Point of View Columns

In Search of Obama

There is no doubt that history will refer Barack Obama as a U.S. President Like No Other. There is the obvious aspect of his being the first African American president. But he was also the president who led this country out of a backbreaking economic disaster while easing the United States out of two unwinnable wars. There is also the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) which transformed the American vision of healthcare and the Dodd Frank Act which was the first major reform of the American financial services industry in almost 80 years. And now, it is time for Barack Obama to be an Ex-President of the United States Like No Other.

Donald Trump is on a daily voyage between tragedy and travesty. His sense of the presidency is informed only by his massive lack of knowledge and his disdain for even the most basic precepts of American government. But his incompetence, ignorance and ill-will are distractions from the real damage he is doing to this country by empowering right wing ideologues and conservative fanatics to wreak havoc upon the American people.

Sadly, the list of harmful acts courtesy of Trump is virtually endless. The exit from the Paris Climate Accords is but one example of the kind of endless global damage that this man is capable of causing. The return to criminalizing low-level non-nonviolent drug offenses guarantees that the Incarceration State will be alive and well in this country for years to come. The elimination of labor safety laws and the all-out assault on voting rights, civil rights and women’s rights are also signs of the messy handiwork of the Man Called Trump.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has largely observed the unwritten rule that ex-presidents do not criticize their successors, at least for the first year. But now the first year is up and the President Like No Other has to become the Ex-President Like No Other. Because the reality is that Barack Obama, perhaps unintentionally, became the leader of a progressive surge that countered a quarter of a century of conservative ascendancy.

While no one would ever confuse the 44th President of the United States with being a radical progressive, his presence on the national political landscape empowered progressive men and women to envision an America where the meanest and least civil aspects of the conservative movement were no longer inevitable. And indeed, there are options to the fevered dreams and wishes of the Ayn Rand acolytes who would transform political and policy dialogue into a Maker-Taker Texas death match.

And this is where Barack Obama comes in. While Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and who knows who else position themselves for a possible presidential run in 2020, there is real work to be done right now. This country cannot afford three more years of Democratic rope-a-dope and because he cannot run for president in 2020, Barack Obama can be the honest and true voice of progressive concerns, in the process concentrating constant and withering criticism of the man who challenged his citizenship, his college degree and his law school credentials.

When Barack Obama points out that Donald Trump has managed to denigrate black Americans with his dog whistle call to Make America Great (White) again while treating women like disposable accessories and demeaning and insulting the American immigrant community and the international community of color, people will listen and listen differently.

We have heard President Obama say that he has run the race and many would agree that he deserves time to be himself. But the mantle of leadership is not an easy one to cast aside and in these dangerous days and times he simply cannot observe and occasionally comment.

Barack Obama became President of the United States carrying a message of “Hope and Change”. If there was ever a time for Hope, it is now. If there was ever a time for Change, it is now. In 2008 this country was ready for that message.

And now, a decade later, America is ready for that message – again. And Barack Obama needs to be that messenger.

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Point of View Columns

The Election of 2016 – America in Wonderland

As Election Day 2016 looms on the horizon, it is quite clear that when historians and political scientists reflect on this stranger than strange campaign, this question will be asked. How could the country that elected Barack Obama president in consecutive elections even consider electing as president a proto-fascist Barnum impersonator and charlatan named Trump less than four years later? The answer will not be comforting.

There is no doubt that there was a yawning ideological canyon separating Barack Obama from John McCain and Mitt Romney. There is also no doubt that all three of these men comported themselves within the bounds of what passes for decency in the political universe of 21st century America. And finally, there is no doubt that the basic skill set of any of these three men to serve as President of the United States was never a real campaign issue.

But now, when faced the prospect of Donald Trump being the next President, millions of Americans are comfortable with his misogyny, able to ignore his racism and willing to rationalize his stunning record of disgrace, fraud, deception and disregard for the basic principles of decency. It is a matter of public record that Trump has lied about his unsavory business practices and generally uses lies as a defense even when there are videotapes, audiotapes and living human beings who set forth a reality that he simply denies.

