Point of View Columns

Taking Ben Carson Seriously

Many people who consider themselves progressive, and most people who claim sanity, do not really believe that Dr. Ben Carson will ever be elected President of the United States. That dangerous presumption could actually lead to his election, and it is time to take the man seriously and take him at his word(s). And what words they are.

Dr. Carson may singlehandedly dismantle the belief system that holds brain surgeons in high esteem because of their innate intelligence. His kindly, avuncular manner of presentation thinly disguises a malevolent and dangerous worldview, which if implemented would resurrect suffering and discord that many have thought were banished from this society years ago. Consider these words of Ben Carson:

• Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery – Dr. Carson seems to take exceptional pleasure in exhuming the rotted corpse of slavery and inserting it into serious contemporary discussion. Perhaps he feels that since he is of African descent he can play fast and loose with the memory of the millions who suffered and died under the legal lash of American bondage. Just as Jews and all people of good will are righteously outraged at useless comparisons to the Holocaust, there is simply no reason to bring slavery into a discussion of the Affordable Care Act, except for shock value. And Dr. Carson clearly pleasures himself by shocking others.

• I would rather see bullet riddled bodies than any limits on gun ownership – Rather than engaging in some semblance of decency and respect for the survivors of gun victims, Ben Carson used the recent campus gun massacre in Oregon to proclaim his dedication to the gross and historically incorrect interpretation of the Second Amendment. It is never clear whether Dr. Carson actually believes the outrageous statements that he makes. But what is clear is that words matter, and his words are offensive in the extreme.

• With less gun control Jews in Germany could have defeated Hitler – Statements like these remind us of the drunken uncle at Thanksgiving who, sometime after the dessert wine has been served, goes off on a riff so stupid, so asinine and so devoid of logic that all in attendance hope that it is only the wine that is doing the talking. But as far as we know Ben Carson does not drink alcohol and therefore we should take him at his word and reject him for his words. The illogic, the incorrect history and the bizarre belief that lightly armed German Jews could have defeated the Wermacht are woven together into a bizarre tapestry that literally defies response.

It is a sad testament regarding the state of the Teapublican Party that its leading presidential candidates are Donald Trump and Ben Carson. The only hope for the former Grand Old Party is that 70% of self-identified Republicans have not made up their mind. Nevertheless, one has to wonder who are these people that are not offended by Ben Carson’s rhetoric and who the people who actually embrace what he says?

We can be certain that there will be no apologies forthcoming from Dr. Carson. He believes so deeply that what is so wrong is right that there can be no cure for his very special madness.

And while we may feel certain that he will never be president, we should be very concerned that there are literally millions of Americans who believe that what he says is so right that he should be President of the United States.

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Point of View Columns

A Book to Read. A Movie to Watch.

From time to time a book will come along that shows us what we still don’t know, or acknowledge, about the history of racism in these United States. And there are times when, the plethora of movies notwithstanding, a movie will come along that helps understand how chaos and violence still lurks in the shadows of too much of Africa. “Spectacle” written by Pulitzer Prize winning author and NYU professor Pamela Newkirk is such a book. “Beasts of No Nation” produced by Netflix and Idris Elba is such a motion picture.

“Spectacle” (published by Amistad) is first and foremost the story of Ota Benga, an African man who was literally snatched from the Congo in the early part of the twentieth century and put on display in the United States. His first “appearance” was at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and then in the New York Zoological Gardens (now the Bronx Zoo) in 1906. He was seen by millions of visitors to the Fair and the Zoo who flocked to see human beings who were considered to be examples of the lowest level of evolution.

Viewed through the lens of the 2015 such bestial and callous treatment of other human beings would be unthinkable. But Dr. Newkirk, a professor at New York University and formerly a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, points out in “Spectacle” that the exhibition of an African man in a zoo reflected a virtually universal mindset in white America and in Europe that people of African descent were naturally and absolutely inferior. Hence, the horrific treatment of Ota Benga was seen as no worse than putting a tiger, elephant or gorilla on display.

But “Spectacle” also includes other important historical facts that have been shrouded by the mists of time. In reading this book we learn of the unthinkable genocidal rule of Belgian King Leopold II who held the Congo as his personal property. The level of vicious and rapacious cruelty that marked his regime has scarred that region of Africa to this very day.

