Point of View Columns

21st Century Circular Firing Squad

Read it in the papers,

And you’ll see,

Just exactly what is worrying me,

The world is in an uproar,

The danger zone is everywhere

                           ………..Ray Charles

The fact that Trump did not precipitate the immediate start of World War III with the assassination of the Iranian Major General Qasim Suleimani (does anyone remember Sarajevo in 1914?) passes for a cause for celebration in this first year of the third decade of the twenty first century. Which is just one indication of how madness has become as normalized as having a pathological compulsive liar as President of the United States.

And it just may be that the most profound impact of the Trump presidency may be the normalization of fraud, lying, misogyny, xenophobia and racism – in no particular order. And it is this normalization that may be the reason why on November 4, 2020 we may be appalled at Trump’s re-election with a very clear understanding that this country will truly be slipping into darkness.

Reference is made to the normalization of the bizarre and the awful and the dangerous, because it must be the only explanation for why the Democratic Party is going through a “normal” process selecting its presidential candidate while Australia-like wildfires of confusion and chaos threaten the present and future of this nation.

While the “process” has finally begun to whittle the number of announced and active candidates from twenty to a dozen – which on the Planet DNC must be viewed as a reasonable number with less than six months to go before the Milwaukee convention – the damage may have already been done. And there may not be enough time to repair the leaks on the sinking Democratic ship prior to November 3rd.

With a dozen candidates come a dozen sets of constituents and zealots who have already contributed huge amounts of their time, emotional energy, personal commitment and many millions of dollars. It defies logic that these multiple constituencies will somehow magically coalesce behind someone other than their candidate with the same level of enthusiasm that they currently possess.

And let there be no doubt, come November 3rd the Democrats are going to need every bit of enthusiasm to overcome the Trump tidal waves of lies, falsehoods, dog whistles and lunatic rhetoric amplified by Russian bots, Iranian trolls and Chinese hackers. Indeed the greatest obstacle to a Democratic victory may be the voter suppression minefields planted by the Republicans since the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision of 2013 which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What we now see is outright hostility between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The clear distaste between these two leading candidates was palpable at the last debate. Even if Warren and Sanders kiss and make up, what about their supporters? We know from 2016 that many Sanders supporters stay cranky when their man doesn’t win (one more reason why we now have President Donald Trump instead of President Hilary Clinton).

We know that by spending $100 million dollars or more, Michael Bloomberg will be a force to be reckoned with after the first round of primaries. How many voters will be reluctant to vote for the Democratic nominee who is perceived to have “bought” the nomination? And, by the way, how many slings and arrows need to be aimed at Joe Biden before he becomes irreparably damaged goods after Milwaukee?

The normalization of the gross, of the stupid and of illogic seems to have afflicted the leadership of the DNC. If anyone believes that this is a “normal” election year, they should go to an opioid rehabilitation center immediately. There has been nothing “normal” in this country’s politics or policies since Trump was elected and traditional strategies and echo chamber group-think among the Democrats and their supporters have resulted in the very real possibility of a Trump re-election.

While it already may be too late, as the great New York Yankees philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s not over until it’s over.”

Let’s hope (and pray) that it’s not over yet.

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Point of View Columns

Thelma and Louise All Over Again

Last week already seems like such a long time ago. But it was only last week that it seemed that a zephyr of common sense and common purpose had visited the Democratic Candidate Carnival. And that was when the sainted Beto O’Rourke demonstrated some real common sense, and hopefully some sense of purpose, by withdrawing as a candidate. And it was certainly the hope of many that another 10-12 of the remaining twenty candidates might take the hint and gracefully withdraw and pursue their dreams of sitting behind the Resolution desk in the Oval Office some other day.

But those hopes were dashed upon the jagged rocks of disappointment and despair when later in that same long ago last week, former New York City Mayor and billionaire and Stop and Frisk Super Fan announced that he was seriously entertaining a plan to run for president as……..a Democrat, of course.

And in the following few days we began to hear that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick are now, less than 100 days before the Iowa primary, making a decision as to whether to make the Democratic Candidate Carnival a metastasizing monster that will swallow the hopes and dreams of the many who believe that the re-election of Donald Trump will create a real opportunity for autocracy to replace democracy in America.

According to Forbes Magazine there are only six or seven people in the world wealthier than Michael Bloomberg. And so it isn’t possible that someone is paying him to enter the most bizarre presidential candidate selection process since the Teapublican Clown Car in 2012.

