Point of View Columns

We Can All be Mandela

Sadly, the death of Nelson Mandela was not a surprise given his extended illnesses and advanced age. Nevertheless there has been a very real and palpable loss in knowing that a great spirit has passed from this earth. In memorializing and eulogizing him let us not try to bestow the mantle of sainthood on him, because in doing so we give ourselves the easy way out of striving for greatness.

There is always a tendency to place special people on a pedestal that is so high that it appears unattainable to mere mortals. The life of Nelson Mandela is a case in point. There is a very real danger that, in showering him in all the praise and honor that he deserves that we neglect two realities. First, he was a human being with frailties, weaknesses and shortcomings. Indeed, Nelson Mandela was far from perfect and he was always the first person to make that clear.

To mention his shortcomings as a human being does not mean that we need to dwell on them. Actually the fact that through his sheer will, discipline and courage he was able to overcome the lesser aspects of himself and achieve greatness should be one of the wonderful lessons of the life of Nelson Mandela. He was not perfect, yet he aspired to perfection of himself and of the world around him. He did not fully succeed in either aspiration, but this global community is so much better because he tried.

And if Nelson Mandela could try, if he could aspire to the perfection of himself and the world as he saw it, then there is no excuse for any of us not to try and emulate that aspect of his life. We can squander the time with which we are blessed to be on this earth waiting for “another Mandela” or “another Martin Luther King” or any other “another”.

We will be squandering our time and wasting our lives waiting when each and every one of us has the power and the capacity for greatness, if we would only take the time to search for and recognize the greatness that resides in us. Nelson Mandela found greatness in himself and shared it with the people of South Africa and the world. It is up to us to find that greatness in ourselves and not pass along the burden of greatness to “another” hero.

And, of course there are an infinite number of iterations of greatness. You might not be the one to liberate a country but you can be great parent, a great son or daughter, you can be a great spouse. There are countless random acts of kindness which can be the vehicle for your personal greatness.

The key is to aspire to be better and to keep trying even when we fall short. Nelson Mandela said that he was not a saint – unless a saint was a sinner who kept trying. We can all incorporate that philosophy into our lives instead of just gazing at monuments and attending memorials.

The other thing to remember is that as great as Nelson Mandela was, he did not achieve greatness by himself. He was an important part of a liberation movement. That is to say he was part of an extraordinary collection of men, women and children who struggled, fought, died and overcame.

To suggest that Nelson Mandela was the sole driving force of liberation in South Africa would be to ignore his brothers and sisters who never made headlines, who have no memorial statues but who made a difference, each in their own very important way. And we should all remember that as great as Nelson Mandela was, we all harbor our very own potential for greatness and for making a difference.

The best way to remember Nelson Mandela and all the great men and women who inspire us is to aspire to be great as well. That will be a proper memorial.

That will be the best memorial of all.

 

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Point of View Columns

Tea Party Terrorism

Recently some commentators in the press as well as White House staff members have referred to the Teapublicans in the United States Congress as “terrorists” by reason of their strategy of shutting down the federal government in order to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act. The thundering demands for apology as well as the cries and shouts of outrage and feigned injury cannot hide one basic fact – the Teapublicans in Congress are terrorists.

It has been said that one person’s patriot is another person’s terrorist. As has been noted before, George Washington, Jefferson Davis, Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela have all been labeled with the term “terrorist” at some point. But in all of these examples, the individuals involved operated pursuant to a stated opposition to the governmental entity that they defied.

The Teapublicans are terrorists of a different order. Holding to a loudly articulate but philosophically incoherent view that “government is the problem”, the Teapublicans seem to believe that only the social service aspects of the federal government are “the problem”. On the Planet Tea Party there is no need for investment in education, health or infrastructure. But there is a rationale for funding law enforcement, penal institutions and farm subsidies.

But it is not their clouded view of government and the underlying social contract that has sustained the United States for over two centuries that is the problem. The problem is that, while claiming to be patriots and having this country’s best interests foremost in their hearts, they are willing to wreak havoc on the governmental process because they did not get their way.

