Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 18, 2011

The weekend begins with breaking news as Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to Haiti less than 48 hours before the election, accompanied by……Danny Glover (and what could Mr. Glover be thinking?). Meanwhile the critics of President Obama continue to unite over anything and everything that he might do. And what on earth could be the reason for hurling insults at Japan as it endures the combination of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster?

Finally, you are invited to visit the “Be My Guest” feature of Point of View to read a column by Professor Pamela Newkirk regarding her absolutely fascinating book “Between the Lines – The Power of African American Letters”. You will be doing yourself a great favor by taking the time to read it.

Really Danny Glover? Really?

The tragic aspects of Haitian history are well known. Haiti’s recent history has been marked by challenges of almost biblical proportions.

It is a testament to the good will of many Haitians, both in Haiti and in the diaspora, that elections will be held on March 20th that hold the promise of being free and fair. The presidential candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, have engaged in a vigorous contest right until the final day.

As the fragile tendrils of democracy and transparency try to take root in Haiti, it is incomprehensible that Danny Glover, the famous actor, activist and humanitarian, would take it upon himself to escort former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristede back to Port Au Prince today.

Both presidential candidates and President Obama have asked that Mr. Aristede delay his return until after the election for concern that his presence at this point could destabilize a very fragile democratic process.

Since Mr. Aristede has not participated in any part of the elections and is not supporting either candidate, there would seem to be reason enough for him to agree to wait in South Africa where he has lived in luxury for the past six years (the source of that luxury is another story for another time).

Instead, Danny Glover has seen fit to bring a torch to gasoline refinery. Given the tragedy and pain and suffering that the Haitian people have suffered historically and recently, it is just wrong for Mr. Glover to participate in this potentially destabilizing event. His prior relief work and support of reconstruction is laudable and it makes his current actions baffling.

If Mr. Aristede wishes to distract and disturb the electoral process he must ultimately answer to the Haitian people for any disruption that takes place on March 20th. But to whom will Mr. Glover answer as he jets back to the United States, not having to live with the consequences of his high profile escort of Mr. Aristede?

Hopefully the elections will be fair and free of the intervention of negative forces. But there is simply no reason to increase the degree of difficulty at this point in the history of Haiti.

Critics of Obama Unite!

Since he was inaugurated, President Obama has had to accept the reality that, for some people, whatever he chose to do would be considered wrong.

The latest example of this is related to the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East. As encrusted oligarchies in Tunisia and Egypt tumbled President Obama was critiqued for the timing of his support for agents of change in these countries even though his measured support resulted in the desired regime change and accompanying good will throughout the region.

Libya has proven to be a very different situation as the entrenched dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has shown no inclination to leave and seems to be prepared to immolate his entire country.

In the face of this mindless strategy critics of the president have contended that he should show more “leadership” by establishing a “no-fly zone” and even providing supplies and troops to support the Libyan insurgents.

The commitment of troops and treasure cannot be the first response of this country as there are too many places on this earth with the same fact pattern – right now that would include Cote d’Ivoire, Bahrain, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. Would these critics – most recently David Gergen and Senator Lindsay Graham, among others – have President Obama send troops and jets and materiel all over the world to fight injustice and tyranny everywhere at the same time like some latter day Superman?

Fortunately the United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution calling for a joint military effort in Libya and the wisdom of measured response has been demonstrated once more.

Mr. Gergen and Senator Graham seem to actually believe in Superman. Thankfully President Obama does not.

Insult to Injury

Since the triple tragedy in Japan the global response has been compassionate and tangible. Assistance has flowed to this island nation from all over the world.

But some knuckleheads are determined to show their stupidity by opening their raincoats of fame and flashing their miniscule intellects. Several celebrities including the noted blowhard Rush Limbaugh and the famous philosopher Fifty Cent have been quoted as stating that the people of Japan deserved the tragedies that they are suffering.

Some mish-mosh thought process linking Pearl Harbor to economic success to advocating environmental protection has resulted in this awful stew of hate and misinformation.

Of course Rush and Fitty just don’t care. But the rest of us should.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Egypt – Obama’s Bitter Harvest

That President Obama inherited a perfect storm of economic catastrophes is without question. The collapse of the stock market, the evaporation of the housing market and the evisceration of over 8 million jobs from the American workplace has all been sadly documented.

It is not without value to point out that the witless and venal policies of the prior administration of President George W. Bush contributed greatly to this catastrophe.
The fact that the Obama Administration has begun to stem the damning tide of disaster is a testament to the ability to think strategically and plan for success rather than simply react with empty rhetoric.

