Point of View Columns

War without End – Amen

As the horror and misery of the attacks in Paris settle into the collective consciousness, certain realities have become clear. First, there is no place on this planet where safety can be assured. Second, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are new epicenters of terror and global violence; although we forget at our own peril the cauldrons of mayhem in Nigeria, Mexico and the Congo. Third, the destabilization of the planet on which we live is clearly the work of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice-Wolfowitz cabal.

Revisionist history is both deceptive and revealing of the motives of the deceivers. The neocon retrospective on the first decade of this century would tell us that after the 9/11 Al Qaeda terror attack the United States had no choice but to invade and occupy Afghanistan, albeit without an exit strategy, and even though Afghanistan has righteously earned its name as “The Graveyard of Empires”.

This revisionist narrative goes on to proclaim the lie that the invasion of Iraq was justified by  “weapons of mass destruction” that were known to be non-existent. Again, we were witness to an invasion reminiscent of Afghanistan, lacking the essential structure of an exit strategy. Only this time, the invasion of Iraq combined with the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein and the ongoing American-induced chaos in Afghanistan resulted in the destabilization of an entire region – from Western Asia to the Middle East.

Americans are historically used to meddling and interfering and intervening in the affairs of other countries without consequence. Indeed, America’s European cousins established the model for meddling, interfering and intervening during the five hundred year colonial era, dating from the 1500’s into this century. But now, in this era of globalization, there is a difference.

The big difference, the game changer, if you will, is that now the subjects and victims of meddling, interfering and intervening can indeed create consequences for the American and European fortresses that are no longer fortresses. We live in a globalized and interconnected world where the consequence in one part of the world becomes a part of our lives in the instant of a key stroke or a car bomb.

But it is important to view history through the lens of truth and accuracy so that it is understood that the Bush-Cheney-Rice-Wolfowitz cabal perpetrated a neocon strategy that obliterated the flimsy stabilizers in the Middle East and Western Asia. They seem to have seriously believed that somehow the invasion and toppling of regimes in that part of the world would open the door for the apostles of western democracy and the predatory avatars of One World capitalism. And somehow this epiphany would come to pass under the barrel of a gun accompanied by a rainstorm of barrel bombs and Tomahawk missiles.

The sad, lost souls rising from the rubble of 9/11 and Paris and London and Madrid and Mumbai and Tripoli and Syria are the real consequence of the failed neocon vision of a New World Order. To be clear, without the mindless invasion of Afghanistan and the dark fantasy of the Iraq invasion, we do not have a destabilized Middle East and Western Europe. ISIS would not be lurking around every corner and it is likely that the victims in Paris and London and Madrid and Mumbai and Tripoli and Syria would not be victims at all.

And now, while George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz live in luxurious comfort, the world that they have destabilized careens down a path shrouded in a war without end. There is no consequence for them in this life, but there is a real consequence for the rest of us who live on this planet.

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Point of View Columns

Lies and Consequences

The nuclear power agreement between Iran and five allied countries, including the United States, has been unanimously endorsed by the Security Council of the United Nations. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, over thirty senior U.S. generals and numerous former officials of Mossad, the Israeli security agency, have also endorsed it. These endorsements mean nothing on the Planet Teapublican, and as a result every effort has been made to derail this agreement. And now that those efforts have failed, it is fair to ask, now what?

Historians will one day look back at this near debacle and wonder how presumably rational men and women could lock themselves into an alternate universe where anything that President Obama proposes is wrong, and anything that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says is correct. How is it that the reality of the limits of U.S. power is not crystal clear, even after Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11. And most importantly, historians will wonder what was the real Plan B that opponents of the Iran nuclear deal had in mind?

When the arguments against the Iran deal are distilled, the result is a single phrase – “a better deal”. Of course, the desire for a “better deal” presumes that over the several years of negotiation a “better deal” was not the goal of the Obama administration. The desire for a “better deal” presumes that the United States can simply impose its will, not only on Iran, but also on Russia, China, Britain and France. The desire for “a better deal” is rational only with the assumption that it is the sole province of these United States to determine what reality is – and is not.