There are two schools of thought regarding why the Teapublicans insist on playing Captain Ahab to the white whale of Obamacare. One is that there resides within the right wing of the right wing a belief that a national health care system is an unacceptable expansion of the federal government and should be opposed at all costs – even the cost of an orderly and healthy society and a stable economy.

The problem with this analysis is that Medicare and Medicaid have been a part of this country’s social safety net for almost fifty years. Social Security has been a part of this country’s array of citizen services for almost a century. Only the most rabid, foaming at the mouth Teapublican would advocate the repeal and destruction of these institutional supports, yet Obamacare has become the personal Alamo of the right wing of the right wing.

At some point someone will connect the dots and recognize that the viciousness of the modern neo-conservative movement known as the Tea Party coincides with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. And it is a fact that on the day that President Obama was inaugurated in January of 2009, the leaders of the Republican Party and conservative operatives actively conspired to collapse and delegitimize his presidency. While political opposition is a healthy proposition in politics, the Teapublicans crashed past the boundaries of decency and logic a while ago.

And so, leaders of the Teapublicans felt comfortable suggesting that President Obama is not an American citizen, that he is by turns a fascist, a communist, a Trojan Horse for the domination of America by the United Nations and an anti-colonialist revolutionary. He could be called “a liar” from the floor of the Congress and “Second Amendment solutions” have been casually discussed in the most gun-choked nation on Earth.

It is through this clouded prism of mindlessness, illogic, bigotry and meanness that the Teapublicans view President Obama and Obamacare. And it with this godforsaken world view that they can justify shutting down the federal government or even collapsing the American and the global economies.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it the same bloody, soulless illogic that motivates every terrorist and hostage taker in the world today. In the view of the Teapublicans the end justifies the means even if the means cause tremendous harm and permanent damage to the United States and its citizens.

Having failed to fully advance their cause at the ballot box – losing two presidential elections to the Anti-Christ in Chief; having been betrayed by the AlitoThomasScaliaRoberts rightwing cabal in the United States Supreme Court; having been unable to secure veto-proof majorities in the House and the Senate; the Teapublicans have decided to jettison the rules since they haven’t been able to win by the rules.

Terrorism is used by those who can see no other way to advance their cause. Of course, in the case of the Teapublicans there is another way – advocate, legislate and adjudicate.

The Teapublicans in Congress are genuine terrorists who are only interested in advancing their demented vision of the future, by any means necessary. No apologies to the terrorists in the Capitol are necessary.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – June 28, 2013

The evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court this week is the most racially damaging decision by that Court in exactly 117 years – almost to the day. Meanwhile the end of the DOMA as we know it has been a cause for justified celebration but it is celebration that should be muted given the near death of the VRA. Finally, given the precarious health of Nelson Mandela President Obama’s trip has a somber tinge but it does provide yet another opportunity to put the spotlight on what is good about Africa these days.

RIP VRA

In May of 1896 the United States Supreme Court dishonored itself by confirming the legality and constitutionality of racial segregation in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. For the next 100 years almost every Supreme Court decision on racial matters has been part of incremental progress.

Now, in its most recent ruling the Supreme Court has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, one of the pillars of progress built by the civil rights movement of the modern era. Using sham analysis to mask the obvious intent to disenfranchise black Americans and other people of color, the majority on the court has disgraced itself and desecrated the memory of all of the American heroes, black and white, honored and anonymous, who worked and struggled and died so that civil rights could become a civil reality in this country.

The majority of the Supreme Court should be ashamed of themselves but they are not. They will continue to wrap themselves in the self-righteous literal translation of the Constitution whenever it is convenient and suits their damnable purpose.

Somewhere in the depths of Hell Strom Thurmond, the Ku Klux Klan, Lester Maddox, John Stennis, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and the rest of the members of the unrepentant American racist terrorist movement are celebrating.