It is now clear that as election lurches to what will be the political demise of Donald Trump; there is a far larger issue than Trump that will remain when his political carcass is hosed down the drain of the public arena. The larger problem is that there will still be millions of Americans who are still prepared to believe the racist canard that Barack Obama (1) was not born in the United States and (2) is therefore an illegitimate President and (3) he is a Muslim and (4) is the anti-Christ.

The larger problem is that there will still be millions of voting Americans who seriously believe that walling off this country is a useful 21st century solution. There are millions of American who think that dismantling the Affordable Care Act (eliminating the health care coverage for over 20 million Americans) and the Dodd-Frank Act protocols (thereby removing the controls that preventing the cataclysmic collapse of the American financial system) are good ideas.

At some point after Donald Trump slithers back to the his own warped universe, there will need to be a serious discussion regarding how so many Americans became separated from reality and decency, in the process forgetting the responsibilities that come with their rights as citizens. It is clear that to the extent a Trump presidency has even been discussed in 2016 there needs to be a national civics awakening – with rights come responsibilities. Presidential elections are not a time to carelessly cast votes without regard or consideration of the consequences.

Fortunately, Donald Trump will not win. Unfortunately, the fact that he even has come this close means that we have a lot of work to do if the best aspects of this republic and its democracy are to be preserved and improved upon.

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Point of View Columns

The World According to Trump

It is a matter of bizarre curiosity and obvious fact that upon becoming the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump is even less restrained and is now totally devoid of anything resembling self-control. While questions regarding Trump’s fitness for the office of President of the United States sprout like bewildered weeds, there are even more questions being asked about the millions of American men and women who think that he should be elected?

The litany of Trump gaffes, blunders and blatant acts of indecency are taking on the stuff of legend. Indeed, if Donald Trump wanted to lose the presidential election, he would be doing exactly what he has been doing since the conclusion of the DNC Convention in Philadelphia last week.

Case in Point 1 – On the last night of the DNC Convention Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani-American parents of Humayun Khan, appeared on the podium. Humayun Khan was a posthumous recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart as a result of his death protecting his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan in 2004.
Mr. and Mrs. Khan, still bent by the unknowable grief of losing a child, were on stage to attack Donald Trump’s stated plan to ban all Muslims from entering America “until we figure out what’s going on”. Mr. Khan, a lawyer from Minnesota, eloquently expressed his family’s hopes and dreams in coming to America as well as their tear stained pride in the ultimate sacrifice made by their son.

Mr. Khan concluded by pointing out that Donald Trump ignored the Constitution with his proposed Muslim ban. He also correctly pointed out that Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one” for this country.

True to form, Donald Trump attacked this Gold Star family, speculating that Mrs. Khan did not speak on the podium because her Muslim religion prevented her from doing so (not true). He also provided us with a quick glimpse of the World According to Trump when he actually equated Humayun Khan’s death and the sacrifice of his parents with his business accomplishments (conveniently mentioning that he received and accepted five draft deferments during the Vietnam War). The obscenity of his analogy was presented in full view of the entire nation.

Case in Point 2 – At a campaign rally a military veteran gave Trump his own Purple Heart – an award granted to members of the military who are wounded in action. Rather than graciously demurring, Trump accepted the medal, as unworthy as he is, and stated “I always wanted a Purple Heart, getting it this way is much easier”.
One wonders what the thousands of Purple Heart recipients must think. And what do the families of the wounded veterans think when they hear such words?

Case in Point 3 – Responding to President Obama’s characterization of his as being “unfit” to be president, Trump stated that Barack Obama is the worst president in the history of the United States. Aside from the fact that this country’s recovery from the Great Crash of 2008, the passage of the Dodd Frank Act, the creation of 10 million jobs and the passage of the Affordable Care Act all occurred during the Obama presidency and make Trump’s statement beyond ridiculous, he continued to put his belief in fact free rhetoric on display.

It is hard to believe that even the most acidic critics of President Obama would think that he was worst that Richard Nixon, who resigned prior to his inevitable indictment and impeachment and who, quite likely would have gone to prison but for his pardon by President Gerald Ford. And is Trump seriously suggesting that George W. Bush was a better president than Barack Obama even though Bush misled this country into two seemingly endless wars, watched thousands of Americans die and was at the helm when the American economy almost evaporated?

