Point of View Columns

State of Disunion

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address this week he reminded many of his supporters why they supported him in the first place. His soaring oratory and explicit challenge to his Congressional opposition was greeted with predictable denial, intransigence and a continued forced migration from reality. What was crystal clear is that the State of the Union reflects political and philosophical disunion.

When Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office on January 20, 2009 an opposition coalesced that was dedicated to his defeat and failure. This coalition was cemented with mortar containing equal parts of philosophical dissent, racism, anger, bitterness and opportunism. Since that time the coalition has claimed victories by taking control of the House of Representatives and frustrating numerous legislative initiatives proposed by the Obama Administration.

But President Obama did not fail and he was not defeated. And on November 6, 2012, there was much gnashing of teeth in the right wing wilderness when he was reelected. But rather than seek a path that might meander near reconciliation and compromise, the disloyal opposition has pursued a nihilist agenda that too closely resembles national suicide.

But if 1.20.09 and 11.6.12 are dates, the mere mention of which drives Teapublicans crazy, then 1.28.14 is guaranteed to require boatloads of straitjackets with which to contain and confine the opposition to President Obama. Because in his most recent State of the Union speech he basically threw down his executive gauntlet – inviting the right wing of the right wing to act like adults but also promising to exercise his powers as president as assigned to him by the Constitution.

The Teapublican furor upon this announcement would be comical if the challenges facing this country weren’t so serious. Indeed, their references to fascism, dictatorship and imperialism were so far from reality that the word “fantasy” does not do justice to the Teapublican departure from the Planet Earth.

What is most interesting is that, in keeping with his personal political narrative, President Obama did not even hint at a radical agenda. Consider some of the items that the right wing of the right wing considers to be radical – in 2014:

  • Women should receive equal pay. Currently women comprise about 50% of the workforce and are paid 77% of what men make for comparable labor. President Obama referred to this disparity as an “embarrassment” – and he is right
  • The federal minimum wage has not been raised for decades. President Obama, following the actions taking place in numerous states and cities, announced that by Executive Order he will require federal contractors to pay an increased minimum wage of $10.10 to their employees on federally funded projects (not exactly a princely sum but certainly a right step in the right direction).
  • The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was passed into law in 2010. Since then it has been ruled constitutional by the United States Supreme Court and with Obamacare a key element in the 2012 president campaign President Obama was reelected by 5,000,000 votes. So President Obama called upon Congress to stop trying to repeal a law that is already in effect and try to make it better.

There is no way to interpret President Obama’s speech as the rhetorical platform for a radical agenda. Yet the Teapublican response varied from some members walking out during his speech to another miscreant tweeting that he was acting like the “Kommandant in Chef (sic)” to House Speaker John Boehner threatening to take the President of the United States to court for the high crime of exercising his constitutionally articulated executive powers.

It would seem that in the coming months we will witness a continued dedication to dysfunction by the Teapublican cohort in Congress. Thankfully, we will also see President Obama meeting this challenge head on by effecting change wherever possible – through persuasion, Executive Order and by example.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – January 24, 2014

Like a recurring bad dream Sarah Palin just keeps coming back, showering us with torrents of stupidity – last week the pattern continued. Meanwhile Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks proved himself to be an outrageously exuberant competitor, how that made him a “thug” in the eyes of some people reveals a lot about some people. And finally, it turns out that Mike Huckabee knows that there are a lot of women out there who simply cannot control their libidos. Who knew?

The Unsinkable Sarah Palin

In an interview President Obama offers the observation that some (not all) Americans who oppose him are racially motivated. In other words some white Americans don’t like him because he is black. He also opined that some black Americans like him simply because he is black.

Knowing Barack Obama’s aversion to racial controversy, it is pretty clear that he was stating some very obvious truths. There is certainly a racial element at work in his opposition, those Confederate flags and drawings of him with a bone through his nose – along with the birther myths didn’t just spring up like mushrooms.

And the fact that over 90% of black Americans supported President Obama at the polls indicates that there is an element of perceived racial solidarity among his supporters. After all, it is hard to find too many other things upon which 90% of black Americans agree.

And then Sarah Palin comes along saying that President Obama is “playing the race card”. She actually accused the man who never whines of whining that his opposition is race-based instead of policy-based.

