Point of View Columns

Obama in Africa and Unfinished Business

When President Obama visited Africa he took the opportunity of being in Africa to speak to the truths about Africa. He correctly stated that the African continent is overflowing with potential for progress and growth. He also correctly stated that until Africa confronts its challenges with respect to women, governance and human rights that it will never reach that potential. In other words, there is unfinished business in Africa.

When he spoke before the leadership of the African Union, President Obama said things that it would have been difficult for an African leader to say. As President of the United States he is cloaked with the power and prestige of his office. As the son of an African, as the grandson of Africans, as the brother of African brothers and sisters, Barack Hussein Obama has family ties that remove the possibility of him being considered a disinterested outsider lecturing the “natives”.

It is difficult to imagine President Mitt Romney giving Barack Obama’s speech in front of the African Union. It is virtually impossible to envision President John McCain, or President Donald Trump or President Scott Walker at the podium delivering that message. For that matter, it is difficult to envision President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders standing in that place – it had to be Obama.

And President Obama told the truth about the role and status of women in Africa – it must change. He said that the African traditions that oppress women and mutilate the genitals of girls and bind women with the chains of ignorance are bad traditions. He told the truth when he said that Africa will never, can never, reach anywhere near its true potential while half of its population is entrapped in the rickety cages of “tradition”.

President Obama was faithful to the truth when he pointed out that in a democracy there can be no “presidents for life”. He told the leaders of the fifty four countries on the continent that the peaceful transfer of power ensures peace just as holding on to power indefinitely ensures that there will never be peace. And, just as importantly, the peaceful transfer of power guarantees that the energy and genius of the youth of Africa will be encouraged to stay in Africa rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

President Obama also took the occasion to point out that respect for the human rights and dignity of all persons is necessary, otherwise no one will have their human rights and dignity respected. Marginalizing or imprisoning or murdering someone because they are from a different country or a different tribe, or because they love a man instead of a woman or a woman instead of a man are practices that keep Africa mired in the past. And marginalizing, imprisoning or murdering in the name of tradition can only mean that the tradition is wrong – as President Obama put it, “it is a bad tradition”.

What was so interesting about his address is that President Obama ultimately spoke in terms of unfinished business in Africa. But he alluded to the fact that there is also unfinished business in the United States. He could have pointed out that while American women have made major strides during the past fifty years, women still earn less than men and women are the majority population of the poor in this country.

He could have said that while this country has been governed by a democracy for over two hundred years, and at this very moment there are cadres of lawyers and activists all over this country who celebrated the demolition of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. He could have mentioned that voter suppression has now become a political tactic and that thanks to the Citizens United and McCullough Supreme Court decisions, obscene amounts of money flood and pollute the political process like never before.

President Obama could have mentioned that while there have been major advances in respecting the rights of individuals in this country, there are still states that fly the Confederate flag and there are legislatures considering bills that will somehow outlaw same sex marriage and constrain a woman’s right to choose.

He could have said all of those things. There is unfinished business in Africa. And there is also unfinished business in these United States.

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Point of View Columns

The Trouble with Trump

Donald Trump has become the poster boy for The New Jacked Up 21st century politics. Bluster, bigotry and bullying are now legitimate credentials for a presidential candidate, at least in the universe in which Teapublicans reside. While the spectacle that is the Trump campaign threatens the seating arrangement in the already overcrowded Teapublican Clown Car, there is actually a danger that the other candidates will try to out-Trump Trump in order to suck up some precious media oxygen.

As you are reading this, Donald Trump, the Heavyweight Self-Promoting Champion of the World, is leading all Teapublican candidates in national polls. Most self-confessed Teapublicans want him to stay in the race despite the daily exhibitions of classless and tasteless excess which define Trump as a candidate and as a human being. And as you are reading this it becomes clear that Donald Trump is not a momentary publicity comet flitting across the American skies (see Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain). His star has staying power and all of his competitors for the Teapublican presidential crown know it.

It is now a bizarre badge of honor for Teapublican candidates to be attacked by Donald Trump. Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham are thankful to be his targets because that means that for a few nanoseconds their name will be mentioned in the same breath as The Donald. Without being asked to respond to his insults, they would have few, if any talking points that anyone else wants to hear.

While Democrats are looking for ways to keep The Donald Clown Balloon floating high, they should be careful what they ask for. Donald Trump is impervious to insult and insulated from concern as to what others think. His run for president is an example of superselfindulgence on steroids. But, and this is important, if the polls are to be believed, there are millions (millions!) of American voters who think that Donald Trump is a serious presidential candidate.

Consider that just six years ago this country was in what was arguably the most profound, and certainly the most frightening financial crisis in its history. During the past six years plans for universal healthcare coverage and reform of the financial regulatory system were devised and implements.

During this time this country has had to address crises ranging from the massive BP oil spill to the collapse of the Iraqi government to the rise of ISIS and the multiple implications of the Arab Spring. The dawning realization of the impact of climate change, addressing the necessity of a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran and the continued carnage that is woven into the fabric of the United States of Gun are all realities in modern America.

