Point of View Columns

Reflections during October 2021

Reflections During October 2021

October 4, 2021

It now appears that Cult of Trump entails a full and complete divorce from reality, no matter that there are billions of witnesses to that reality. Case in point, former Vice President Mike Pence has reduced the 1.6.21 insurrection to “a single bad day”. And he says this even though the insurrectionists announced a very clear intention to hang him.

Perhaps he is hoping that this act of act of abject fealty will put him back in Trump’s good graces.

If not, I am sure that he will still continue on his own personal downward spiral of obsequiousness.

October 5, 2021

Not that it should come as a total surprise, but even though pigs are not soaring through the air in formation, there has been real and actual bipartisan activity in Congress. The reason for this seeming miracle is Facebook, and its continual refusal to embrace any corporate responsibility that does not involve pure profit for Mark Zuckerberg & Co.

Even though it is now absolutely evident that Facebook has facilitated teenage suicides and enhanced the clear and present danger of insurrection in the United States and abroad, Facebook has clearly taken pages out of the Standard Oil playbook – straight out of the 19th century.

But, as John D. Rockefeller & Co. learned, the absolute embrace of power and wealth despite human and institutional costs does have consequences.

Stay tuned for Congressional oversight regarding Facebook and other tech companies in the days and months to come.

October 6, 2021

Yesterday Pope Francis issued a formal apology of the Catholic Church for the over 300,000 instances of the sexual abuse of children by thousands of members of the clergy in France. This savagery took place over a period of 70 years and is probably not the complete number. And we can be sure that the situation in France is not an isolated instance as revelations in Ireland and the United States make very clear.

There are no words to describe the betrayal of trust and faith that these revelations reveal. What is also revealed is how institutionalism and bureaucracy can obscure even the saintliest of intentions.

October 11, 2021

While some people will persist on celebrating this day as Columbus Day, it makes more and more sense to go by the more useful celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in order to serve as a reminder that this nation is literally built with the combination of stolen land and genocide. Of course there is the expected opposition from those who don’t deny the facts, they just don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable with the reality of “discovery” and “settlement” which presumably is kinder to the ear than “genocide” and “stolen land”.

There will come a time in American history when the sordid history of its origins can be told honestly and without rancor, but with the understanding that, even now, we all have to do better.

October 14, 2021

As every day goes by, it becomes very clear that the elections of 2022 and 2024 may be the most important elections since 1860. We are now witness to hundreds, indeed thousands of elected officials and political operatives who (a) are denying the validity of the 2020 elections and (b) are taking legislative and administrative steps to insure favorable outcomes even if that means invalidating votes that have been cast legitimately.

There has to be a question as to how did so many (predominantly) white Americans decide that, in the face of a growing non-white national population, the best response is not cooperation and collaboration. Rather the sad course that they have chosen sets the stage for something resembling a civil war as efforts continue to impose minority rule in this nation.

Meanwhile China and Russia watch this passion play and don’t have to raise their hands as this country suffers from self-inflicted wounds that could prove to be mortal.

October 15, 2021

Historians will one day look at the 2020’s and wonder at the extreme separation from reality and even a semblance of fairness that seems to have suddenly gripped virtually half of the American people.

Whether it is the denial of election results or the national campaign to restrict the voting rights and political power of non-white people to the cruel imposition of draconian abortion bans after a half-century of providing women with the right to choose what happens to their bodies – madness and meanness seem to be the themes in which the American people have adopted as the “new normal”

October 21, 2021

It is in the realm of possibility that we will come to understand Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition to dental and vision care for the elderly. There is literally no hope that we will ever understand Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s opposition to even a “one penny” increase in the tax rates for millionaires, billionaires and multi-billion dollar companies.

In the meantime, it appears that President Biden is practicing the art of the possible by supporting a scaled down version of his Build Back Better plan. But it should be clear that even a scaled down version represents a major change in American public policy, moving away from decades of penurious and skimpy social service programs (certainly skimpy when compared to any other industrialized countries).

And that being said, it may be possible to see a further expansion if the Trump-led Republicans don’t trash the entire package a little more than three years from now.

A hell of a thought.

