the Sisyphean task of ridding this world of cruelty and injustice by itself. Aside from the fact that it is virtually impossible to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in Syria or elsewhere, there are also legions of lobbyists and professional persuaders who will advance one cause or another based solely upon fees that are paid for their services.

Engaging in a bit of alternative history one wonders on whose side these United States would intervene in a war between its ally England and the colonist terrorists of America? And who would these United States support in a protracted civil war between the Confederacy that was committed to self-determination and the economically and militarily superior Union? Perhaps a negotiated settlement would have been preferable?

The point is, of course, that the world is complicated. Its problems are vexing. And solutions rarely come out of the barrel of a gun or at the tip of a Tomahawk missile.

We can hope that President Obama, and future presidents, have learned a lesson as this country has for now averted another potentially bloody disaster.

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Weekend Edition – September 13, 2013

Michael Bloomberg has had a memorable twelve years as mayor of New York City. He is making his last few months really memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile the war cries over Syria have distracted national attention from the very real danger of the Teapublicans shutting down the federal government and collapsing the economy for good measure. And speaking of Syria, some people seem to be really disappointed that the United States cannot find a pretense for bombing Syria right now.

Bloomberg Didn’t Build That Either

The New York City mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg has been notable for its embrace of art, innovation, bicycle lanes and efforts to markedly improve the health of New Yorkers. It has also been notable for some real serious errors in judgment, the Stop and Frisk program being one of them.

It will be up to historians to judge Mayor Bloomberg’s overall performance. But he isn’t doing himself any favors when he goes on and on about how much billionaires do for the poor people of New York City. He has expressed such barely concealed contempt for poor people that he makes it seem that rich people paying taxes is some kind of charitable donation for which the poor, and everyone else, should be grateful.

Mayor Bloomberg seems to have forgotten U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, “Taxes is the price that we pay for a civilized society”.

Mayor Bloomberg also seems to have forgotten that long before he was a multibillionaire he was the beneficiary of taxpayer funded public education in his home state of Massachusetts. And as a student at Johns Hopkins University and Harvard he was the beneficiary of the gifts of wealthy donors who make sure that no student ever pays the full cost of their education.

Mayor Bloomberg speaks about how the poor in New York should be grateful that they are not poor in a third world country. He might want to also express gratitude that he is not wealthy in a third world country where he would be the target of pirates, kidnappers and revolutionaries.

Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg and the entire host of American billionaires would never have been become richer than Midas were they not able to take advantage of various taxpayer funded resources such as roads, bridges, electrical systems and an educated and skilled workforce.

Perhaps one day, after he has left New York’s City Hall, Michael Bloomberg will realize that he didn’t build the Bloomberg Empire by himself or on his own.

Dancing on the Edge

Because of the pounding of the war drums along the Potomac, one could be forgiven for not noticing that the Teapublicans are continuing to force march this country to the precipice of a government shutdown which will also have the effect of collapsing an already shaky economy.

The Teapublicans in the House of Representatives have already voted to abolish the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, over 35 times. Despite the fact that a bill abolishing Obamacare will never see the light of day in the Senate and that President Obama would most assuredly veto the hallmark of his presidency, the Teapublicans keep banging their already battered heads against this ideological wall.

Now they are threatening to shut down the federal government at the end of September unless Obamacare is defunded. How providing healthcare coverage for the people of this country is a cause for legislative battle is a mystery all but the Teapublican leadership.

In the meantime we can only watch out for more Teapublican inspired storm clouds on the horizon.

Serious About Syria

Even as President Obama was about to urge Congress and the American people to support a military strike against Syria, Russia and Syria (and France) came up with a plan that would remove chemical weapons from the possession of the Syrian government.

This plan had the effect of halting all talk of an immediate military strike and not surprisingly the right wing of the right wing has sounded like it is disappointed that this country has not started yet another potential war.

I guess they are just going to have to endure the burden of this country avoiding war.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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On the Eve of Infamy

With a twist of irony that could come straight from a Robert Ludlum novel, the President of the United States will address the nation on the eve of the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, proposing that this country once more engage in military action even though there is no direct threat to the security of the United States. That Senator Barack Obama was elected because of his commitment to non-military solutions makes the irony even more tragic.

The reasons why “limited military action” in Syria has been proposed by the Obama Administration have been echoed literally around the world. But upon reflection and consideration they still sound like rehashed versions of stories that have been cobbled together to send this country down the path to war and bloodshed and death and destruction in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And each time the American people are promised that it will be different this time.

The “difference” this time is that the military action will be “limited” and there will be no American “boots on the ground”. But with American bombers and planes flying over Syria and bombing that country is it impossible to imagine American planes being shot down (or just crashing by accident) and surviving American crews being paraded on Syrian television or simply executed? And then how “limited” will the military action be?

Does it require a leap of imagination to envision American naval vessels being attacked by Syrian missiles – or just a motor boat as in the case of the U.S.S. Cole? And then how “limited” will the military action be?

There are hundreds of American embassies and consulates (remember Benghazi) around the world. There are hundreds of thousands of American corporate offices and facilities around the world. There are millions of Americans living and visiting outside of this country at any given moment. With the proposed attack on Syria they all become more inviting targets than they already are. If any of these targets are attacked then how “limited” will the military action be?