The proposed agreement with Iran has been called “the worst deal in the history of the world”, which upon brief reflection has to be an exaggeration that clouds the American mind but does not change the reality that a negotiated agreement, by definition, does not represent perfection for any of the parties to the agreement. But the Teapublican leadership in Congress and the Republican candidates for president seem to think that the discussions with Iran represented an opportunity to dictate the terms of surrender to a defeated country. Of course, that is not true. But facts and truth never seem to get in the way of a good Teapublican myth.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress seem to think that the negotiations with Iran, possessed of one of the most powerful military forces on earth, should simply capitulate to the will of America. Since that was never the case, it was absolutely impossible for any rational agreement to get the support of the Israeli prime minister (despite the very clear support for the agreement by Israeli military and intelligence experts) or that of the leadership of the Congress which is mired in the mud of permanent opposition to anything and everything that is associated with the presidency of Barack Obama.

Regarding that Plan B, historians will also have to wonder if the “military option” to the agreement really meant sending thousands upon thousands of American sons and daughters to certain death and mayhem without even giving a negotiated agreement a chance. Is the right wing of the right wing so wedded to the American tradition of defining the world by sheer force that it would be willing to risk yet another blood soaked conflagration in a region already destabilized for the foreseeable future due to misguided military incursions in Iraq and Afghanistan?

There are questions that will never really be answered. But in reflecting on the value of the divergent paths of peaceful negotiation and war, why would anyone choose war?

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Point of View Columns

The Sky is Falling………..Really!

On the evening of May 12, 2015 an Amtrak train derailed just outside of Philadelphia. What we know is that 8 people died. What we know is that over 200 people were injured. What we know is that it is the deadliest train crash in this country in 7 years. And what we know is that another tragedy will happen. It is only a matter of time.

What we also know is that this country has a $3.6 trillion infrastructure deficit. That means that the United States needs to spend almost $4 trillion before 2020 just to repair and maintain the current decrepit and crumbling infrastructure of the so-called greatest nation on Earth. This multi-trillion dollar figure does not include a single new bridge, new highway, new airport or new railroad system. What we are talking about is the most expensive patch and repair job in history.

It is a damn shame that of the 83,000 dams in this country, almost 10,000 of them are considered to be high risk. Over 50% of the dams in this country are over 50 years of age and it is only a matter of time before some monstrous dam disaster inundates a huge swath of this country killing countless Americans and costing countless billions of dollars.

And while we are on the subject, there are over 300,000 miles of federal highways and major roads in this country. According to the Federal Highway Administration 45 percent, or 135,000 miles of these roads that carry families, schoolchildren, explosives and the food that is on your table are considered to be not in good condition. And more than 71,000 of this country’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient and 78,000 bridges are rated as functionally obsolete. These are roads and bridges that carry the families, schoolchildren, explosives and the food that is on your table. It is more than logical to assume that when it comes to the next tragedy, it is only a matter of time.

And as anyone with a car knows, poor road conditions are expensive, costing American drivers $67 billion per year – an average of $335 per motorist. And the Associated General Contractors of America estimate that the construction industry loses $23 billion annually due to delays caused by traffic congestion.

The problem with these statistics is that they tend to anesthetize the public instead of rousing people to action. There are so many signs of the decay and deterioration of the American infrastructure that all one has to do is visit an American airport, ride on an American railroad or be aware of the fact that some of the water pipes in its greatest city – New York – are made of wood and were built by the Dutch centuries ago. Yet the statistics and the actual personal witness of decay have not been enough to move this country in the logical direction of rebuilding its infrastructure before a cascade of tragedies and disasters leave us all in endless rubble and wholesale carnage.

It is a fact of history that this country has not been invaded by a foreign power since the War of 1812. With the exception of a few harmless Japanese balloon bombs in World War II and 9/11 of course, the United States has been remarkably untouched by the wars of the world. And ironically, it is this fact of history that has resulted in this country having critical infrastructure components that are many times more than a century old.