October 23, 2021

Somebody in the Biden Administration seems to think that, even though the administration is already dancing on the razor’s edge of multiple crises, it would be a good idea to indicate that this country is prepared to use military force against China in defense of Taiwan. Aside from the fact that such public provocative language will never cause China to pause, there is no sense that the American people are prepared to support another foreign war – with an incalculable cost of blood and treasure – when the interests of the United States are not directly at risk.

Diplomacy exists as an alternative to war. It is spectacularly useless if it is not employed in a timely fashion.

October 24, 2021

The joke of the day is that Trump is starting his own version of Facebook/Twitter through his personal communications company which is in the process of formation. The joke, of course, is that the list of investors who made money in a Trump venture could fit on the head of a pin – a very small pin. The list of Trump founded companies that have been successful could fit on the back of a cocktail napkin – a very small cocktail napkin.

Yet the investors, reputedly some large ones, along with the denizens of MAGA nation will probably put Trump in a position to partially start the company and pocket much of the invested funds if the past is prologue.

October 28, 2021

As President Biden gets ready to leave for the G-20 conference in Rome later today, it would be wise to remember that each of the other 19 countries have paid family leave for the citizens of their respective country. The United States, ostensibly the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet does not.

Somehow this is the only country where providing basic benefits for its citizens is seen as either some kind of gift for the worthy or a payment that must be earned according to some mysterious formula.

What is most astounding is that people who oppose paid family leave, like Senator Joe Manchin have no shame when it comes to this incredibly low level of meanness and disdain for his fellow citizen.

Shameful is the only word that comes to mind.

October 29, 2021

It is very clear that the Democrats, especially those in Congress, cannot break the circular firing squad habit. We saw it during the 2020 presidential campaign and we are seeing this movie again as they seem determined to find a way not to pass the infrastructure and Build Back Better legislation. On the one hand some so-called moderates (why are conservative Democrats called “moderates” when there is nothing “moderate” about denying hearing aids to the elderly of objecting to paid family leave for people who really need that support, especially in these days and times).

On the other hand, we have the self-proclaimed progressives who seem prepared the object to the good in search of the perfect. Considering the fact that the United States is behind every single industrialized country when it comes to the extent and scope of its social safety net, any advance in these areas will begin to change the conversation regarding care for the American people.

Meanwhile the Republicans must be chortling with glee as they hope and wish that the circular firing squad will result in nothing being done – in which case the results of the 2022 and 2024 elections will be easy to predict.

October 31, 2021

The Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, one Glenn Youngkin, is presenting himself as Republican who is not a Trump Surrogate. This despite the fact that all through the primary contest he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the election of Joe Biden.

Now that he is on the cusp of victory in his race against Terry McAuliffe, he is finding that the biggest boost for his campaign has been to promise to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia public schools because “it teaches white children to hate themselves”.

A few facts – remember those? – are in order. First, critical race theory is not being taught in Virginia public schools. Second, the corrections made to the narrative of American history is meant to remove all of the negative stereotypes of the past, lies and omissions that have given Black boys and girls little of which to be proud except for the passing mention of George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finally, while the reform of the American historical narrative replaces myth with facts, it does reveal much about American history of which no white child or Black child should be proud. Consider – slavery was imbedded in the Constitution in its original iteration. Consider – ten of the first twelve presidents were slave owners. Consider – literally thousands of Black Americans were victims of white domestic terrorism between the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – it was known as lynching. Consider – during World War I blood from Black donors and white donors were segregated so that no white soldier would receive Black blood. Consider – during World War II the American military remained steadfast in its racial segregation policies even while fighting an existential war against the Axis powers.

What American, white or Black should be proud of these facts? What American, white or Black should be proud of the genocide and land theft perpetrated upon the indigenous people of this continent?

And why should white children feel that they should hate themselves in learning about the sordid facts of American history. German children are taught about the Holocaust and there are no reports of German children hating themselves. Japanese children are taught about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army and there are no reports of German children hating themselves.

But it is clear that Mr. Youngkin has discovered a tune with which he can use his dog whistle. Animosity against Black people has worked for white candidates many times, and it should be no surprise that he would whistle that tune just as voters are going to the polls.