We also learn the deep rooted racism in the attitudes held by the most prominent Americans of the day including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (who hosted the premiere of “Birth of a Nation in the White House”). American universities, scientific institutions and general society held Americans in such low regard that any suggestion of equality or equal treatment was quite literally unthinkable and, to the point of “Spectacle”, unimaginable.

And finally, “Spectacle” reveals the awesome will and determination of so many black Americans to achieve education, progress and respect. Creating and building communities, towns, universities, churches, charitable institutions in the lingering shadow of slavery, a shadow that undeniably remains over this country to this very day. The book reintroduces the heroic men and women who proved the racist theories to be the lies that they were (and are) as they laid the foundation for any and all accomplishment by black Americans to this very day.

“Beasts of No Nation”, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba is important for several reasons. In chronicling the tale of a young boy who becomes a part of a cruel and sadistic army of lost boys headed by a cruel, rapacious and homicidal commandant (excellently portrayed by Mr. Elba), “Beasts” exposes the underbelly of  the violence that plagues too much of Africa.

The bloodshed and violence is an illustration of black on black crime at its worst. And while hardly a white face is seen in the movie, one has to know that the endless supply of guns and bullets and missiles had to come from somewhere, and Africa is not the source.

Finally, it is important to note that Netflix is part of the production group that financed “Beasts of No Nation”. Netflix released the movie on Netflix and we are seeing the future of motion picture production and distribution unfolds before our very eyes.

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Point of View Columns

Columbus, Football and Genocide

Columbus Day is being celebrated throughout these United States. It is a celebration that reveals absolute and intentional ignorance of basic history. It is a celebration that honors the dishonorable, the horrific and the indelible. It is a time when collectively Americans choose to put on blinders and ignore the simple fact that this country, indeed modern “civilization” in the Western Hemisphere, is built on the blood soaked soil and bones of the indigenous people along with the shattered remains of their African comrades in pain. Just like the National Football League.

One would think that it would be unnecessary in the second decade of the twenty first century to once again point out that Christopher Columbus didn’t “discover” America. There were millions of indigenous people who had inhabited the so-called New World for thousands of years. There were towns and villages and cities and empires with achievements in astronomy, mathematics and engineering that rivaled and in some cases surpassed the best that Europe had to offer.

Columbus wasn’t even the first European to set foot in the Western Hemisphere. The Vikings beat Columbus to the historical punch establishing settlements in New Foundland almost half a millennium earlier. But Columbus Day has a much greater meaning than the abandoned Viking settlements in what is now Canada.

But Christopher Columbus brought with him greed, avarice and an implacable hunger for gold and riches which, with the blessings of the Catholic Church, opened an era of rape, genocide and treachery which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of indigenous people throughout the hemisphere. Taking the concept of white supremacy to its most awful extreme, Christopher Columbus and the Europeans who followed him, felt justified in killing men, women and children without remorse. They considered the right to enslave others to be part of their white Christian birthright and they established societies which, to this day, carry the virus of sanctioned racism. And we know all too well that this virus manifests itself in daily society.

The question becomes, knowing these rather obvious facts, why does anyone choose to celebrate the legacy of a murderer who was the harbinger of genocide and the first to seize the opportunity to destroy, demolish and obliterate societies and civilizations? It must be that it is more comfortable for too many to celebrate undeniable falsehoods than come to grips with the uncomfortable truth.

Which brings to mind the National Football League which still abides by its Washington team being called the “Redskins”, an odious term that was never acceptable, and is more horrific in its usage the more that history has been revealed to us. Nevertheless, the NFL and CBS and NBC and Fox and ABC and other sports news outlets refer to “Redskins” even though it is impossible to consider sports teams with names like the “New York Niggers” or the “Boston Kikes” or the “Chicago Wops” being acceptable. Referring to the indigenous people as mascots is akin to building a communal toilet on what remains of their tradition and history.

There is no calculus which could reduce the concept of “reparations” to dollars and cents. But it would be helpful to stop celebrating lies and continuing horrific myths while the ghosts of the dead continue to seek recognition, if not the redress they so richly deserve.

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Point of View Columns

Welcome to Fantasyland

Political discourse, particularly on the right wing of the right wing, has been untethered from reality for quite some time. Consider, for example, the search for “truth” that would “prove” that President Obama is (a) a Muslim, (b) a foreign born illegal immigrant or (c) the anti-Christ. The voyage on the irrational ocean has visited ports that legitimize the shutdown of the federal government and the degradation of this country’s international credit rating. And the ranting in the wake of the Oregon gun tragedy further highlights the Teapublican fondness for fantasy.