DOMAcide

The signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996 was one of the more regrettable aspects of the presidency of Bill Clinton. This law was obviously unconstitutional and was a legislative expression of pure prejudice.

Seventeen years later DOMA has been dismantled by the Supreme Court. While the outcome of this case should have been inevitable – the ScaliaAlitoRobertsThomas wing of the Court has proven itself capable of trampling even the most basic of rights.

While there are twelve states and the District of Columbia where same sex marriage is now legal, that means that there are 38 states that still need to come to the realization that the right to love and care for someone is not something that should be subject to legislative rule or permission.

Back to Africa

As noted, the precarious health of liberation icon Nelson Mandela casts a somber light over President Obama’s trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

While our prayers are with Mr. Mandela and his family we should not that President Obama’s trip does provide the American media and the American business community with an opportunity to focus on the positive aspects of Africa, not only in the visited countries but throughout the continent.

Business expansion, technological progress, increased democratization and gradual but steady improvement of living conditions are all characteristics of large parts of the African continent.

We have to hope that this message about the “other” Africa will resonate long after President Obama returns to Washington.

Have a great weekend!

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 29, 2013

This week we learned that Michele Bachmann is under investigation for violating campaign law. It is possible that more charges will be added. Meanwhile, every day that the sequestration collar tightens on the American economy we find ourselves headed towards a true cliff. And finally, Nelson Mandela was hospitalized this week and thankfully is recovering. Perhaps other leaders throughout Africa will start to look at him as a model and not only an icon.

Michele Bachmann’s Real Crimes

The news reports from this week revealed that Representative Michele Bachmann is under federal investigation for campaign law violations during her bizarre and clownish campaign for president in 2012. What may be more interesting are the crimes for which she is not being investigated.

Fortunately for Ms. Bachmann there is no law against mangling the English language or distorting the facts until they bear no resemblance to the truth. Fortunately for her there is no law against repeatedly lying about the President of the United States and there is no law against being ridiculous.

If there were laws like these she would be in the process of being fitted for a nice orange jumpsuit right now.

On the Brink

Every day during the past four weeks that the sequestration scenario started to play out there has been a gradual tightening of the noose around the neck of the American economy and the American people. Grover Norquist infamously says that he would like to shrink government to a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub. And he may just get his wish.

Just this past week it was announced that 173 air traffic control towers in smaller airports across the country will be closed. Every day there are reports of the further reduction of the government workforce which, of course, means the further reduction of services provided to the American people.

In Durban, South Africa this week the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) met to discuss economic development and investment in infrastructure. They met to discuss a progressive plan for the future – a plan that envisions growth and a better way of life for the citizens who live in the BRICS countries.

Meanwhile in the USA, the supposed leading nation in the world, the prevailing narrative speaks of austerity, the need to do less with less. The fear of the future is palpable and it is that fear and shortsightedness that is moving this country closer and closer to the brink of true decline.

Grover Norquist and the Teapublican terrorists should be very happy.

Mandela

When you go to the dictionary or Google and look up the word “icon” you would not be surprised if a picture of Nelson Mandela. His iconic biography is the stuff of true legend and he deserves every honor that has been bestowed upon him.

It is important, however, to remember that Nelson Mandela is also a revolutionary leader. Indeed, he is one of only two successful revolutionary leaders in modern history to freely relinquish power (the other being George Washington).

Mr. Mandela realized that the democratization process in South Africa could not be built on a foundation created by a cult of personality, no matter how admirable and honorable that personality might be. By safeguarding the free and lawful transfer of power to his elected successor, Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Mandela set in place a tradition that almost has to be observed by South Africans for generations to come.

The leaders of too many African states should consider the Mandela Model. Too many of these leaders have stayed in power for decades stunting the democratization process and strangling progressive measures in society through their overbearing personality cults.

Nelson Mandela is more than an icon; he should be a role model for anyone who presumes to lead a country in Africa or anywhere else in this world.

Happy Easter and have a great weekend!

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