It is shameful what he is doing. But since he is a Republican he is certainly not alone.

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Point of View Columns

There is Such a Thing as Too Smart

If you live long enough and pay attention you can learn why some old sayings stand the test of time. Most of us have at some point learned that it is better to be safe than sorry, that a bird in the hand is usually better than two in the bush and that looking before you leap is almost always a good thing. Billionaire Peter Andreas Thiel has suggested that young people in America forgo college and become entrepreneurs, thereby proving that there actually is such a thing as being too smart.

A little background – Peter Thiel is a German-born entrepreneur who has accumulated a multibillion dollar fortune as a venture capitalist and hedge fund manager. His most famous accomplishment to date is that he was the founder of Pay Pal. He is noted for his extreme libertarian views and has financed numerous initiatives that spread the gospel that the American government is too big and too intrusive. He has also been one of the major financial backers of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, which tells you something right there.

It is useful to point out that Mr. Thiel has not been able to explain how this same American government created an environment in which he was able to make several billions of dollars as an immigrant. I am not aware of many immigrants to Germany or France or Japan becoming billionaires. There is a lot that needs correcting in the United States but it does seem allow some people to become fabulously rich, Mr. Thiel included.

Not content with biting the institutional hand that has fed him, Mr. Thiel has now unleashed this outstandingly stupid idea that college is a waste of time and that young people in America should forgo college, or drop out, and become entrepreneurs. And, putting his money where his very busy mouth is, Mr. Thiel is actually awarding $100,000 grants to young applicants to the Thiel Foundation who come up with “winning” entrepreneurial ideas.

The word “winning” is in quotes, because $100,000 is rarely enough to start up a viable business. It is enough to entice some young, impressionable and ambitious young people to drop out of school. Pointing to the examples of famous college dropouts like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, Thiel is trying to be the Pied Piper that will lead young people down the road to success.

One of the problems in this world is that there is an assumption that if someone is wealthy then they must be very smart. The smartest wealthy people know that they have become rich because of a combination of applied intelligence, timing and good fortune. And then you have people like Peter Thiel who actually believe that a few billion dollars has made him so damn smart that he can put forward this very dangerous idea to very impressionable young people.

Unfortunately, zealots like Thiel who are absolutely convinced of their brilliance, do not let inconvenient facts get in the way. The fact is that most start up businesses fail. The fact is that most successful entrepreneurs have persisted through several failures before they achieve even a modicum of success.

The fact is that most people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs. The fact is that while higher education is severely overpriced, it provides skill sets which are indispensable to a successful career and a fulfilling life. It is important to learn biology, architecture, and history and computer science. It is equally important to appreciate art, literature and the diversity of cultures that make up this planet. It is hard to learn about any of these things as a nineteen year old entrepreneur.

Pointing to Jobs, Zuckerberg and Gates as role models is disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst. Bill Gates did indeed drop out of Harvard to start his computer software company. But it is important to know that through good fortune and timing Gates spent thousands of hours learning computer programming at the University of Washington as a precocious high school student. Gates’ father was a partner in a Seattle law firm that represented numerous venture capital companies.

Steve Jobs did drop out of Reed College with no thought of becoming an entrepreneur. After backpacking around India he did get some insight into the business that made him a success. But it was not a direct path.

Mark Zuckerberg did drop out of Harvard and Facebook has made him a multibillionaire. As this column is being written the stock of Facebook is dropping just one day after its less than glorious initial public offering. In any event, Mr. Zuckerberg will be a billionaire. How much better the world is because of Facebook is a matter of debate.

Encouraging young people to be more focused in their studies makes sense. Encouraging young people to build a range of skills and perspectives that will enhance their personal career agility makes sense. Encouraging young people to explore entrepreneurial alternatives makes sense.

But Peter Thiel should know better than to encourage young people to drop out of school or to forego higher education altogether. By the way, Mr. Thiel has undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University – so much for practicing what you preach. And Mr. Thiel has to know that his personal genius alone did not make him a billionaire – hard work, timing and luck have all played a role in his personal narrative of financial success.