Every major country in Europe suffered widespread devastation during World War II. Japan, China and Korea were subject to bombings that left the major cities of those countries in ruins. As a result, just about every aspect of these countries had to be rebuilt – airports, shipping terminals, factories, power plants, dams, railroads, bridges, highways and housing – all had to be replaced. And they were replaced with 20th century technology making it easier for transitions into the 21st century.

Yet, as this incredible infrastructure disparity oozes into plain view, infrastructure repair and replacement is simply not in the current political discussion. Social issues, trade agreements and foreign policy are of incredible importance. But so is this country’s infrastructure.

The Teapublicans see infrastructure expenditures as just another item to be sacrificed on their No-Tax altar. Democrats fear the “tax and spend” label so much that many times they stand mute as this country literally collapses before our very eyes.

And so we mourn the loss of life in Philadelphia with the very clear knowledge that this will not be the last time that lives will be lost due to the damaged and decrepit American infrastructure. It is only a matter of time.

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Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard

Reflections on 9/11

A quiet, bright, sunny, September morning.

People were going about their routine business. The warm sun’s glow seemed to comfort all.

Suddenly in a horrifying instant the peace was shattered — a loud explosion, screams, flames spewing out of windows, smoke clouding the streets obscuring vision amidst the panic and chaos.

Sirens screeched as police and firefighters rushed to the scene while people frantically searched for loved ones in the mass of confusion.

In that terrible moment more than brick and mortar, more than glass — even more than lives were shattered. Peace and hope and freedom from fear were also torn apart that September morning.

The Date: September 15, 1963
The Place: 16th Street Baptist Church; Birmingham, Alabama
The Dead: 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins; 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley;
14-year-old Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair
The Injured: Some 20 others, 10-year-old Sarah Collins who lost her right eye

This act of terrorism was by no means the first on American soil and far from the first in Birmingham, where there had been three other bombings in 11 days following a federal court order that had mandated the integration of Alabama’s school system. In the previous 18 years there had been at least 50 bombings there. It should come as no surprise that the town was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

Subsequent violence in the city led to the killing of two Black boys, one by police bullets, prompting the National Guard to be summoned in to restore order.

This came just thee months after the assassination of Medgar Evers, for whom the college is named. Evers was a civil rights activist and an NAACP Field Secretary.

As we mourn the losses of those who died on September 11, 2001, and honor those who were involved in heroic acts on that day, we should not lose sight of the fact that acts of terrorism in America did not begin on either of those September days.

The moral outrage over the vicious murder of four little girls who were sitting in Sunday school, led to outrage around the country. It helped provide a momentum of support behind the struggle for equal rights and end to segregation. Within two years there came passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965.

What then has been the legacy of September 11, 2001? What can we point to that has spawned some lasting good?

Many may express despair with reports of acts of harassment and violence against Middle Eastern and Muslim people here in the United States. Or the feelings and attitudes of apprehension and suspicion that many harbor since the September 11 attacks. Those unfortunate facts cannot be denied.

Then came the 10th anniversary commemoration. I was stuck by the images of the powerful and tasteful memorial at the World Trade Center site, as well as the progress made on the new towers being built. It occurred to me that we are all in a rebuilding process.

It is a rebuilding of the spirit of America and of freedom that cannot be destroyed by bullets or bombs. It is a freedom that the people in Birmingham and places throughout the south sacrificed so much for. They managed to build more than the buildings – they rebuilt their faith and dedication to freedom.

And that is what I see happening here in New York City.

When you look closely — when I walk the halls of Medgar Evers College and the streets of its Crown Heights community, I see something happening. I see a glass that is more than half full with students and faculty, and staff and folks on the block, learning, working, playing and living together. People who are trying to manage, people trying to succeed and excel.

The rebuilding is usually not a dramatic process, but it is evident in those most simple, routine, things.

