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

The Obamas – A Real Class Act

As the Obama Administration heads into the final lap of its eight year term, it is time for retrospectives to begin. And we can begin with the fact that, even after all the mudslinging and flaming arrows aimed at the President and Mrs. Obama; they have Stayed Strong and continue to Be Great. They have epitomized the concept of “grace under fire” – one more thing for which little credit is given to Barack and Michelle Obama.

Consider the First Lady’s remarks at the recent Jackson State University commencement ceremonies:
“When I hear words like dignity and excellence, I think about my husband … As I’ve walked this journey with Barack, I’ve gotten a pretty good look at what it means to rise above the fray, what it means to set your eyes on the horizon, to devote your life to making things better for those who will come after you. I have seen how, no matter what kind of ugliness is going on at any particular moment, Barack always stays the course …”

Much has been written about the substantive and institutional accomplishments of President Obama – the Affordable Healthcare Act and the introduction of a national health care system – the Dodd Frank Act and the initiation of the most ambitious reformation of the financial services system in almost ninety years and, of course, the salvation of the American economy in 2009. These items are historic and undeniable.

More subtle, and perhaps more important, has been the ability of President and Mrs. Obama exhibiting grace and class under the most intense pressure imaginable. Being called a “liar” from the floor of Congress or doubt being cast on the patriotism and Christianity of the President has been bad enough. Being called “shiftless” by the Sarah Palin, the Wicked Witch of the West must have been galling.

Being assailed on the “birther” issue by a carnival barker like Donald Trump might have been laughable for the first week or so, but after the first year the racist fumes of this noxious assault must have been revolting. But Barack and Michelle Obama stayed the course.

And for those who would say that in the 21st century the Obamas do not have any particular responsibility to establish respect for black America or represent black dignity in America should take a closer look the next time they go shopping. Aunt Jemima is still on that pancake box, Uncle Ben is still on that box of rice and the Gold Dust Twins are still selling flower in the next aisle.

The sordid reality is that in the 21st century relics of black minstrelsy and slavery are still acceptable in the marketplace and so it should come as no shock that dignity and respect for black Americans are goals that have yet to be achieved. The First Family did not seek the responsibility of countering these charmless images, but just by being they have done so.

And so it is important that Barack and Michelle Obama have been able to maintain a stable marriage and raise two teenage daughters in the pressure cooker that is the American presidency, giving many white Americans (and some black Americans), a vision that they can only imagine. Given all the negative statistics regarding the pathologies attendant to black families, this First Family opens the door to the truth that stable and positive black families can and do exist in these days and times.

There will always be the black naysayers who want Barack Obama to “act more like a brother”. But history will show that what was important was that he and his bride acted like a man and woman with class and charm and dignity.

And that says a lot in these days and times.

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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 it 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 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 present.

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

Shell Game for Billionaires

Spring is on its way and the flowers are starting to bloom. But all the scented bouquets in the world cannot hide the stench arising from the sleight of hand shell games that we see being played out in the higher echelons of high finance. Consider that the SAC hedge fund paid a $600 million dollar fine for insider trading last week. This week it was announced that Citibank would be paying a $730 million fine for misleading investors. And neither institution has admitted to wrong doing in the process.

And SAC and Citibank should not be considered outliers or pariahs in the financial community. During the past year Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland have all paid enormous fines, sometimes in excess of a billion dollars for misleading or improper conduct. On the Planet Earth such behavior would be called “stealing”. In the ethereal world of high finance it is called business as usual.

Take a moment to think about how much money an organization would have accumulated through insider trading for it to agree to pay a fine in excess of half a billion dollars. Think about how much money a bank must have made in providing misleading information to investors to justify paying a fine that approaches a billion dollars. Clearly these fines are seen as the cost of doing business – and then only if they get caught.

We see the Teapublicans doing their level best to shred and eviscerate the infrastructure that the Dodd Frank Act is supposed to establish in order to protect the public from wrongdoing by bad actors in the financial community. Instead of closing ranks to insure that a “free market” is also a “fair market”, too many opponents of regulation would rather let the thieves into the temple and walk away with all the profit that they can carry.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Wall Street was deeply involved in the process of investing in the future of this country. Investment bankers made money by financing the creation and expansion of businesses as well aggregating capital to support the development of the infrastructure of this country. Commercial bankers loaned money to small businesses and startups in addition to the blue chip firms.

This is not a reflection through a Norman Rockwell looking glass; these are historical facts that illustrate a very different mindset than what we find in the financial community today. Today technology based “trades” have replaced investment as the fuel that drives the Wall Street engine.

These trades, orchestrated by supercomputers that are linked globally, move enormous sums of money around the world in the blink of an eye 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only jobs that these trades produce are in the banks, investment firms and law firms. The only infrastructure investment arising out of this faux finance would be the addition of a guest home on the summer estate of some hedge fund executive.

The shell game for billionaires entails moving money around and picking up the billions of dollars of loose change that somehow get left behind after every series of transactions. And fudging information to investors and illegally making use of inside information is just part of the shell game. Of course the grimy sweaty sans-culottes of the world aren’t supposed to worry about what is going on with this trans global shell game. And, by the way, don’t ask these would be Masters of the Universe to pay any additional taxes as they climb the greed beanstalk that, for them, reaches to the heavens.

We can go back to the fact that more regulation and more enforcement of those regulations might prevent some of the more egregious offenses. But the mindset in too much of the financial community is similar to players in some kind of Grand Game using supercomputers, offshore accounts and impenetrable documentation to grab as much money as possible. And if you get caught, you pay a fine that comes nowhere near the actual profit accumulated during a round of the Grand Game.

Perhaps the Masters of the Universe will realize that it is possible for them to make money through investment in the future and the financing of the dreams and plans of others – if they would only take a break from their computer simulated Grand Game.

I would not, however, recommend holding your breath waiting for this to happen.

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