While you will not find the names of Eric Holder and Deval Patrick on any Forbes list of the wealthiest individuals, they are both known to be honorable men with stellar reputations for public service and probity. But eliminating nefarious motives does not provide the hint of a clue as to the reasoning that does motivate these men.

What has to be clear to all who would see, is that this Democratic internecine battle on steroids is a recipe for the disaster that would be a second Trump term. What has to be clear to all who would see is that fractionating the Democratic constituency into twenty pieces and then hoping to glue them all together in Milwaukee next July is a fool’s errand.

What we know is that somewhere the right wing of the right wing billionaire backers of Trump – Adelson, the Mercer family, the Koch family, ET. Al. – are chortling and rubbing their hands with glee as they watch the Democrats hurtle down this road to perdition and inevitable defeat. And all of this is happening without them having to spend any of their own virtually infinite coffers of cash.

There is something to be said for the advocacy of principle over comfort and convenience. And there is also something to be said for employing real world vision in a real world where the advocacy of principle over comfort and convenience can lead to catastrophic results for millions of men, women and children for whom the political process is their last best hope for some gossamer glimmer of hope for a better future.

It should be all who care to watch this self-inflicted carnage in the Democratic Party that, as the actual primary voting and caucuses begin all of the candidates will be using live campaign rhetorical ammunition as all of the candidates seek to be the last one standing. But in such a scenario, the last one standing in Milwaukee next year will be bruised and bloodied and battered, surrounded by disgruntled and grumpy supporters of their opponents. These supporters will say the right things in front of the cameras and then sulk their way back home to half-heartedly support the so-called “winner”.

And meanwhile, Trump and his supporters will be sitting fat and happy, waiting to take on whomever this wounded warrior might be…..and it won’t be a fair fight.

Maybe Tom Perez can send a short video clip to all of the Democratic candidates – the clip can contain the last scene from the movie “Thelma and Louise” as they drive their car off the cliff in one last glorious gesture of defiance and independence. Which, of course, is just before they crash, burn and die.

Maybe, just maybe, some of the participants in the Democratic Candidate Carnival will get the hint —–before it gets too late……and it is getting late early.

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Point of View Columns

Ten Years a Suspect

The Law of Unintended of Consequences is one of those laws that cannot be questioned. We have known all along that the race-based and unconstitutional Stop and Frisk procedure employed by the New York Police Department has resulted in the erosion of trust and confidence in law enforcement in many communities of color. As recent incidents at Barneys and Macy’s show, it has also resulted in the general criminalization of people of color.

Just about every adult black American who lives in or near a city has a story that involves their being followed around in a department store by security. It happened to Barack Obama and if you are an adult black American reading these words, it has probably happened to you.

During the past week, however, news stories regarding the arrest and detainment of black people who have legally purchased high end luxury items makes it clear that in New York, thanks to Stop and Frisk, white paranoia regarding the criminality of black people has reached hysterical, if not historical, levels. The fact that the wrongly apprehended individuals were offered a perfunctory apology by the NYPD does not hide the fact that there appears to be a new crime in the New York State Penal Code – LWB or Living While Black.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has been hard at work here. After over 4,000,000 unconstitutional and race-based stops over the past ten years, the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy has not only trained its officers to look at people of color as likely criminals, the virus has spread.

After ten years of official criminal profiling of people of color in New York City, a policy specifically and heartily endorsed by the mayor and the police commissioner and praised by more than a few businesses, newspaper editorials and citizens groups, there should be no wonder that many white (and non-white) New Yorkers (and retailers like Macys, Barneys and others) have come down with bad cases of profile-itis.

It is an ongoing tragedy that law-abiding citizens of the City of New York should have to worry about being questioned, detained or arrested for the simple crime of LWB. White citizens in New York do not think twice about walking into a department store and going to that section of the store where the luxury items are sold.

Black citizens of New York have every right to feel that, in a similar circumstance, they are seen as escapees from some racial township in a latter day version of American apartheid. They are simply out of their “territory” and even having the funds to purchase the items that they want is not enough to keep them from being caught in the jaws of a criminal justice system seemingly bent on promoting injustice rather than public safety.

Macys, Barneys and the NYPD have already issued their precooked apologies with all of the sincerity of stale beer. But just as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly remain adamant and unrepentant with respect to the odious race-based policy of Stop and Frisk, it is certain that there will not be any acknowledgement that “Ten Years a Suspect” could be the working title for a description of how that policy has been perceived by communities of color.