If Sarah Palin were to actually engage in the thought process from time to time she might actually utter a fact-based word or two. Clearly, last week was not one of those times.

Sherman’s March

Last week football fans were treated to a great NFC championship game between the San Francisco 49’ers and the Seattle Seahawks. It was an entertaining and highly competitive game that was not decided until the final seconds. And it was in those final seconds that Seattle’s star cornerback, Richard Sherman, made a great play.

And that is when the fun started.

Within two minutes of the end of the game a reporter asked Richard Sherman about the game. With adrenaline coursing through his veins at about a million miles an hour he vented, boasted and vented some more, releasing some of the energy that had propelled him to superstardom on the great stage of sports.

Later Richard Sherman apologized for going over the top. He also pointed out that the only way that most NFL players can be successful is to adopt a hyper-competitive persona on the field and that he had not had time to “flip the switch” moments after the greatest game of his career.

And then………..the Twitterverse exploded and cascades of racist insults rained down upon Richard Sherman – he was called a “thug”, a “nigger” and (unbelievably) worse. And somehow a segment of the sports world lost sight of the fact that athletes, including Richard Sherman, are human beings.

They also lost sight of the fact that he graduated second in his class in high school, graduated from Stanford University and is pursuing a Master’s degree. They also lost sight of the fact that he is a young, articulate and thoughtful man who deserves better treatment for an outburst that may have boisterous but was not mean or obscene.

But most of all, that segment of the sports world lost sight of the fact that Richard Sherman is a human being.

Ladies’ Man?

Some things cannot be made up. This past week Mike Huckabee, a possible Teapublican candidate for president in the 2016 election, opined that some American women are using government funded healthcare services in order to obtain contraceptives to control their “libidos”. (He really said this.)

It is not clear whether there is any truth to the rumor that Mike Huckabee has been deluged with inquiries from single men as to where these women with uncontrollable libidos might reside.

Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

Point of View Columns

Not a Lonely Hero

The annual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. creates annual mixed reactions and concerns. On the one hand it is great and wonderful that there is a national holiday that recognizes a great and courageous and brilliant African American who is an indelibly important part of the history of this country. And yet this holiday can also distort history and distract from the true significance of Dr. King.

Ever since the King national holiday has been a part of this country’s calendar, there has been a continuous effort to sanitize the life and legacy of Dr. King. There are any number of leading political figures who damned the living Dr. King and supported institutionalized racism and then became adherents of Dr. King’s “dream”. To this day, many people conveniently forget the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke truth to power and the abuse and misuse of that power.

Dr. King spoke out against social and income inequality. Dr. King spoke out against the war in Vietnam and other imperialist incursions by the United States. Dr. King did not seek to accommodate injustice and while he advocated nonviolence, he did not advocate acceptance of what was wrong. His choice of nonviolence as a strategy was as calculated and as sincere as the strategies of opponents of injustice throughout world history including Gandhi, Castro and Mandela.

But it is not a surprise that there would also be some discomfort in placing the entire civil rights movement on the shoulders of Dr. King to the exclusion of all of the famed (and unnamed) millions of Americans who changed America. It can be imagined that Dr. King would be the very first person to point out that without W.E.B. Dubois and Walter White and Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement.

It can also be imagined that Dr. King would be the very first person to point out that without Harry T. Moore and Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo and Emmett Till there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement. And certainly, without the millions of parishioners of black (and white churches) who supported the Movement, along with the maids and cab drivers and train porters and students – all anonymous in current historical accounts – there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement.

The problem with the narrative that accompanies the King Holiday is that by promoting the “great man” theory, it gives everyone else a free pass. By presenting Dr. King as a demi-godlike apparition on the stage of history, it means that the rest of us cannot have the hope or capacity to create and sustain the kind of change attributed to him.

And I believe that Dr. King would be the first to say that that would be wrong. King was not a solo act. He was a virtuoso in one of the greatest human orchestras ever, and we would do well to remember that.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – January 17, 2014

It must be the Mean Season on the Planet Teapublican – seemingly the only explanation for its followers in Congress insisting on continuing to deny benefits to the long term unemployed. Meanwhile, in an effort to repair the wreckage to the Voting Rights Act inflicted by the RobertsonScaliaThomasAlito cabal in the Supreme Court, Congress engaged in a bit of sleight of hand. And finally, while the celebratory skydive of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was covered in the news, Sarah Palin, the approximate cause of her discontent, got a free pass.

