Point of View Columns

In Search of Obama

There is no doubt that history will refer to 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 Circus is Back in Town

During the 2012 presidential campaign (which actually began in 2011), the Teapublican Party provided a bizarre and macabre Clown Carnival disguised as an electoral process. There was one Senate candidate who had to deny that she was a witch and another who introduced the particularly vile concept of “legitimate rape”. There was a presidential candidate who quoted the Japanese anime character Pokémon and another who wanted to colonize the moon. It turns out that 2012 was just the opening act.

Having written two published novels I would like to think that I have some idea of what kind of fiction is marketable. And I am certain that if I presented my agent with a book proposal that had a leader of the Teapublican Congress losing his seat to an avowed Ayn Rand zealot, she would throw me out of her office.

Yet, the latest news is that Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, lost in a primary to David Brat (you cannot make this up), a college professor who presumably lights candles to honor Ayn Rand every night. That would be the Eric Cantor who has voted to repeal Obamacare over fifty times. That would be the Eric Cantor who voted to cut food stamps and increases in benefits for veterans. The same Eric Cantor who led a Tea Party contingent in Congress that has shut down the federal government, imposed draconian sequestration cuts that impacted too many Americans and threatened to wreck the credit rating of the United States.

That Eric Cantor was not conservative enough for the citizens of the Congressional district in Virginia that he represents and we will now have to endure the lunacy of another ultraconservative who will be very comfortable with the likes of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Tim Scott and the Koch Brothers. And while David Brat may be comfortable with his theoretical musings on how the world would operate with little or no government, the implementation of his vision would produce a living nightmare for most Americans.

It begins with the fact that David Brat lives in the dream world of the self-made man. Somehow, in his contrived universe, he was responsible for building the public schools that educated him as well as training the teachers that taught him. In The World According to Brat, he earned everything through his own hard work and dedication – the roads and bridges and social safety net that protects him and most Americans have had nothing to do with his success.

The defeat of Eric Cantor should just be an historical anomaly. He is the first Majority Leader to have been defeated in a primary since the position was established in the 1890’s. But there is more to David Brat’s victory. Assuming that he will prevail in the general election in an overwhelmingly (and gerrymandered) Teapublican district, he will be one more voice of negativity, denial and fantasy added to the already unbearable Cacophony of No that is the Teapublican majority in the House of Representatives.

The takeaway from the downfall of Eric Cantor is that elections matter and that it is important to vote. The other takeaway is that David Brat is the symptom of a malady that is infecting the body politic and none of us are immune.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – January 17, 2014

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

In the Land of Mean

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

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

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

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

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

That Old Bad Magic

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

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

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

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

NOT great news!

Free Pass for Sarah Palin?

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

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

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

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

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

The Real State of the Union

This Tuesday evening President Obama will address the nation, and the world, and deliver the first State of the Union address of his second term. As we listen to his presentation and to the inevitable commentary from pundits and commentators it might be a good idea to actually consider the state of this union of United States. As is the case in many instances there is good news and not so good news.

The not so good news is that there is a hardcore cohort of right wing zealots who have seized virtual control of one of the two major political parties in this country. The Teapublican agenda is dismissive of all aspects of history that do not support their base philosophy which is that government is the enemy of the people and should be curtailed or eliminated wherever possible.

Such a perspective neatly avoids the reality behind the reason that this country is truly exceptional. Indeed, without free, compulsory, universal public education – a national highway infrastructure – an unparalleled network of public and private higher education institutions – a social safety net that provides healthcare, food and housing for a huge segment of the populations – a relatively reliable system of laws, rules and regulations – this country would not only be unexceptional, it would be on its way to Third World status – only bigger than most such countries in that category.

Somehow, the right wing of the right wing has bought into this Ayn Rand grim fairy tale that divides all of humanity into makers and takers. And in this fractured fairy tale, the makers are all self-made men and women who have succeeded solely by reason of their talent, skill and overall superiority. These “makers” don’t bother to explain how the lights work and the water runs in their self-made universe.

And the Teapublicans have become so convinced that they are absolutely correct that they have adopted a terrorist philosophy whereby the end justifies any means. So far those means have included insulting the President of the United States at every turn, trying to subvert the electoral process throughout the country and threatening to collapse the economic infrastructure of the United States.

So far the insults have fallen short as President Obama doesn’t dignify the mudslinging with a response – well, there was that time that he barbequed Donald Trump at the National Press Club Dinner, but who could blame him? The Teapublicans in state after state tried to suppress the vote in the 2012 election, and while they were not successful they are also not finished trying to pervert democracy in this country – The RobertsScaliaThomasAlito wing of the United States Supreme Court will weigh in on the Voting Rights Act very soon so buckle your seatbelts.