After all isn’t that what freedom is — being able to go about your routine in peace? Shopping, working, playing, socializing, traveling – even going to Sunday school on a bright September morning?

And although there is still much rebuilding to do, when I look at Medgar Evers College’s diverse community I know that we are all sharing in the rebuilding Medgar’s dream and that of many others out of the some dark days of our past.

Dr. William Pollard is president of Medgar Evers College – http://www.mec.cuny.edu

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 9, 2011

Everyone over the age of 40 remembers where they were on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Everyone over the age of 15 remembers where they were on September 11, 2001 when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. Today’s Weekend Edition of Point of View provides a retrospective as to the meaning of that terrible day.

Where America Was. Where is America Now?

On the evening of September 10, 2001 Michael Jackson performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City, providing the 18,000 people in attendance with a brief and shining demonstration of true genius. At least one young woman attended that concert and partied afterwards. As a result she was too tired (and hung over) to go to work the next day.

She worked in an office near the top of one of the Twin Towers. Going to see Michael Jackson saved her life.

A young man had a job interview with a firm in an office near the top of one of the Twin Towers. His appointment was for 9 a.m. He wanted to make a good impression so he got to his appoint about 15 minutes early. He was killed trying to make a good impression on his prospective employer.

The stories of 9/11 are full of pain, grief, sorrow, anger and the realization of the random nature of life on this planet. The smallest change in routine could have resulted in life or death that day – as is the case every other day of our lives.

But it was the random nature of the unknown rage from an unknown land that troubled and tortured Americans in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It was beyond belief that there were people in this world who hated the greatest country in the world so much. It was beyond belief that we were so vulnerable.

And after the cries of pain had been silenced and the tears of grief and sorrow had dried anger took center stage. We had been attacked by enemies. The enemies must be slain.

But these enemies wore no uniform, had no nationality and carried no flag. Al Qaeda doesn’t even have a motto. We learned that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, sheltered by the Taliban – so there was a target for the cold steel of anger that had been forged in the fires of 9/11. Except……

Except that, in going after bin Laden it became to kill many thousands of Afghan men, women and children. Some were enemies of this country. Many more fell into the awfully banal category of “collateral damage”. And then…..

The government of the United States decided that this was an opportune time to ramp up the Big Lie. A key plotter in the 9/11 tragedy was Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi despot. It wasn’t enough to pursue bin Laden, the downfall of Hussein was critical to the safety of the United States and was important in avenging 9/11.

And so 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror became the password that unlocked all of the horrors of war. “Collateral damage” claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and so too many other places. The War on Terror excused the suspension of constitutional rights for Americans and human rights for suspects who were subjected to torture in black holes around the world through a process called rendition.

In times of tragedy friends, families and communities come together. Differences were forgotten in the aftermath of 9/11 as we realized that the terrorists were didn’t care about our color, religion or national origin. We were targets and that was enough. And for a while, it seemed that silver lining on the cloud of 9/11 would be a different sense of a national community.

But the anger morphed into war and the war morphed into horror. And then there was revulsion and shame. And those who were expressed revulsion at water boarding and torture and rendition and mindless war found their patriotism questioned by those who felt shame in their heart of hearts.

For the first time since the American Revolution the United States pursued war(s) without raising funds for the war through taxes. Combined with the Bush tax cuts, the wars drained the national treasury and turned a multi-billion dollar surplus into a multi-trillion dollar deficit.

The wars created a schism in this country as it became clear that both wars were pathways into a bloody morass with no way out – the fact that the war in Iraq was based on pure fabrication made matters worse. The schism resulted in Americans questioning the patriotism of other Americans and this schism set the stage for the Tea Party radicalization of American politics who now want to “take America back”.

We know now that the goal of Osama bin Laden was not to simply destroy the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. His real goal was to destabilize the United States.

It remains to be seen if that goal will be achieved. We still have the ability to prevent that goal from being achieved – but it will require will as well as power.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Pirates on the Potomac

The 9/11 terrorist attacks will be recalled this weekend, along with the death and pain and sacrifice that will forever be associated with that day. It is, therefore, more than a little ironic that after a decade of battling against terror we find the terrorists are safely encamped on Capitol Hill.

Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cohorts had declared war on the United States long before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The 9/11 attacks were their most spectacular achievement, but the attacks were only part of a larger plan – to humble, cripple and ultimately destroy the United States. Their tools of destruction were exceedingly crude given their lofty goals – some hijacked planes, smuggled bombs and random assassinations.

In their most hate-infused dreams bin Laden and Al Qaeda could never have dreamed of wreaking the havoc that is now the calling card of the G.O.Tea Party. In early August Osama bin Laden must have been chortling from his watery grave at the bottom of the Indian Ocean as he watched the likes of Cantor, Bachmann, Palin, Paul and Boehner threaten to collapse the entire economy of the United States during the budget ceiling battle – endangering the global economy in the bargain.

Terrorists are known for taking hostages because they assume that their adversaries actually care for the hostages while they do not. The result of this lopsided equation is that terrorists refuse to negotiate while their adversaries work for a solution, all the time whittling away at their own position. Sound familiar?

During the entire debt ceiling “debate”, the G.O.Tea Party zealots refused to negotiate any aspect of their no-new-taxes mantra, arguing that the only budget balancing strategy that they would accept entailed cutting budgetary allocations that support the rapidly fraying social safety net in this country.

Although the debt ceiling has been raised 87 times since World War II, the Teapublicans used this fairly ordinary budget device as a dagger to be held to throat to the United States, threatening to sever the financial arteries that allow this economy to function.

That the ensuing damage to the American economy would be “on Obama’s watch” was all the justification that they needed for such irresponsible conduct. And President Obama, the reasonable adversary, did indeed negotiate with the terrorists that wore suits and ties and pearl necklaces, because he clearly cares for this country more than the G.O.Tea Party will ever do, their sanctimonious and self-serving pronouncements notwithstanding.

Having paraded a menagerie of madness before the world stage, it is no wonder that Standard & Poor’s lowered the credit rating of the United States for the first time in over 80 years. And it is no surprise that, having run through the financial china shop and created pure havoc, the G.O.Tea Party then trumpets the credit rating debacle as the fault of Obama for failing to show leadership. As noted before, the Teapublican story line is like that of the arsonist who blames the fire on the fireman.

Not satisfied with the heartless savaging of the economy and the brutalizing of the American budget, the G.O.Tea Party found new hostages at the end of the month of August. As a result of Hurricane Irene millions of Americans on the East Coast of the United States were seriously affected by storms, wind and floodwaters. Having worked in a community after a devastating flood I can attest to the misery, frustration and helplessness of the victims.

And these victims were perfect hostages for Congressman Eric Cantor who, sinking to a new low even for the G.O.Tea Party, announced that additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) would only be approved by the House of Representatives if further budget cuts were instituted immediately.

Clearly Representative Cantor and his cohorts see misery as an opportunity and pain as a platform for their godforsaken agenda.

It is very clear that the spirit of heartlessness and selfishness which inspires the leadership of one of this country’s major parties is akin to the spirit of the pirates of another era and the terrorists of this era. Of course the pirates of long ago made no pretense of their mission – to get as much treasure as possible by being willing to kill or destroy anyone or anything that might be in their way.

Modern terrorists claim to be motivated by an ideal which can justify the most hideous of acts carried out in its name. The G.O.Tea Party terrorists lay claim to the high moral ground of reducing a governmental system that has produced a higher quality of life greater than that of any nation in the history of the planet. These same terrorists also have targeted the hope that sustains Americans who have not achieved that quality of life as yet.

As zealots, the Teapublicans have no hesitation or shame in targeting the weak, the sick, the poor, and the elderly — the defenseless in this society. In their immoral construct, the victims of a hurricane are perfect hostages to advance their goals. In their ultimate vision government will not take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and will not help those who want to help themselves.

These G.O.Terrorists are building a monument to pain and heartlessness, unless they are stopped.

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