In the Land of Mean

Too many Americans know the stress and the shame and the pain of unemployment. The painful irony is that the longer that someone is unemployed, the more difficult it is to find a job. Indeed, some unenlightened employers refuse to even interview unemployed job applicants.

Over the last few years the federal government has extended benefits to the long term unemployed. It has certainly been a compassionate initiative and it has also been helpful to a hobbled national economy, provided direct infusions of cash to shops, stores and service providers each time those checks have gone out.

Now in step the Teapublican shock troops claiming that unemployment benefits, meager as they are, provide a disincentive for the unemployed to find a job. Heroic hypocrites like Congressman Paul Ryan – who grew up in a wealthy family that made its money as government contractors, used his father’s Social Security death benefits to attend college and who never had to look for a job in his life – claim that budget balancing is more important than saving the lives and self-respect of millions.

I am certain that Paul Ryan and his fellow Ayn Rand acolytes are good to their own children and family members. But it has been said that we measure the generosity of someone’s spirit in how they treat people that they do not know.

By that measure Paul Ryan and the Teapublicans come up short.

That Old Bad Magic

When observing events in Congress it is important to pay attention to the details. The seemingly laudable bi-partisan effort to repair the damage caused by the United State Supreme Court in virtually gutting the Voting Rights Act last year is a case in point.

The new legislation which seems to address many of the key elements of the Supreme Court’s attack on America, particularly black and Latino America, does not address the odious Photo I.D. legislation that is spreading across this country like some incurable cancer from KKK hell.

So we will read in the paper that Congress has passed a new Voting Right Act. Great news!

Race/racist driven Photo I.D. laws will still be the subject of trench warfare, state by state, county by county because Congress could not/would not act on this transparent strategy to suppress the voting power of people of color.

NOT great news!

Free Pass for Sarah Palin?

Last week most people of good will celebrated the fact that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords celebrated her continued recovery from the Tucson Massacre by sky diving. Her recovery is an inspiring narrative and a tribute to the strength of her spirit and the support of her husband, family and friends.

But Sarah Palin, the Lady Macbeth in this story, was never mentioned in the news media. Somehow, only three years later, the mainstream media seems to have forgotten that it was on Sarah Palin’s website that a rifle scope was placed over then Congresswoman Gifford’s district – along with several others.

The fact that the man who shot Gabrielle Giffords in the head may not have been directly inspired by Sarah Palin’s cyber-obscenity does not diminish the fact that her overheated and gun-inspired rhetoric contributed to an atmosphere where violence entered into public and political discourse.

Sarah Palin should never get a free pass on this one.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

Point of View Columns

The Ballad of Moby Christie

Like Aphrodite, who was born fully grown from the brow of Zeus, Governor Chris Christie has literally burst onto the national stage as a complete and outsized piece of work. It is hard to exaggerate when describing him, because Chris Christie is a walking, talking (lumbering, blustering) series of exaggerations. And now the George Washington Bridgegate scandal has arrived to reveal him in the full glory of his exaggerated contradictions. And somewhere, Richard Nixon is smiling up at him.

In following the bouncing ball that is the Chris Christie story, it is important to realize that he and his supporters have built and polished and built and polished an image of him as the straightest straight shooter of all time, genetically incapable of telling anything but the plain and unvarnished truth. The only spinning happening on the Planet Christie was the spinning of a pizza.

That is why it was all the more amazing to watch Governor Christie do a combination of the Limbo and the Macarena last week as he tried to explain how a senior member of his staff could virtually close off access to the busiest bridge in America without his knowledge or consent. He even doubled down on this bit of spinification by announcing that he had terminated two of his inner circle after e-mails damning both of them were released.

And that should have been the end of the story. We had Chris Christie, responding decisively to betrayal by craven, outlier members of his staff. And then we had Chris Christie, “sad” because of the betrayal and apologizing for his own humiliation.