Finally, Teapublican craziness was cited by numerous financial analysts as the reason why the credit rating of the United States was downgraded in 2011. Now they are trying to make you believe that doing the flamenco on the edge of the fiscal cliff is some kind of patriotic strategy when that strategy is the real job killer in this economy.

The good news is that people who believe in a progressive approach to public policy, government and life have found a political voice. That voice does not belong only to Barack Obama although he is a hell of lead singer.

The last election proved that there are men and women throughout this country who are willing to stand up to the Teapublican lyingbullyingintimidating tactics and speak out for what they believe in. This growing New Majority is voting for candidates who are also willing to stand up to the pseudo-tsunami that the Teapublicans would have us believe is the wave of the future.

The 2012 election also illustrated that the battle lines are no longer between the red states and the blue states. The battle is not a class issue in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, the battle lines are between those who believe that the role of government must include compassion, innovation and continual renaissance. In the other corner are those who believe that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs and that government has no role to play until they need help – then the tune is different, if only for a few days.

The State of the Union is a precarious one, to be sure. The final good news is that justice, compassion and a progressive vision of the future are sure to triumph.

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Point of View Columns

The Real Takers

Two recent news items carved into the public consciousness the true extent and hypocrisy of the Teapublican right wing and its myths. Several Teapublican members of congress dismissed all attempts to reach out to the Latino community, lumping all of that community with other supporters of the Democratic Party who are “takers”. As that vile commentary made its rounds it was announced in Davenport, Iowa that one Russell Wasendorf, Sr., the founder of the Peregrine Financial Group was sentenced to fifty years for stealing in excess of $215 million.

One of the many lows of the Romney campaign was the leaked video of Mitt Romney claiming that 47% of the American people were in effect “takers”, receiving a multitude of unearned benefits for housing, food, education and healthcare. It was, Mr. Romney believed, this 47% that would never vote for him and would always be looking for the Democratic handout that was waiting around the corner.

Of course Mitt Romney was half right. It wasn’t 47% of the American people who didn’t vote for him, it was more like 53%. But he was wrong in labeling and libeling so many Americans as “takers”, simply because the social safety net that they helped to create and pay for actually works.

But Mitt Romney and the Teapublicans are totally wrong in implying that there is this class of Americans – 53%, 10%, 1%, it doesn’t matter – who have achieved wealth and success through their own hard work and sheer genius. Such an analysis ignores the public education system, the highways, the commercial banking infrastructure, law enforcement and healthcare that create an environment where businesses can thrive and prosper. And no, they didn’t build that!

But the Teapublican shadow dance also tends to distract from another reality which the Peregrine case illustrates. Mr. Wasendorf founded an investment company, ran it for almost thirty years, stole $215 million of other people’s money and by all accounts never made a single penny. Yet Mr. Wasendorf was a respected member of the 1% club with estates, private planes and an office building to show off his edifice complex until, that is, the entire house of cards came crashing down.

And just in case we should think that Peregrine case is an outlier let us not forget Bernie Madoff ($18 billion stolen – 150 year prison sentence), Allen Stanford ($7 billion stolen – 110 year sentence), and Thomas Petters ($4 billion stolen – 50 year prison sentence).

Meanwhile, with stunning regularity firms like Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America pay staggering fines of hundreds of millions, and in some instances billions of dollars for “improper practices”. Of course this punishment does not include criminal penalties for the perpetrators also known as the beneficiaries of these “improper practices”

It is important for us to understand that none of these examples are outliers. Great wealth many times is the result of “sharp” practices that are many times made illegal after the fact. The “sharp” business practices that created the fortunes of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan gave rise to an entire infrastructure of laws, rules and regulations. Those “sharp” practices were unfair and would now be illegal and in some instances crimes.

The point is that the real “takers” in American history have not been “welfare queens” getting a few extra food stamps. The real “takers” have been the men and women who have cheated and stolen and lied their way to unimaginable fortunes. To the extent they have been subtle enough to employ their chicanery without a ski mask, these “takers” end up in boardrooms, boards of trustees and in some instances Teapublican campaign finance committees.

Misdirection is one of the oldest ploys in just about every sport and certainly in politics. While filling the airwaves with complaints about the mythical “takers” from Ayn Rand’s fairy tales – students on scholarship, parents feeding their children, veterans receiving health support, elderly citizens receiving care and sustenance – attention is diverted from the brazen robberies that take place every day.

Most people in business are honest. But there are too many who are dishonest and who populate an ever growing den of thieves. These robbers represent the true burden on society and the drain on the economy.

Just because the robbers wear bespoke suits and custom-made shirts while being driven by their chauffeurs doesn’t mean that they aren’t the real “takers”.

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