Meanwhile, as an ironic footnote to this sordid display of institutionalized retail racism, the rap mogul Jay-Z is planning to launch a line of eponymous high end clothing at……..you guessed it………..Barneys. And predictably, many of Jay-Z’s fans and others have called upon him to break off his relationship with Barneys. And predictably, Jay-Z has demurred to date.

The irony is that through his outlandish lyrics and commentaries that glorify violence, criminality and misogyny, Jay-Z has actually done more to convey the perception of young black Americans as potential criminals than ten years of Stop and Frisk. Again the Law of Unintended Consequences is hard at work.

One can be fairly certain that Jay-Z has never given a second thought to the impact and effect of his promoting some kind of faux gangster lifestyle. But one of the consequences of his successful promotion is that too many people, black and white, take him seriously. And the next consequence is that people of color get racially profiled and arrested by his business partner.

One would never have thought to see the NYPD and Jay-Z as strange bedfellows – but there they are – both complicit in demeaning, degrading and criminalizing communities of color but never thinking about the consequences.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 13, 2013

Michael Bloomberg has had a memorable twelve years as mayor of New York City. He is making his last few months really memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile the war cries over Syria have distracted national attention from the very real danger of the Teapublicans shutting down the federal government and collapsing the economy for good measure. And speaking of Syria, some people seem to be really disappointed that the United States cannot find a pretense for bombing Syria right now.

Bloomberg Didn’t Build That Either

The New York City mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg has been notable for its embrace of art, innovation, bicycle lanes and efforts to markedly improve the health of New Yorkers. It has also been notable for some real serious errors in judgment, the Stop and Frisk program being one of them.

It will be up to historians to judge Mayor Bloomberg’s overall performance. But he isn’t doing himself any favors when he goes on and on about how much billionaires do for the poor people of New York City. He has expressed such barely concealed contempt for poor people that he makes it seem that rich people paying taxes is some kind of charitable donation for which the poor, and everyone else, should be grateful.

Mayor Bloomberg seems to have forgotten U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, “Taxes is the price that we pay for a civilized society”.

Mayor Bloomberg also seems to have forgotten that long before he was a multibillionaire he was the beneficiary of taxpayer funded public education in his home state of Massachusetts. And as a student at Johns Hopkins University and Harvard he was the beneficiary of the gifts of wealthy donors who make sure that no student ever pays the full cost of their education.

Mayor Bloomberg speaks about how the poor in New York should be grateful that they are not poor in a third world country. He might want to also express gratitude that he is not wealthy in a third world country where he would be the target of pirates, kidnappers and revolutionaries.

Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg and the entire host of American billionaires would never have been become richer than Midas were they not able to take advantage of various taxpayer funded resources such as roads, bridges, electrical systems and an educated and skilled workforce.

Perhaps one day, after he has left New York’s City Hall, Michael Bloomberg will realize that he didn’t build the Bloomberg Empire by himself or on his own.

Dancing on the Edge

Because of the pounding of the war drums along the Potomac, one could be forgiven for not noticing that the Teapublicans are continuing to force march this country to the precipice of a government shutdown which will also have the effect of collapsing an already shaky economy.

The Teapublicans in the House of Representatives have already voted to abolish the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, over 35 times. Despite the fact that a bill abolishing Obamacare will never see the light of day in the Senate and that President Obama would most assuredly veto the hallmark of his presidency, the Teapublicans keep banging their already battered heads against this ideological wall.

Now they are threatening to shut down the federal government at the end of September unless Obamacare is defunded. How providing healthcare coverage for the people of this country is a cause for legislative battle is a mystery all but the Teapublican leadership.

In the meantime we can only watch out for more Teapublican inspired storm clouds on the horizon.

Serious About Syria

Even as President Obama was about to urge Congress and the American people to support a military strike against Syria, Russia and Syria (and France) came up with a plan that would remove chemical weapons from the possession of the Syrian government.

This plan had the effect of halting all talk of an immediate military strike and not surprisingly the right wing of the right wing has sounded like it is disappointed that this country has not started yet another potential war.

I guess they are just going to have to endure the burden of this country avoiding war.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

A Tale of Two Bloombergs

There is a big digital clock in the offices at New York’s City Hall counting down the last days of the mayoral tenure of Michael Bloomberg. Now that there are less than five months remaining on what will be a twelve year term, it seems that this is as good a time as any to begin a retrospective on the Bloomberg Era in New York City. And it is fair to say that any analysis will arrive at the conclusion that it is A Tale of Two Bloombergs.

Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001 as a “virtual” political rookie. Buy many people forgot the “virtual” part of the description because Michael Bloomberg may not have ever run for political office before, but he certainly was no rookie when it came to politics. He wielded his unlimited funds and his media empire in the political process and was not a stranger to the arena where he was now the main attraction.

