Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 20, 2013

It turns out that The Handshake That Shook the World at the Nelson Mandela memorial was more symbolic and important than originally thought. Meanwhile some people are actually surprised that the “Duck Dynasty” patriarch is a homophobic racist. Or is he a racist homophobe? And finally, it appears that the Teapublicans are determined to retire the Lifetime Achievement Award for Meanness as they push to cut unemployment benefits AND veterans benefits – at Christmas time.

About That Handshake

Despite the fact that Richard Nixon shook hands with Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro, and Ronald Reagan shook hands with Mikhail Gorbachev and John McCain shook hands with Muammar Gadhafi, the Teapublicans worked themselves into a frothy frenzy because President Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Nelson Mandela memorial service. But it took Fidel Castro to come out of seclusion to point out the real hypocrisy.

Because while everyone was focusing on the handshake, Fidel Castro pointed out that in the struggle against apartheid the United States government did not do much to aid Nelson Mandela or the African National Congress. Indeed there were economic sanctions in the last days and times of apartheid, but there was also the United States government labeling Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and communist threat at a time when words of support from Washington would have meant a lot.

We should harbor no illusion that a bit of truth will change the hypocrisy of the Teapublican right, but the truth possesses a power all its own.

Dumb Duck

The patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty”, Phil Robertson, in an interview with GQ magazine went on a homophobic rant on the record and for good measure channeled his inner racist. While selectively quoting the Bible to support his damnation of homosexuals he also made the fantastical claim that he never saw black people in the South being mistreated.

To its credit, the A&E suspended Mr. Robertson from the Duck Dynasty show. What is surprising is that anyone is surprised that Mr. Robertson would hold these antediluvian and caucasiancentric points of views. He is who he is.

The Teapublican Grinch

We have read a lot about the glories of the first bipartisan budget since the first one hundred days of the first term of the Obama Administration. But looking behind the curtain we see that there is a clear indication of the stone headed meanness of the Teapublicans in their demand for cuts to unemployment benefits as well as veteran’s benefits.

The unemployed are vulnerable by definition and veterans are worthy of their benefits by reason of their serving and supporting the military policies of this country, no matter how misguided and wrong they have been over the last decade.

The fact that these cuts were announced at Christmastime would be considered excessive if there were such a thing as Mean Olympics judges.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

Point of View Columns

Is It Only Good for the Goose?


To say that there are double standards in life is just another way of saying that life isn’t fair. This is not exactly late breaking news here on the Planet Earth. Nevertheless, we have seen the recent employment of double standards regarding statements that come from Progressive America as opposed to Neanderthal Right Wing America that is a cause for real concern. After all, since when is what is good for the goose no longer good for the gander?

Case in point – MSNBC commentator Martin Bashir articulated righteous and appropriate outrage to the obscene statements of Sarah Palin arguing that the national debt would bring about a condition “worse than slavery”. Mr. Bashir actually took the time to research some of the more popular tortures commonly used by white American owners of black American slaves and suggested that Ms. Palin be subjected to such treatment as punishment for her obscene and pornographic use of history.

The result – Ms. Palin and her supporters on the right wing of the right wing screamed like scalded cats. Somehow the tattered shreds of her honor were presumably besmirched because Mr. Bashir turned her obscene analogy around and she didn’t like how it felt. That should have been the end of that bit of rhetorical parry and thrust.

But it was not. Mr. Bashir was forced to take a leave of absence. Subsequently he submitted his resignation and anyone who believes that he resigned voluntarily believes in the Easter Bunny. And now it is alright for denizens of the right wing to appropriate the horror of American racial slavery to their own rhetorical purposes, and they can do so with impunity.

There is clearly a slippery slope at work and the right wing of the right wing is feeling empowered. How else to explain Rick Santorum ranting that his fight against Obamacare is similar to Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid? If he had used the analogy of the French resisting the Nazis or Polish Jews battling in the Warsaw Ghetto he would have been justifiably run out of town. But somehow Mr. Santorum can splatter his rhetorical mud on the memory of Nelson Mandela without consequence.

And just to show how absurd the goose and gander thing is getting, last week Aisha Harris, a writer for Slate, opined that Santa Claus is non-racial and should be portrayed that way. Immediately, Megyn Kelly, a Fox News commentator with an echo chamber where her brain should be, berated Ms. Harris for even suggesting that Santa Claus was anything but white. And for good measure, she reminded Ms. Harris and anyone else who isn’t white that Jesus is also white.

Ms. Kelly was neither fired nor suspended. Mr. Santorum is still raking in speaking fees at a rate that would make Midas blush. And nowhere in the mainstream media has there been any discussion regarding limits on what should be out of bounds when referencing the black experience and historic and institutional racist oppression. Respect is not just the seven letter title of a song; it pertains to the recognition of the humanity of others.