Every president of the United States inherits the results of prior policies. They take credit for the successes and are roundly criticized for the failures. Fairness is never part of the political equation and we should give President Obama credit for adhering to the “never complain” part of Benjamin Disraeli’s famous quote.

And now there is Egypt – and Tunisia – and Yemen – and……..? The cause of the turmoil that swallowed up the decades-old regime in Tunisia didn’t begin overnight or during the Obama administration (or the Bush Administration, for that matter).

The fuel for the civil conflagration in Cairo has been gathering in Egypt for over thirty years. The regime in Yemen is tottering only now, but its foundation has always been hollow.

The common thread in these countries is a record of American financial and military support for the ruling regimes. The support has been forthcoming to the tune of billions of dollars – in exchange for “strategic alliances”.

The American policies in support of Israel, against terrorism and in support of the wars against Iraq and in Afghanistan have been buttressed by these and other dubious alliances. But there is a problem.

In signing over blank check after blank check to oppressive regimes (sometimes with only fig leaves of fake democracy), the United States has gained strategic partners but has lost credibility with the people who have had to suffer under the dictator’s boot.

Instead, this country has supported bloated and sclerotic regimes. Like gangsters from any era, they have drained national treasuries of money and depleted the national reserves of hope. And all the while they have done far too little to provide for a better way of life for their people.

This has been a bipartisan global disaster as Republican and Democratic presidents have followed this bizarre and benighted policy over the years and around the world. It didn’t work in Cuba, Vietnam, Haiti or Chile, and it isn’t working in Egypt, Yemen or Afghanistan.

It is truly ironic that a country projecting itself as a beacon of freedom has paid for the extinguishing of freedom’s flames in too many countries. In Cairo and Alexandria these flames are now consuming the rickety and aged structures of a regime that has outlived its time. The bearers of these torches may not be so inclined to forgive and forget American complicity in their misery.

The Obama Administration must now work on parallel tracks. There are the immediate infernos in Egypt that must be attended. The United States cannot sit by. It is a daunting task to be sure.

But it is also important for President Obama to get it right going forward. The policy of paying for strategic support and turning a blind eye to injustice was doomed from the start.

At some point people who are denied progress and change through peaceful means will resort to violent means. And in many instances that violence will be directed not only against the oppressor but also against the paymaster.

To make sure that Americans do not continue to reap the bitter harvest that comes from supporting dictators, plutocrats and oppressors the Obama Administration must find a new way of going forward.

Just like the economy, the old ways just won’t work anymore.

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Be My Guest

Cholera In Haiti – No Time to Argue – Guest Column by Herb Boyd

It’s almost three weeks since I was part of delegation to Haiti under the leadership of Dr. Ron Daniels, founder and president of the Haiti Support Project. Fortunately, we were back weeks before the outbreak of Cholera which has presently consumed the news cycle about the troubled island nation, still trying to recover from a devastating earthquake in January.

This was my second trip to Haiti this year. Dr. Daniels led a delegation there in February, right after the earthquake and we saw first hand how widespread and destructive the disaster was. From our residence just north of St. Marc we often crossed the Artibonite River, a region cited now as the epicenter of the cholera epidemic which to date has taken more than 300 lives.

It wasn’t unusual to see people bathing in the river, walking away with containers of water, washing their clothes, or even urinating in it. The river, for eons, has been a vital source to residents in the area.

Since we lived near the center of the outbreak naturally I was reminded of our stay there, and even more so recalling the most recent trip which took us all over the island, including a torturous trip to the Central Plateau.

Outside of Mirebalais, where the road is undergoing serious repair, one of our guides began to vomit profusely. We stopped the bus and allowed him to relieve himself, secured him some water, and insisted that he sit next to the window for the remainder of the trip.

Heavy vomiting is one of the symptoms of cholera but that disease never crossed our minds as we sought to help him. We attributed it to something he had eaten, or possibly motion sickness from a particularly bumping ride through Mirebalais and elsewhere.
Two weeks later, back in the states, my videographer came down with three days of severe diarrhea. He was very dehydrated and had to seek medical treatment from his doctor. This too occurred before the reports of Haiti’s cholera swept the world.

From our tour guide and my videographer I was given some indications of how the disease can hit all of sudden and debilitate, though I am sure that neither of my traveling companions is afflicted. But hundreds of others are and now comes all sorts of rumors and theories about the origin and who is responsible for the recent outbreak.

This past Sunday on Gil Noble’s “Like It Is” on ABC-TV, City Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene was hesitant to say what might have caused the current outbreak of the disease, carefully shying away from a few of the theories now making the circuit.