Russia in the Ukraine, new Chinese bellicosity and the explosive realization that black lives do matter, especially in the face of the domestic terror that American racism has supported are all issues that the President of the United States has had to address and we can be sure of only one thing, there will be no certainties for the next President, not here in the United States, not here on this planet.

It is virtually impossible to believe that Donald Trump has the competence, intelligence or intellectual capacity to manage any or all of these issues and more. But what Donald Trump has done is lower the bar for what are considered requisite qualifications to be president. Donald Trump is the one with the loudest bluster. Donald Trump is the one prepared to wrap himself in the hate-soaked banner of bigotry and racism in order to curry favor with the haters and the bigots. And by being the loudest bully on the Teapublican block he has virtually eliminated any possibility of intelligent debate on that block.

Democrats and Teapublicans alike should be concerned. By demeaning the presidential selection process with his antics, Donald Trump is also demeaning the institution of the presidency. If asinine antics and a half-baked act that wouldn’t make it in Las Vegas are enough to qualify someone to be a serious presidential candidate, then the presidency itself becomes seriously devalued.

And that is a danger that this country can ill afford in the 21st century.

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Point of View Columns

Obama’s got a Brand New Bag

When seasons change it is rarely dramatic, but rather it is gradual. We sense a difference before we realize it. And so it has been with President Obama. There has been a change in the man during these last several months. He has spoken with greater clarity, acted with greater boldness and he has transformed his vision into deeds. As the noted poet James Brown might have said:

He ain’t no drag
Papa’s got a brand new bag

Let’s look at the facts. For over a half century this country has pursued the bizarre policy of trying to isolate and destroy Cuba. This policy has been adhered to by Republican and Democratic administrations even while alliances have been forged with countries that have no love for the United States, China and Russia come to mind, and with countries with a bloody and painful history for Americans, Vietnam, Germany and Japan certainly come to mind.

Through much of his presidency Barack Obama has sought to reason with the adherents of embargo and persuade the Cuba deniers. And then, a few months ago, he directed that this country commence formal diplomatic relations with Cuba. And now there will be an American embassy in Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington. He just did it.

He’s not too fancy but his line is pretty clean

Here’s another fact. When President Obama spoke at the funeral services in Charleston after the Mother Emanuel Massacre, he did something that no American president has ever done. He referenced the Confederate flag and pointed out the obvious, it stands for cause of the preservation and protection of white supremacy and racial slavery and that cause was wrong.

It is not clear which is more amazing – that it took over 150 years for an American president to state the obvious or that President Obama abandoned subtlety on a matter of race and spoke the truth plain and simple. In any event, he just did it.

Don’t play him cheap ’cause you know he ain’t shy

Even before he was elected president, Barack Obama had championed the cause of criminal justice reform. But, with too many in Congress still repeating the failed and hoary mantra of “tough on crime”, no real legislative changes have taken place. But now, President Obama has commuted the sentences of scores of non-violent drug offenders who have been serving decades in prison while killers and robbers and rapists have gone in and out of prison during their time of incarceration. And by commuting these sentences President Obama has sent a clear message that criminal justice reform simply must become a reality.

He’s doing the Fly ev’ry day and ev’ry night

Most recently, upon the announcement of the nuclear arms treaty with Iran, a reporter sought to depict President Obama as “celebrating the treaty while Americans were still languishing in Iranian prisons”. The president spoke truth to the goad and told the reporter that his question was “nonsense” although one could tell that a more graphic and barnyard epithet was very close to the surface. In the past President Obama might have endured yet another in the cavalcade of insults that have passed his way over the past six years, but this time he responded in kind. He just did it.

These changes in President Obama are historically important and will in turn change the way that the presidency functions in the future. He just did it.

Papa’s got a brand new bag

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Point of View Columns

Why Elections Matter

There are reasons why presidential elections seem unimportant. The cascade of clown-like candidates – Donald Trump comes to mind- and demagogues – Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum certainly come to mind – diminishes the ability of some voters to take the entire election process seriously. And that is truly a shame because, as the recent Supreme Court decisions made clear, presidential elections really do matter.

During the last week in June the United States Supreme Court handed down several decisions of epic importance. In the process SCOTUS surprised some observers, confirmed the predictions of others and definitely affected virtually every citizen of this country. With the RobertsScaliaAlitoThomas cabal firmly in its place on the bench of the highest court in the land, it surprised some that marriage would be confirmed as a right that could not be restricted by any state on the basis of gender preference. Given the propensity of that cabal to engage in black robed politics (See Gore v. Bush – 2000); it was also more than a mild surprise that the court would confirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

For good measure SCOTUS also affirmed an Arizona state initiative that will seriously curtail redistricting with obvious partisan motives. And it also ruled that affordable housing development cannot be restricted to lower income neighborhoods and communities – a decision which will have a huge (and positive) impact on urban development in this country.

The Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas Gang of Four surprised no one by affirming the culture of government sponsored murder by ruling that the use of death penalty drugs was constitutional. It also limited the powers of the presidency with respect to restriction of anti-pollution measures and limits on mercury emissions. And for a final act, SCOTUS has agreed to (once again) revisit the issue of race-based affirmative action strategies in higher education – not a good sign for those who support equity in higher education in this country.

Wherever one may be on the political spectrum, there is virtually unanimous agreement that the decisions of the Supreme Court were of great importance with generational, cultural and institutional impact that goes well beyond the actual court cases. Everyone knows that the Supreme Court is an important part of the federal government but occasionally SCOTUS really flexes its judicial muscles.

This is important because of the following facts. There are nine members of the Supreme Court – four of them – Scalia (78), Kennedy (78), Ginsburg (81), and Breyer (76) by the end of the next president term their ages will be 83, 83, 86 and 81. It is highly likely that the next president of the United States will be in a position to appoint between one and four new Supreme Court justices.

Understanding that SCOTUS is virtually split between 5 Reagan-Bush appointees (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas) and 4 – Clinton-Obama appointees (Breyer, Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor), it should be crystal clear why elections matter. If the next president were to choose justices in the Reagan-Bush mode the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage decisions could go the other way. If the next president were to choose justices in the Clinton-Obama mode affirmative action and the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage will in all likelihood be preserved.

After SCOTUS stole the election from Al Gore and gave the presidency to George Bush, it should have been clear for all time why presidential elections matter. The last week of June 2015 made that point again and everyone can wonder what kind of Supreme Court Justices Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Donald Trump might select and what kind of justices Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might select.

Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. is 60 (DOB: 27 January, 1955).
Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia is 78 (DOB: 11 March, 1936).
Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy is 78 (DOB: 23 July, 1936).
Justice Clarence Thomas is 66 (DOB: 23 June, 1948).
Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is 81 (DOB: 15 March, 1933).
Justice Stephen Gerald Breyer is 76 (DOB: 14 August 1938).
Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is 64 (DOB: 1 April, 1950).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is 60 (DOB: 25 June, 1954).
Justice Elena Kagan is 54 (DOB: 28 April, 1960).

The numbers tell the story.

That should be enough for everyone to realize why elections really matter.

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Point of View Columns

Nada Word Was Said

Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president and immediately insulted and degraded Mexican Americans, Mexican immigrants, Latinos and all Americans of good will and decency. But this is not about Donald Trump. It is about Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and all of the other Teapublican candidates who uttered not one word of protest, revulsion of criticism. Not one word. Nada.

To be clear, The Trump Man was not guilty of simple public indecency or petty political incorrectness. He did not infer, he categorically stated that Mexican immigrants are “bringing in drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” These were words that would make a lot of racists and xenophobes cringe. But not the Teapublican presidential candidates – from them we heard the sounds of silence.

Keep in mind that every single one of them is a child of immigrants – it’s only a question of when. But Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the sons of immigrants. Jeb Bush is married to a Mexican which means that his children are……….wait for it………….Mexican Americans. Chris Christie is the grandchild of immigrants. And, in any event, all the Teapublican candidates are the descendants of immigrants to this country.

Nevertheless, not one of them was sufficiently aroused or offended by Trump’s remarks to utter one word of criticism. Clearly none of them think about the fact that 250,000 Latinos turn 18 in this country every year and will continue to do so for decades. They obviously don’t realize that the United States has the second largest Spanish speaking population in the world so it is probably not a good idea to call Mexicans “rapists” who “bring in crime” when a presidential election is less than 18 months away.

But it seems that these candidates are afraid of offending the angry white fringe of this country that passes for the “base” of the party. But that base is shrinking, getting older and dying faster than falling leaves in their generational autumn. The future success of either of the major political parties depends to a very real extent on how they fare with Latino voters. While the Democrats have not covered themselves with glory with their immigration policies, at least they don’t call Latinos criminals and rapists. The Teapublicans seem to be comfortable letting the Democrats simply be the lesser of two evils.

We can say that the Teapublicans are not biased when it comes to being biased. After the Charleston Massacre the Teapublican presidential contenders dithered for days as to whether this tragedy was a “hate crime” or “terrorism”. Some had the gall to suggest that Dylan Roof was attacking religion when the historical evidence does not begin to suggest that conclusion. It screams “terrorism” because white on black terrorism is a sad but very real aspect of the black experience in America.

It is only when the bigotry and callous nature of their falsehoods became too heavy to carry that we started to hear tepid acknowledgement of the horror that took place in Mother Emanuel AME Church. And the hesitation and delay will be remembered by black voters just like their sounds of silence will be remembered by Latino voters.

There are critically important policy issues that need to be discussed and debated. But it is difficult to understand how people are supposed to be interested in the Teapublican policy positions after they have dismissed the humanity of black voters and silently acquiesced Latino voters being insulted by a  maniac posing an orange haired maniac posing as a presidential candidate.

Black voters matter. Latino voters matter. Indeed this country matters. Perhaps Teapublicans will figure this out by late November 2016.

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