Michael Bloomberg rode into office on a tidal wave of cash that had only one donor – himself. That meant that he was not beholden to any interest group by reason of their financial support. That also meant that he felt that he didn’t really have to listen to anyone else unless he wanted to.

In telling The Tale of the Two Bloombergs, it should be clear that Michael Bloomberg introduced the people of New York to expanded visions of what the world’s greatest could be – and should be. As a result New Yorkers saw amazing (and free) art installations that encompassed all of Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Bloomberg the visionary shared that vision with the people of New York and then, amazingly, he made many things happen. There is no doubt that Michael Bloomberg and Robert Moses would have gotten along famously if they had ever met.

Bloomberg the visionary installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and turned out to be absolutely serious in bringing about a green, environmentally friendly culture to business, industry and everyday New Yorkers. But in The Tale of Two Bloombergs, even while New York became greener, Michael Bloomberg routinely flew around the world in one of the jets from his private fleet – arguably the most environmentally unfriendly way to travel known to humankind.

Perhaps most importantly, Mayor Bloomberg implemented serious public policy measures in the area of health that have saved lives. Most famously, the ban on smoking in most public places has certainly saved thousands of lives over the past twelve years and for the foreseeable future. “Nanny State” naysayers notwithstanding, the visionary Michael Bloomberg proved once again that government can be a force in transforming – and saving lives.

The Tale of Two Bloombergs also has shown us Michael Bloomberg playing a maniacal Captain Ahab to the White Whale of “Stop and Frisk”. Even as the majority of New Yorkers, the federal court and the United States Department of Justice have seriously questioned the tactic, Michael Bloomberg has refused to even acknowledge the possibility that black and Latino young men are being constitutionally violated by the extreme measures employed by the New York Police Department.

Bloomberg The Inflexible either cannot, or will not, see that there may be another side to the narrative that he has articulated. And it is Bloomberg the inflexible who is channeling his inner Alabama Governor George Wallace by stating that his administration will not cooperate in any way with the federal court decision regarding “Stop and Frisk”. And it is Bloomberg the inflexible who has now gone so far as to suggest that public housing residents should be fingerprinted raising the specter of the Slave Codes from long ago and apartheid-era identification cards from not too long ago.

Bloomberg the inflexible has been unapologetic and unrepentant in the face of the facts that the senior officials of his administration reflect so little diversity that there almost has to be an intent to bar all but a few people of color from the higher echelons of Team Bloomberg. Indeed Team Bloomberg has turned out to be whiter that the senior team of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who is the godfather of diversity and affirmative action denial.

Finally, by spending approximately a quarter of a billion dollars of his own money in getting himself elected three times, Michael Bloomberg has skewed the political process in New York City for the foreseeable future. If he wasn’t writing the playbook on how to buy elections, it certainly looks like it.

So the Tale of Two Bloombergs is complex and not given to simple analysis. Michael Bloomberg probably doesn’t care whether history will be kind to him. We can hope that history will tell the whole truth.

Wallace Ford is the principal and founder of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm, a professor at Metropolitan College of New York in New York City and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.

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Point of View Columns

What a Difference a Day Makes

Monday, August 12, 2013 will be noted as an important day by those who pay attention to what goes on in this country. Because after all of the A-Rod, Anthony Weiner and Lindsay Lohan stories, there are actually some very important issues of justice that are being addressed. And how they are addressed is going to make a huge difference on how all Americans will live in the days and years to come. And we can start with today’s “Stop and Frisk” court decision.

Today, Federal District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in a 195 page decision that for close to a decade the New York City Police Department has systematically, intentionally and institutionally violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos through its eternally controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. Her decision does not mince words and leaves New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly without a legal leg to stand on.

For example, the City of New York argued that the high proportion of blacks and Latinos who were stopped reflected the high proportion of crimes committed by blacks and Latinos. Judge Scheindlin correctly and logically pointed out that stopping virtually all black and Latino young could not be justified because some black and Latino men commit crimes.

What is astounding is that the case itself brought to light the fact that over the past decade millions (yes, millions) of stops of the “Stop and Frisk” variety were inflicted on black and Latino young men (88% of the stops). Yet less than 10% of these stops resulted in reasonable cause for arrest and less than 5% who were stopped were ever convicted of a crime – and in the overwhelming majority of those convictions the crime was possession of small amounts of drugs (usually marijuana).