And on the eve of yet another anniversary of another day that will live in infamy in this country, is it hysterical overreaction to imagine that the bombing of Syria could inspire a Muslim jihadist or Syrian nationalist to engage in a counterattack that could mimic or surpass 9/11 in horror and death and destruction? And then how “limited” will the military action be?

For President Obama to advocate a unilateral military action by this country with no direct security threat to this country is sadly stunning and horrifically mind boggling. It is almost as if President Obama is channeling his inner Ronald Reagan or his Dick Cheney alter ego.

Taking failed foreign policy advice from the likes of John McCain and Lindsay Graham and John Boehner is not what President Obama was elected to do. Making this country a more dangerous place in which to live is certainly not what any president is elected to do. And yet the Obama Administration continues to pound the bloodstained drums of war.

The horrors of the chemical attacks in Syria are sickening and saddening. But the horrors committed by humanity do not justify the United States being the self-appointed Policeman of the Planet. This is especially true when evil doers know where this Policeman of the Planet resides.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League have not organized military action against the Assad regime in Syria. These facts alone make it clear that this is not a battle that the United States should take on unilaterally. What ever happened to multilateral action and strategic alliances?

We are now left with the hope that the United States Congress will listen to the overwhelming opposition to this unnecessary act of war and reject President Obama’s proposed attack on Syria. We will then have to hope that President Obama will then heed the will of Congress or else he will risk the twin consequences of entangling this country into another bloody morass and possible impeachment proceedings from Teapublicans who would love nothing more than to cripple the remainder of his presidency.

The only good thing about this entire crisis is that President Obama, by seeking Congressional approval for this misguided bit of strategy, is resetting the precedent whereby future presidents will not be so quick to unilaterally engage this country militarily without the support of Congress. That is thin gruel in light of the towering dangers that the Obama Administration is courting.

Let us hope that it is not too late for President Obama to change his course.

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None So Blind

The fact that John Boehner, John McCain and Lindsay Graham think that bombing Syria is a good thing should be all the warning that President Obama needs to know that his proposed military action is absolutely the wrong thing. Instead, in what seems like some improbable horror movie, President Obama continues to slip slide towards a bloody precipice that promises no reward but an outcome that will indelibly stain his legacy as president and while endangering Americans for years to come.

For anyone with an attention span greater than that of a goldfish, it is pretty simple to remember the young Senator Barack Obama voting against the entry of the United States into a war with Iraq. It was this principled – and intelligent – stance that served as one of the foundations of his successful candidacy for president. Indeed, it is not exaggerating to say that if Senator Obama had voted for the war in Iraq he never would have become President Obama.

We now watch the grotesque irony of President Obama going to Sweden (where he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just four short years ago) to encourage Europeans to join the United States in a military attack on Syria. And just to twist the barb of irony a bit deeper, we should remember that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize primarily because of he represented the promise of peace and a new direction in international relations.

We listen to the Obama Administration advocate this military disaster waiting to happen and have to wonder when did Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsay Graham and House Speaker John Boehner become foreign policy beacons for this country to follow.

John McCain was soundly rejected by the American people when he ran for president so why is his judgment and advice so meaningful to the Obama Administration?

Lindsay Graham will probably not be reelected in South Carolina, a state that hardly represents the mood of this country. And John Boehner is the leader of a Teapublican majority in Congress that represents less than half of the American people.

With his typical eloquence President Obama has presented the horrific images resulting from the chemical weapons attacks in Syria that were supposed to have been perpetrated by the Assad regime. This latest outrage is, we are told, the trigger for the United States to take military action – not to overthrow Assad – but presumably to punish him.

One has to wonder what was it about the other 80,000 plus deaths in Syria that did not warrant a military response? The use of chemical weapons is horrific but bullets and rocks leave their victims just as dead. And remember that over 250,000 people were killed in Rwanda over a thirty day period, most of the dead being victims of machetes.

The point, of course, if that this world is full of horrific incidents and violent outrages. As you are reading this column someone is probably being killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in South Sudan and who knows where else. Should the United States take on the role of roving Global Marshal punishing evildoers wherever they might be?

Taking the Obama Administration’s proposition to its logical extreme there will always be a reason for the United States to violently intercede in this bellicose world. This notion is already the leading purveyor of weapons in this world. Will the United States also be the leading violent actor on the world stage?

Americans should also be careful to note that the United States has spent more than two decades bombing and killing the people in Arab and Muslim and Middle Eastern nations. This has built up resentment and a thirst for revenge that will only be satisfied with the death and destruction of Americans. The fact that there are no American “boots on the ground” will mean little to the vengeful jihadists and nationalists who will perceive the proposed Syrian bombing campaign as one more example of The Great Satan at work.

The ultimate irony is that the Teapublicans, including Senator Rand Paul, seem to be the only opponents to this Syrian warfare who have found their voice. But one does not have to be an isolationist to realize that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans do not have the protective power of ancient moats. One does not have to be a Teapublican to understand that when American interests are not directly threatened bombs and missiles are not viable options.

There has been so much that has been good about the Obama Administration. It is truly sad to see this president sucked into the groupthink that has misguided this country into Vietnam, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan and now Syria.

And once the missiles have been launched, once the bombs have been dropped, the consequences will flow inexorably to the shores of this country.

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