There were a lot of “I’s” and “me’s” in Governor Christie’s Bataan March press conference last week, but “there was no there there” (to quote Gertrude Stein). There was no acknowledgement of the obvious question of how and why his Deputy Chief of Staff would pursue the madcap, career-suicide mission of closing the George Washington Bridge on her own.

He seemed to be totally oblivious to the other elephant in the room – the busiest bridge in his state being choked with traffic for four days without the Chris Christie, Giant Slayer and Champion of New Jersey, rolling up his massive sleeves and getting the problem fixed? After all, we have seen those shirt sleeves rolled up after hurricanes and other disasters, why did his cuff links stay affixed this time?

And most importantly, why did it take 107 days for Governor Christie to begin to get to the bottom of what now appears to be a pretty slimy barrel of petty revenge, power madness and rampant meanness? For the ultimate Take Charge Guy Chris Christie has come across as pretty passive.

As this Bridgegate scandal waddles along it will probably be apparent that Governor Christie did not specifically order the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge. But then, Richard Nixon did not order the burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate. What Richard Nixon did do is create and foster a cultural climate within his administration where his senior staff felt that it was right and appropriate to conduct burglaries, create enemies lists and to lie to the American people at will.

Indeed, it appears that Governor Christie is the most out of touch governor in the history of governors. Or, Governor Christie also created and fostered a cultural climate within his administration where revenge and petty meanness are considered virtues. And now, as thousands of pages of e-mails and other documents attest, it wasn’t just one or two members of the Team Christie who were involved in Bridgegate and other improper acts, it was an entire cohort of the Christie Praetorian Guard that committed these transgressions.

And now, Governor Christie has to beware of the danger that trapped Richard Nixon. Chris Christie needs to beware of the cover-up.


Point of View Columns

Basketball Diplomacy

The New Year has transitioned seamlessly from 2013 with double standards in full bloom. Most recently former NBA star Dennis Rodman has led a delegation of basketball players to North Korea as part of a cultural exchange program. It is not clear what North Korea is offering to exchange but Rodman’s sojourn has lifted the steel curtain that surrounds that country just a bit allowing for the possibility of the light of inquiry and the air of communication to slip in. And for that, Dennis Rodman and his colleagues have been excoriated by members of the American press.

In the view of some commentators, by merely setting foot in North Korea, Dennis Rodman is providing some kind of tacit endorsement of that country’s government and its peerless and apparently brutal leader Kim Jong-un. In condemning Rodman it appears that the naysayers are simply not willing to take his words at face value while also refusing to face the realities of world politics.

If American cultural exchange initiatives were to be limited to countries whose policies and practices are completely acceptable to the American people there would be very few countries left off the “no fly” list. Political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin have routinely disappeared or ended up in Siberia. Yet an American delegation is at this very moment packing its bags to participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Israel is routinely acknowledged to be the key and primary ally of the United States in the Middle East. The partnership between Israel and this country is historic and institutional. Yet, in 1967 Israel attacked and sank the American navy vessel U.S.S. Liberty killing 34 Americans. An apology was issued and accepted and both countries found a way to move on.

Moving on, there are virtually limitless claims of human rights abuses taking place in China. The Chinese government has imprisoned dissenters and simply does not countenance any criticism of its practices and shows no signs of changing in the near, or far future. Yet most American observers contend that continued engagement with China offers the best chance of meaningful and institutional change in that country.

Accepting the fact that Dennis Rodman is better known for his outrageous conduct, occasional cross dressing, unique choices in clothing and hairstyles, there is every reason to believe that only someone like Dennis Rodman could gain admittance to North Korea and achieve some measure of communication with Kim Jon-un. There really doesn’t seem to be a downside to whatever inroads that he and his band of ball players might make since they are clearly not diplomats and they are just as clearly not endorsing anything.

But just as a generation ago a series of ping pong matches opened the way for formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, is it too farfetched to imagine that basketball diplomacy might succeed in prying open a door to actual communications between two countries that have spent over half a century demonizing each other?

There may be many reasons to criticize Dennis Rodman – role model he is not – but his role in changing the interaction between the U.S. and North Korea may turn out to be more meaningful than all of his NBA championship rings.

We can only wait and see.