Demonstrating his now legendary lack of grace and class, days after the massacre in Oregon Donald Trump resurrected the action hero view of gun ownership. He stated that if the students and faculty and security guards all had guns, death would not have visited Umpqua Community College. The fact that combat veterans and war journalists are unanimous in recounting the chaos inherent in firefights that take place during war should cause even the most committed gun-lover to pause and consider the vision of armed gunmen and gunwomen with little or no military training shooting to kill.

But, doubling down on his cinema-based theory of public safety, Trump went on to say that if he were subject to attack he would, in effect, channel his inner Charles Bronson/”Death Wish” persona. And once again, even the most avid proponent of universal gun ownership may wish to reconsider their position with the vision of a near-septuagenarian plutocrat firing away at real and or imagined enemies.

And, in keeping with the Teapublican tradition of being the party that is the gift that keeps on giving, Ben Carson offered thinly veiled criticism of the victims in Oregon (and presumably the victims in Aurora, Columbine, Tucson and Sandy Hook) for “just standing there” and allowing themselves to be shot. Channeling his inner Rambo, sans the bare chest, Carson went on to say that if he were confronted with situation similar to that in Oregon, he would have exhorted his companions to charge the gunman, encouraging them with the knowledge that “he could not shoot all of us”.

Dr. Carson has by now given brain surgeons a bad name, or at least removed “brain surgeon” as a synonym for a brilliant person. Perhaps, because he is such a brilliant brain surgeon he might be excused from knowing that an AR-15 automatic rifle fires 15 rounds per minute, so clearly it is possible for a gunman in such a fashion to “shoot all of us”. More importantly, this supposedly brilliant and thoughtful man should know that the term “fog of war” is a reality based reference. No one knows what they might do if a gun was aimed at them, and only highly trained combat and law enforcement personnel actually know what to do when the bullets start flying.

But not being satisfied with pouring rhetorical salt on the real wounds of the real victims and real survivors of all of the many real gun massacres in this country, Ben Carson has been quoted as saying that he would rather see “bullet riddled bodies” than see the passage of any gun control legislation. And with these statements Dr. Carson has made it clear that he is not running for President of the United States of America, instead he is running for President of the United States of Gun.

The further tragedy is that in addition to all this careless, heartless, senseless and insane talk about guns and gunfights and “bullet riddled bodies”, the Teapublican Party runs the real danger of having its leading candidates ultimately giving it the identity of the Fantasy Party. In addition to fanatical devotion to guns, no matter the cost in blood and treasure, the leading Teapublican candidates truly believe that a multibillion dollar wall (with a great big door) will curtail illegal immigration. The party is now totally wedded to the concept of repealing the Affordable Care Act “on Day One”, thereby vaporizing the healthcare coverage of over 20 million American men, women and children with no alternative plan.

On the foreign policy front Teapublicans propose to project strength by “telling” the Supreme Leader of Iran what he should do and by refusing to even speak to Vladimir Putin. We hear of plans to reprise the tragic horrors caused by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, once again accompanied by the promise that the U.S. military actions will be brief, limited, surgical and successful (this time)(really)(honest).

The final tragedy is that instead of offering thoughtful alternatives to the agenda of the Democratic Party, the Teapublicans have shrouded themselves in a world of fantasy and denial, setting forth policies that will never work, from “Day One”. And that is too bad, as the American people deserve better.

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Point of View Columns

The United States of Gun – Part II

It is said that history repeats itself. It is an overused phrase that sadly applies to these United States and its love-death relationship with guns. The following words were written exactly two years ago in September 2013:

“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. And on the Planet Teapublican that right even extends to what are in essence 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 of 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 representatives 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 than it is for him to vote. Somehow 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, in this house of malevolent mirrors, 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 this right is rendered virtually meaningless.

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’.”

As we prepare to watch another set of somber official mourners march to the gravesides in Oregon this time, we know for certainty that this will not be the last time that mass murder stains the pages of another day in this country’s history.

We can only hope against hope that, amidst the gunfire and the relentless hail of bullets, at some point sanity and self-preservation will inform the national discourse on the subject of guns.

Clearly we have yet to reach that point. And while we wait the body count continues to rise.

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