And so we prepare ourselves for another round of Martin Luther King Day White Sales at Macy’s (in light of recent Shop and Frisk incidents the irony is well, ironic). And we should also remember the cringe worthy statements of incoming New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton who promised to operate the odious and demeaning policy of Stop and Frisk “in the spirit of Nelson Mandela”.

Trivializing insult and injury is just one more step in trivializing the people who are insulted and injured. To punish, attack or ignore those who protest the trivialization is in many ways even worse than the insult and the injury.

Point of View Columns

We Can All be Mandela

Sadly, the death of Nelson Mandela was not a surprise given his extended illnesses and advanced age. Nevertheless there has been a very real and palpable loss in knowing that a great spirit has passed from this earth. In memorializing and eulogizing him let us not try to bestow the mantle of sainthood on him, because in doing so we give ourselves the easy way out of striving for greatness.

There is always a tendency to place special people on a pedestal that is so high that it appears unattainable to mere mortals. The life of Nelson Mandela is a case in point. There is a very real danger that, in showering him in all the praise and honor that he deserves that we neglect two realities. First, he was a human being with frailties, weaknesses and shortcomings. Indeed, Nelson Mandela was far from perfect and he was always the first person to make that clear.

To mention his shortcomings as a human being does not mean that we need to dwell on them. Actually the fact that through his sheer will, discipline and courage he was able to overcome the lesser aspects of himself and achieve greatness should be one of the wonderful lessons of the life of Nelson Mandela. He was not perfect, yet he aspired to perfection of himself and of the world around him. He did not fully succeed in either aspiration, but this global community is so much better because he tried.

And if Nelson Mandela could try, if he could aspire to the perfection of himself and the world as he saw it, then there is no excuse for any of us not to try and emulate that aspect of his life. We can squander the time with which we are blessed to be on this earth waiting for “another Mandela” or “another Martin Luther King” or any other “another”.

We will be squandering our time and wasting our lives waiting when each and every one of us has the power and the capacity for greatness, if we would only take the time to search for and recognize the greatness that resides in us. Nelson Mandela found greatness in himself and shared it with the people of South Africa and the world. It is up to us to find that greatness in ourselves and not pass along the burden of greatness to “another” hero.

And, of course there are an infinite number of iterations of greatness. You might not be the one to liberate a country but you can be great parent, a great son or daughter, you can be a great spouse. There are countless random acts of kindness which can be the vehicle for your personal greatness.

The key is to aspire to be better and to keep trying even when we fall short. Nelson Mandela said that he was not a saint – unless a saint was a sinner who kept trying. We can all incorporate that philosophy into our lives instead of just gazing at monuments and attending memorials.

The other thing to remember is that as great as Nelson Mandela was, he did not achieve greatness by himself. He was an important part of a liberation movement. That is to say he was part of an extraordinary collection of men, women and children who struggled, fought, died and overcame.

To suggest that Nelson Mandela was the sole driving force of liberation in South Africa would be to ignore his brothers and sisters who never made headlines, who have no memorial statues but who made a difference, each in their own very important way. And we should all remember that as great as Nelson Mandela was, we all harbor our very own potential for greatness and for making a difference.

The best way to remember Nelson Mandela and all the great men and women who inspire us is to aspire to be great as well. That will be a proper memorial.

That will be the best memorial of all.


Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 6, 2013

It appears that there is a new crime in Rochester, New York – Living While Black. Meanwhile there is a hope among comedy fans that Donald Trump will actually run for the office of governor of the State of New York. And finally, in a dramatic intersection of stupidity and power, a Teapublican congressman has seriously advocated the nuclear bombing of Iran.

Living While Black

In Rochester, New York you can find the grave of Frederick Douglass. It is also the birthplace of the Eastman Kodak Company. Now it turns out is also the place where racism and law enforcement have engaged in a noxious embrace.

Just before Thanksgiving three African American teenagers were waiting for a bus in Rochester, a bus that would take them to basketball practice. As far as anyone knows, there is nothing else remarkable about three high school youngsters going to practice. They weren’t stealing, assaulting, menacing, threatening or harassing anyone.

Nevertheless an enterprising representative of the Rochester Police Department seems to have set aside his white hood long enough to arrest these three young men on the charges of disturbing the peace. And this would have been just another classic illustration of the jailification of young black men if singer/actress Audra McDonald and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t bring this miscarriage of justice to the attention of this nation.

Finally the charges were dropped although the young men and their parents are still waiting for an apology. Meanwhile, we can be sure that they are not the only, or last, young black men to be stopped and arrested on the charge of Living While Black.

Send in the Real Clowns

The leaders of the New York State Republican Party are reported to have journeyed to the lofty perch of Donald Trump to persuade him to run for governor of the State of New York in 2014. Presumably, these scions of the Republican Party actually believe that Donald Trump gives them the best chance of unseating the current incumbent, Andrew Cuomo.