Of course, by now, it is clear that fact free is the way to go in the World According to Trump.

Case in Point 4 – When questioned about how he would advise his daughter, Ivanka Trump, if she were sexually harassed in the workplace, he actually said that he would advise her to go to another company or find another career.
One can only wonder how any adult woman or man would support a man who would countenance sexual harassment and counsel retreat and defeat rather than standing up for basic human rights.

As Donald Trump reveals his true self one is reminded of Joseph Welch’s comment to Joseph McCarthy in the midst of the communist witch hunt of the 1950’s – “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
When it comes to Donald Trump, the answer is quite clear.

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Point of View Columns

Trump and Cruz – Beware of the Head Fake

In most sports the head fake is an important weapon, both on offense and defense. The intent of the head fake is to get the opponent to go in a direction different from that which is planned. The head fake is meant to trick, fool and bamboozle the opponent. And, the more that we hear about members of the Republican establishment uniting to derail the Trump candidacy, the more we should beware the dreaded head fake.

So much, too much, has been written about Donald Trump and his presidential campaign. It is quite clear that he can be profane, insulting, bombastic and boorish in the extreme. He may be the most unpresidential presidential candidate since………Michele Bachman, and that’s saying a lot. Many leaders of the Republican Party find the idea of a Trump presidency so repulsive that they are supporting Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as viable alternatives to Trumpageddon.

With Donald Trump so much is so wrong, be it is his endorsement of torture, his willingness to insult everyone and everything, or his mythic policy proposals – from building walls with Mexican money to winning trade wars with China and Japan. As a result, the prospect of Trump as the Republican standard bearer strikes many Republican leaders as the beginning of the last days and times of the G.O.P. And according this same Republican establishment, the antidote to this noxious prospect is Ted Cruz or maybe Marco Rubio.

For those who care about what happens to this country, this Cruz-Rubio alternative to Donald Trump is the ultimate right wing head fake. If the rationale for the Cruz-Rubio antidote for the virulent form of Trumpitis that is sweeping this country is that either one of them is better than Donald Trump, the American people are being forced to pick their poison.

Far too much has been written and said about the odious Mr. Trump, but that does not make Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio gifts from heaven. Consider that both of them are irrationally committed to the total dismantling of the Affordable Care Act “on day one” of their presidency. The fact that almost 20 million Americans will lose health care coverage on that dreaded “day one” has not inspired either of them to propose and alternative for what will take place on “day one”.

Consider that Ted Cruz has called for the carpet bombing of various parts of the Middle East “until sand turns to glass”. He has held to this position despite the opinion of various military experts that such a strategy would result in untold civilian deaths and the virtually eternal enmity of the survivors, thereby confirming the rhetoric of jihadists throughout the region who reference the United States as “The Great Satan”.

Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio adhere to an antediluvian Neanderthal view of the right of women to choose their healthcare provider (e.g. the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood) and the right of women to freely exercise their Constitutional right to access abortion services. The administration of President Cruz or President Rubio would take this country back to a time before the Roe v. Wade decision of 1972 when women had to exercise their right to choose in back alleys.

Their positions on immigration reform can be distilled in a few words – when to deport and how to deport. The fact that close to 12 million human beings might be subject to policies that are sickeningly close to fascism do not seem to faze either of these children of immigrants.

Ted Cruz proposes a flat tax and the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service without telling anyone how taxes will be collected in the United States of Cruz. Both Cruz and Rubio do not believe in the science that supports the existence of climate change on this planet, which means that President Cruz or President Rubio would have a good chance of dooming the children of this country to inhabiting and environmentally damned planet.

The point is that the entire Republican presidential campaign cycle has revealed the party to still be the Party of No. The Republican platform that is hammered together in Cleveland will once again demean the humanity of immigrants, place the gun on an altar, demean the rights of women and worship a fossil fuel philosophy when it comes to climate change.