His message is deceptive, dangerous and shameful and another example of a wealthy denizen of the right wing of the right wing thinking that they know how the rest of the world should live their lives.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 24, 2010

Summer has departed. A disappointing season to be sure, too hot, too angry and too crazy. Autumn usually promises a cooling a soothing moment before arid chill of winter, but probably not this year:

The Tea Party at the Gates

There has been much talk about the Tea Party movement and how it represents a populist surge that is therapeutic and cleansing. It has been likened to being a high colonic for the body politic.

But nothing in politics is ever that simple. There are deep seated resentments and restrained urges towards meanness that are now in the light of day, having been given legitimacy by a seemingly supine Republican Party leadership.
Current G.O.Tea Party Republican candidates for Senate promise to bring an agenda to Washington that does not seem to be therapeutic.

There is one candidate who believes that unemployment insurance may be unconstitutional (Miller – Alaska). There is another who believes that women in the military vitiate the preparedness of the American armed forces (O’Donnell – Delaware). We can’t forget the candidate who questions the legitimacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Paul – Kentucky). And then there is the potential United States Senator who proposes to abolish the Department of Energy and the Department of Education as well as Social Security for good measure (Angle – Nevada).

I wish that someone would ask Michael Steele or Mitch McConnell or John McCain or Sarah Pailin if they really believe in this madness. Prior inquiries have been greeted with pabulum-like homilies about the right of the local electorate to express itself. But, of course, the United States Senate passes national legislation that affects everyone in this country.

Does Michael Steele really believe that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be reconsidered? As an African American Mr. Steele and his family personally benefited from this historic legislation, does he give Rand Paul a pass on this one?

John McCain has spent his entire life in the military and has always been a supporter of women serving in the armed forces of this country. Is he prepared to support Christine O’Donnell and her antediluvian views on this subject?

Sarah Palin presumes to belong to America now, but she never hesitates to refer to her Alaskan roots. No state has benefited more from the policies of the Department of Energy than Alaska. Is she prepared to correct Sharron Angle on this subject?

Clearly there is anger and resentment and bitterness flowing through this country. Candidates who channel that anger can be successful in the short term. But if those emotions are only channeled in a destructive direction Steele, McCain, Palin, etc. may regret reaping what they have sown. And so will the rest of us.

War Without End

“You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”……General David Petraeus from Obama’s War by Robert Woodward

This one quote from Robert Woodward’s new book is chilling and sad and heartbreaking. If the military proponents of the war in Afghanistan do not believe that the war is “winnable”, however that may be defined, then why are hundreds upon thousands of men, women and children going to die as a result of that war?

It is clear to many that the security of the American homeland is not tied to the war in Afghanistan in terms of protecting the citizens of this country. The security of this country is undoubtedly endangered by the anger and resentment arising from the collateral deaths of thousands of civilians sucked down into the cauldron of war. And yet, this country still goes forward in this war without end.

The Mouths of Gift Horses

There is an old saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. A fairly benign advisory needs to be brushed off given the events of this Friday.

On September 24th, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook and said to be worth over $7 billion, will announce a gift of $100 million to the Newark (New Jersey) school system. This gift represents 10% of the annual budget for that city’s school system and is by far the largest individual gift that it has ever received. Newark Mayor Corey Booker will accept this gift on the Oprah Winfrey show. So what could be wrong with this picture?

Some critics are carping that Mr. Zuckerberg is making this gift because an uncomplimentary bio-pic entitled “The Social Network” is opening in theaters at the same time. Somehow, this $100 million donation to the children and teachers and administrators and parents in Newark is supposed to blunt or deflect the inevitable criticism that will flow after “The Social Network” hits the silver screens of the world.

The thought that comes to my mind is “Who cares?” Tens of thousands of people will benefit from Mr. Zuckerberg’s largesse. In this era of naked and rampant greed and selfishness perhaps a few more of the mega wealthy men and women of this country will use the fig leaf of charity to hide their nakedness.

Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, Ford and many others have done it. If Mark Zuckerberg wants to burnish his image by doing undeniably good and charitable work, here’s hoping that a few more tycoons, athletes, rappers and bankers follow his lead.

Have a great weekend!

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