We can also assume that they are not aware that the New York State Attorney General is bringing a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Donald Trump for running a fake school that was called “Trump University” – a university that was not accredited anywhere on this planet and conferred no degrees.

We can also assume that these leaders of the Republican Party missed Donald Trump making a total fool of himself as the temporary leader of America’s Birthers during the 2012 presidential campaign. And they probably missed the fact that his multiple corporate bankruptcies have left bondholders and contractors holding the bag – a bag worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, in some dark secluded place Governor Andrew Cuomo is praying that Donald Trump will be his opponent.

Power + Stupidity = Danger

Earlier this week, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R.CA), a senior Teapublican member of the House Armed Services Committee actually advocated a presumptive nuclear attack on Iran. Aside from the sheer, blunt headed stupidity of such a proposal, Congressman Hunter’s statement is also dangerous.

Imagine what would be going on in the United States if a senior mullah in Iran started speaking publicly about attacking this country. There would be more than a few chicken hawks who would feel they had all the justification for a preemptive strike – right now!

But somehow the Iranian government is supposed to be persuaded than an elected senior member of a key congressional committee “didn’t really mean it” and was just speculating out loud.

When power meets ignorance the result is always very dangerous.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

Point of View Columns

Trains, Planes and Obamacare

There is a line from the Walt Kelly’s old comic strip “Pogo” – “We have met the enemy and he is us.” And with all of the bile and rage that is launched against the Obama administration from the Teapublican rhetorical artillery installations, it sometimes seems that the progressive left is even more intent on defining the presidency of Barack Obama as a failure. The current status of Obamacare is a case in point.

Even though the Affordable Care Act has been the law of the land since March of 2010 and even though literally millions of Americans are benefiting from the features of this historic program, the right wing of the right wing continues to bray that Obamacare is “a disaster” or “a failure” or “the worst thing since slavery”. But by now we have come to expect that the rhetoric of the right wing would have a common link to something that you might scrape off the bottom of your shoe with a stick…….a very long stick.

But, despite the very clear facts relating to the successes of Obamacare to date, the recent technical flaws in the enrollment process have sent the commentators from the left streaming to the cliff of despair like lemmings. Not only has the executive capacity of President Obama been questioned, he is now accused of setting back the liberal movement for a) centuries or b) forever, because the American people have now learned that government cannot operate large programs for the benefit of the American people.

A few things need to be said about all of this gnashing of teeth. While the American people can be easily misled and many times have an attention span that is often exceeded by that of a goldfish, most Americans do understand that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, food stamps and college loan programs are run by the federal government.

Most Americans are reasonably satisfied with these programs and it is that satisfaction that provides a roadblock to the nihilist cohort of the right wing that would decimate and eviscerate most of these programs and many more. And while many Americans are deluded into drinking the Teapublican Kool-Aid they usually wake up when they realize that the big government that they hate so much is responsible for the programs that mean so much to them.

But all of this weeping and wailing on the left about setting back liberalism and permanently obliterating Americans’ faith in government seems to be intergalactic in origin because it cannot possibly come from an earth-based life form. While conceding the bamboozability of the American people, the American people are also used to organizations experiencing mishaps and even failures and recovering from them – consider trains, planes and automobiles.

Trains – during the Thanksgiving weekend a commuter train crashed in New York City and four people died and scores were injured. This is not the first train crash on the New York City public transport system and there have been, unfortunately, more crashes across this country during the past decade. No one has suggested that travel by train is unsafe or should be abandoned. Problems are meant to be solved.

Planes – Boeing has spent over a decade designing and building the 787 Dreamliner. After multiple mishaps and failures the planes were deemed worthy to be sold and flown all over the world – that is, until they were deemed unworthy and grounded all over the world. And now the planes have been fixed (presumably) and thousands of people are flying Dreamliners every day. No one has suggested that Boeing is an incompetent business. Problems are meant to be solved.

Automobiles – During the past few years we have seen millions of trucks and cars recalled by their manufacturers for all kinds of structural problems, some of which have caused the deaths of drivers and passengers. No one has suggested that Toyota, Ford or General Motors should go out of business or that they are incompetent organizations. Problems are meant to be solved.

But the naysayers who are against a national healthcare system, even if it worked perfectly from inception, would have us believe that the faults and flaws of Obamacare are reason to abandon a program that will allow uninsured people to be insured and will keep Americans from going bankrupt if they are seriously ill. They would have this country abandon a program that has already reduced the rate by which medical costs have been increasing.

But for the left wing to abandon ship because perfection has yet to be achieved means that they miss the point – national health care, a goal of American progressives for over a century, is the law of the land. By any measurement this is a tremendous achievement for President Obama.

One would think that now is the time to move forward with fixing what needs to be fixed rather than succumbing to the gloom and doom that is the eternal clarion call of the right wing.