So when Mitt Romney or John McCain or Lindsey Graham tells the American people that Cruz or Rubio are palatable alternatives on the Republican menu as opposed to the option of a Trump entrée, we should remember that any of these choices will make America sick to its stomach.

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Point of View Columns

The “Failure” of the Obama Administration

What do Donald Trump, Cornel West, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Tavis Smiley have in common? When it comes to any analysis or judgment about the Obama Administration they drift into a fact-free universe where they can criticize without consequence. It is certainly the right of these men to wander in a world of fantasy, but when they presume to lead and influence close to a third of a billion people they become downright dangerous.

In using the word “failure” or inferring it, Trump, West, Cruz, Rubio and Smiley would have anyone who would listen believe that there has been little or nothing of value about the seven years of President Obama’s tenure. Trump, Cruz and Rubio, true to the Teapublican mantra over the past seven years, have played the role of truth deniers when it comes to the 44th president because that suits their political ambitions.

Professor West and Mr. Smiley approach President Obama in a slightly different and bizarrely nuanced fashion. By referring to him as a “lap dog”, damning him as not being a “revolutionary” and claiming that insofar as black people are concerned he has been a terrible president, these black men seem to find some noble purpose in demeaning and degrading the legacy of the first African American President of the United States, even though facts serve as sharp pins in their hot air balloons.

Here are some facts regarding the so-called “failure” of the Obama Administration:

• When Barack Obama took office in January of 2009 we were witness to the not so slow motion collapse of the global financial universe. Major banks (Washington Mutual, for example) and major investment banking firms (Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, for example) virtually evaporated before our eyes. Shares of Citibank were selling for less than a dollar and the deaths of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford Motor Company were presumed to be imminent.

• In the first six months of 2009 Americans were losing their jobs at a monthly rate of 750,000 and the national unemployment rate was 9% and rising fast.

• Fully implementing the Troubled Asset Protection Program (TARP) the Obama Administration stabilized a financial services industry that was tottering from self-inflicted wounds. That financial services industry is now robust and achieving historic profits. There is no one on Wall Street who has been cashing fat bonus checks over the past seven years or the owner of shares in a major bank who honestly believes that the Obama Administration is a “failure”.

• Providing leadership that led to the passage of the $819 billion Stimulus Package, the Obama Administration literally rescued the American auto industry as well as the related industries resulting millions of jobs being saved.

• There have now been 70 consecutive months of private sector job growth creating 14 million jobs. The unemployment rate is now 5% and last year the automobile industry sold over 17 million vehicles – an historic record. There are 14 million Americans with newly created jobs who could argue with the Trump, West, Cruz, Rubio, Smiley team when they talk about the “failure” of the Obama Administration. And the same can be said for the still employed auto workers who are riding the crest of an historic industrial wave in their industry.

• The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has provided healthcare to over 17 million Americans who didn’t have healthcare. We should ask the Trump, West, Cruz, Rubio, Smiley team to speak to the parents of a sick child who now has care thanks to Obamacare and ask them about “failure”. And Professor West and Mr. Smiley should take special care to note that Obamacare has resulted in major improvements in the health of the national black community – another “failure” in their eyes one can be sure.

• The Obama Administration led the push to pass the Dodd-Frank Act, an historic re-regulation of the financial services industry. The most comprehensive legislation of its type since the Glass-Steagall Act during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (presumably another “failure” in on the Planet Trump-West-Cruz-Rubio-Smiley).

• President Obama has issued historic executive orders aimed at dismantling the system of mass incarceration that has imprisoned millions of Americans and eviscerated black communities throughout this country. Another “failure” only in the eyes of those who refuse to see.

This is not to suggest that there have not been mistakes and shortcomings on the record of the Obama Administration. But to suggest that it is a “failure” is to ignore facts and deny both history and the facts.

In a world of ordinary people, there are less than extraordinary people who seem to believe that they can change history by denying it. But when history books are written a century from now, Barack Obama will be recognized as an historic icon while Trump, West, Cruz, Rubio and Smiley will be footnotes to footnotes –and that will be one more thing that they will have in common

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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

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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