That the police department of a major American city would inflict such draconian measures upon a large and much maligned segment of the population is stunning. “Stop and Frisk” as employed in New York has been nothing less than despotic in its implementation and incredibly corrosive when it comes to the relationship between the police department and the minority communities of the polyglot capital of the world known as New York City.

The only surprise is that some people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, are surprised that an impartial judge would find the City of New York to be at fault. And we can only hope that in the future the common effort to prevent and deter criminal activities does not give rise to other “simple” solutions that so casually violate the rights of millions of Americans.

And, on this same day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will instruct U.S. attorneys across the country to limit charges in drug cases so as to limit the terms of incarceration that are imposed. Attorney General Holder pointed to the fact that although this country has 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. Clearly this astronomical incarceration rate is expensive ($80 billion per year) and just as clearly indicates a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

As the so-called War on Drugs approaches the half century mark it is clear that this war is beyond “winning”, whatever “winning” was ever supposed to mean. The War on Drugs did give rise to a private sector corrections industry and widespread corruption within the law enforcement sector. And it has also resulted in the horrific decimation of communities of color across the country as men (and increasingly women) in these communities are arrested and convicted and sentenced and incarcerated in much higher proportions than their white counterparts.

Interestingly enough, Attorney General Holder and the Obama Administration did not take this matter before the politically hogtied United States Congress. Even though the drug sentencing proposals have widespread bipartisan support at the state level, it is now a sad fact of life that any proposal with “Obama” connected to it is virtually DOA when it arrives at the door of the House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Holder and President Obama picked a good time to remind the Teapublicans in the House what the word “executive” in the Executive Branch actually means.

All in all a good day for justice.

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Stop Frisking!

The New York City Police Department has engaged in “Stop and Frisk” street crime prevention program that has been in effect for a decade. An average of 600,000 people have been stopped and frisked every year. Over 80% of the people stopped have been young black and Latino men. Less than 10% of these stops have resulted in arrests and less than 5% have resulted in convictions. Incredibly, there are many people who think that this is a good program.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, supported by the Fourteenth Amendment, prevents unreasonable search and seizure by any governmental entity, including the police. When almost a half million young men of color are stopped and frisked on suspicion of some vague notion of criminality, there would seem to be serious question about the constitutionality of such a program. The questions are more acute when it is statistically clear that the wholesale criminalization of a generation of young black and Latino men is not preventing or suppressing crime.

Right now, in a federal court in New York City, the constitutionality of the Stop and Frisk program is being challenged. Witnesses have come forward on behalf of the class action recounting the repeated humiliation, degradation and sheer terror that accompanies the Stop and Frisk program. Racial slurs, epithets, random violence and threats of violence are the unspoken accessories to this random ransacking of the Constitution.

Despite the fact that no other major city in a democratic country on the planet utilizes this awful police procedure, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly vigorously defend it. That is not surprising considering that they are the policy birth parents of this monstrosity.

What is surprising is that most of the mayoral candidates either support the Stop and Frisk program or suggest that it should exist with modifications. Considering the fact that the black and Latino population of New York City is approaching 50% it is an amazing position for a political candidate to take.

Essentially they are saying to black and Latino voters is, “stripping you and your children of their constitutional rights and degrading you and your children in the name of crime prevention is a good thing and you should vote for me”. Other supporters of stop and frisk “with modifications” also point to the need to prevent crime as the unassailable reason for continuing to violate the personhood of so many people.

Presumably, if every black and Latino young man in New York City was arrested the crime rate would plummet. If they were all imprisoned, according this way of thinking, New York would be the first crime free city in the history of world civilization.

Predictably, most of the mayoral candidates who support stop and frisk are white. Indeed, most of the most vocal supporters of stop and frisk are white. Most of these men and women (and their sons) have never been on the business end of a police stop and even if they were the odds are that they were treated with a level of dignity and respect rarely seen by black and Latino young men.

Even more interesting are the black and Latino public figures that support stop and frisk “with modifications”. The fact is that even if a person is stopped and frisked and is not cursed at or threatened with a beat down, even if that person is not thrown against a wall or subjected to racial epithets, they are still being stopped and frisked without probable cause. That black and Latino public figures would be complicit in degradation and humiliation “with modifications” is disturbing and distressing.

Black or white or Latino, it would seem that the supporters of stop and frisk either believe that only guilty people get stopped – but the statistics overwhelmingly show that this is not true. The alternative is that these apologists for illegality somehow believe that degradation and humiliation “with modifications” is a price that some people have to pay so that crime can be reduced.

The question has to be asked of these advocates of constitutional dilution – what price would be too high?

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