Joining Dr. Eugene on the show was activist Smith Georges who was also reluctant to indicate exactly the source or the time of the outbreak, though he did note that it is rather odd that it’s taken so long to occur given the months since the earthquake.

Others have suggested that the cholera may have been brought in by outsiders, perhaps as Georges reported, from the many foreign troops dispatched to Haiti after the disaster or foreign workers with the various NGOs.

It does seem strange that there has been no cholera in Haiti for more than a half century and that the nation was spared an outbreak in Latin America in recent times.

There is no end to the theories of origin but what is uppermost now is to fight the spread of the disease and hope it doesn’t reach the crowded tent communities in and around Port au Prince. Like smallpox, one incidence of cholera could wreak havoc and leave in its wake thousands of fatalities.

Clean and potable water, antibiotics, and other medical supplies are desperately needed, and this has nothing to do with when or where the disease started.

Herb Boyd is an author, activist, teacher and journalist and is a roving reporter for http://www.television.org – He is a resident of Harlem, New York

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – October 1, 2010

And just like that it’s October! It’s as if the year is in a hurry to be gone, and we are already anticipating that 2011 will be better, if only because it is not 2010. Today’s Weekend Edition deals with the death penalty, the disconnected military and true stories of Republican obstructionism. Also, recommended reading for this weekend is an article by Steven Thrasher from this week’s Village Voice in an effort to explain the madness – http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-09-29/news/white-america-has-lost-its-mind/ – the title is (intentionally) provocative, but the analysis is serious:

Irony

Recent news reports indicate that a nationwide shortage of anesthetics, especially thiopental sodium is postponing state executions. There is some irony in the notion that state-sponsored deaths are being delayed by manufacturing issues.

It may be only a matter of time before firing squads and the hangman are back in business. The right wing of the right wing in states with bulging death rows like Texas; this may be seen as a way to decrease unemployment.

Disconnect

Earlier this week Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke of the growing disconnect between most Americans and the military, leading most Americans and their political leaders to view military service – and war – as an abstraction. Secretary Gates mentioned, and has been noted in prior Point of View columns, less than 1% of the American population (2.4 million) is on active duty or in the military reserves.

A generous extrapolation of extended family members and friends would result in an estimated 10% of this country’s population being related to members of the military. With no draft and wars being fought on a national debit card, it has been very easy for armchair generals to be bellicose and grandiose. The result has been two mindless wars that are seemingly without end.

This disconnect is truly dangerous for this country and for the planet.

Manufactured Failure

Soon after President Obama was inaugurated, Rush Limbaugh, that indefatigable blowhard, was quoted as saying that he hoped Barack Obama would fail.

It was a statement struck many as bizarre (even for Limbaugh) and stunningly unpatriotic. Clearly if President Obama failed, this country (and the people in it) would suffer. I know that I dismissed Limbaugh’s uttering as just more howling and caterwauling from the right wing of the right wing.

Little did I suspect that Limbaugh was articulating the Republican strategy for the next two years. Case in point – as this column is being written not one penny of the $1.15 billion in aid promised to Haiti after the January 12th earthquake has been spent. Not one penny. The reason is that Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma has simply held up passage of the bill (every senator has the right and power to do so) and so, to date, the United States has failed in its commitment to the beleaguered and long suffering people of Haiti.

Case in point – in April of this year President Obama negotiated an historic nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, a new and important step in avoided the abyss of nuclear warfare. The Congressional ratification of this treaty has been held up by a very few Republicans resulting in there being no nuclear disarmament treaty in effect between the United States and Russia for the first time in decades.

Case in point – President Obama nominated 23 judges for the federal bench and 16 of them were unanimously approved by the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee. All sixteen appointments have been held up, some for as long as six months, by the threat of filibuster by, you guessed it, Republicans in the Senate.

The Republican Party has been transformed into the Party of No. Not just No to President Obama, but No to anything and everything that might represent compassion, progress or the simple functioning of government. Presumably the end game is to present President Obama’s record as one of failure.

Fortunately for those of us who have to live our lives every day, there is no reasonable analysis which could conclude that President Obama has failed. Healthcare, steering this country away from the brink of financial ruin, equal pay for women, rescue of the auto industry and the restoration of this country’s international stature only begin to define his successes to date.
But, of course, that will not deter the G.O.Tea Party, the Party of No, from trying to make President Obama fail, no matter what harm might result.

I guess you can call the rest of us collateral damage.

Have a great weekend!

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