Point of View Columns

A Return to Asylum Politics

Donald Trump’s recent and brief embrace of the truth – stating that he now believes that President Obama was born in the United States cannot begin to drain the swamp of hatred, bigotry and racism that he created by leading the birther movement for almost half a decade. But Trump is counting on the contagious amnesia that seems to affect much of the American public. So this would be a good time to take a quick time trip to 2009 when this column on the birther movement was originally published and to remember how vile and transparently racist the birther movement has always been.

Asylum Politics
As we observe the political landscape it is clear that what passes for reasonable discourse must have been birthed in some unknown asylum. A useful term, “birthed”, in that the continuing madness of the so-called “birther” movement continues its presence on the national stage like an embarrassing gate crasher who does not have the grace, or good sense, to finally go away.

For those who have been living in the Carlsbad Caverns for the last 18 month, the “birther” movement is founded on the basic concept that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and since he is not a natural born citizen, the Constitution dictates that he cannot be President of the United States. It is this Constitutional precept that keeps Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arianna Huffington, Sting, Henry Kissinger and Pope Benedict from ever being candidates for the presidency, while any of the Jonas Brothers, Britney Spears, Sarah Palin and Paris Hilton are all pre-qualified for the White House.

Article 2 of the United States Constitution is clear on this point… Without an amendment to that hallowed document, one has to have been born within the 50 states to ever be elected President of the United States.

History reveals that Barry Goldwater was the Republican Party candidate for President in 1964. He was born in Arizona, the 48th state admitted to the Union. However, it was not a state when he was born in 1909. Indeed, Arizona was not admitted to the Union until 1912. So, obviously, Barry Goldwater was not born in the United States. Yet, amazingly, there was never an issue raised during his ill-fated candidacy or campaign. It appears that there is a “grandfather” clause in the Constitution that was written in invisible ink. But there’s more.

George Romney, another Republican Party icon and the father of current Republican luminary Mitt Romney, was born in the (now controversial) Mormon colonies in Mexico in 1907. While he moved to Utah as a child, it is clear that he was not born in the United States of America. And clearly, there is another invisible ink exception for the children of Mormon missionaries because at no time was his Mexican birthplace a major issue during his presidential candidacy in 1968. He ultimately lost to Richard Nixon, but his birthplace was not the pivot point, it was his political vision and perspective.

And now we fast forward to the present day. Since he announced his candidacy for President in 2007, Barack Obama has been beset by opponents whose basic opposition to his candidacy, and his very existence, is born of the dumbfounded and bizarre notion that he is defying the Laws of Nature. No one named Barack Hussein Obama could ever be President of the United States. No black man (even one with a white mother and white grandparents) could ever sully the seal of the presidency by actually getting elected.

And so we find the seeds of the so-called “birther movement” being sown. In trying to find some way, some mechanism, some means of stopping this violation of all that is holy and sacred in America, some genius with a double digit I.Q. came upon the idea that since Obama’s father was Kenyan and not an American citizen, he might not be a “native-born” American, and therefore he would be ineligible to be President of the United States.

A few details got in the way of this brilliant bit of strategy however. First, Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961, one year after it became a state. Second, there is a certified birth certificate on file in Honolulu, attesting to his birth in August 1961 in Honolulu. And then, there are not one, but two, Honolulu newspapers, which featured announcements of the birth of one Barack Hussein Obama.  And last, but not least, Barack Obama’s mother was a natural born American citizen, Kansas being her birthplace. One would think that all of these rather compelling facts would sound the death knell for this misbegotten bit of race-based strategy.

Think again. The “birthers” have continued their contemptuous campaign for more than two years (!!!!!). Claims have been raised that the referenced birth certificate was forged (the Republican governor of Hawaii debunked this particular urban myth). Some Einstein has posited the theory that, when he was born in Kenya, Obama’s parents managed to call (??), e-mail (???), and teletransport (!!!!) the birth announcement to the referenced Honolulu newspapers.

All of this would be sadly laughable were it not for the fact that this chimera of a wisp of a thought of a theory has been the subject of several lawsuits and has been seriously discussed on the floor of the United States Congress. It would be nothing more than a rejected “Saturday Night Live” skit except that 11 Members of Congress felt it was necessary to bring this issue to the floor of the House of Representatives. It would all be sadly laughable except that the proponents of this strategy are elected representatives of the American people not refugee clowns from the Ringling Brothers Circus.

The reality is that this campaign is a head fake, a feint. It is part of a much more insidious strategy that entails eroding the legitimacy of the Obama presidency in the United States and abroad. If a discussion about the legitimacy of an Obama presidency continues, at least 20% of the American population will give it credence. That is 60 million people. That is more than the total population of Italy, South Africa, South Korea, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia or Australia. Imagine if the entire population of Italy or Australia or South Korea believed that the head of state of their country was illegitimate and you start to get the idea. There is a real danger in the United States, a subtle, barely noticeable virus that could present itself as a real danger to the body politic.

To make matters worse, true and certified geniuses like Glen Beck and Lou Dobbs and those madcap, merrymaking Members of Congress, have taken to giving legitimacy to this madness. And that is a problem which we ignore at our own peril. Madness sometimes disguises more malicious motives – like corroding the legitimacy of the presidency. And that is simply treasonous.

And it seems to me, that sometimes it is necessary to fight madness with madness. If the diverse forces in the public realm wish to persist in promulgating this dastardly and vicious strategy of impugning the citizenship of the President then perhaps they should be charged with treason. The basis of the charge being an intent to diminish and defame the President of the United States and thereby impeding his ability to govern at home and represent this country abroad.

While this charge of treason has as much chance of succeeding as the denial of President Obama’s natural born American citizenship, it might give some of the “birthers” pause and make them think about what the hell they are doing to this country. And that new experience might be worth all of the madness after all.

What was true in 2009 is certainly true now.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 15, 2013

The Teapublican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address was typical – a futile effort to go back to the future. But this time, with the unlikely team of Rubio and Paul there seems to be an effort to revive comedy teams. Meanwhile New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right by effectively decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. It is the right step of a journey of many more miles. And finally, with the announced resignation of Pope Benedict Catholics and many others are hoping that the new pope will begin his reign by confronting the reality of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.

Slapstick and Punch Lines

Amazingly the leadership of the Teapublican Party thought that it would be a great idea to put Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul on national television to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union address. It wasn’t a fair fight.

Barack Obama may be one of the great communicators of all time, and when he is on his rhetorical game it is hard to say who is in second place. Last Tuesday he was on his game and with applause echoing through the Capitol Senators Rubio and Paul were asked to counter an awesome performance. They both failed – miserably.

Marco Rubio looked like the loser of a high school student council presidential debate to seem like the adult that he was not, reciting talking points that seem to come from the Young Americans for Freedom playbook of fifty years ago. And then he made this magical transition from Teapublican Savior to Water Boy as he virtually ducked off the stage to get some water in the middle of his presentation.

Rand Paul looked like someone who had just climbed out of a laundry hamper and sounded like someone who didn’t think that anyone was listening. His right wing of the right wing soliloquy repeated themes that were soundly rejected by the majority of American voters but he did his best voice in the wilderness imitation.

During the heyday of old time comedy there were comedic teams like the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis, to name a few. We can now add Rubio and Paul to the All Star Clown List.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles…..

New York City Michael Bloomberg announced this week that possession of small amounts of marijuana would no longer result in arrest or being put on an individual’s criminal record. The impact of this directive will mean that hundreds of thousands of mostly young black and Latino men will not have to go to jail for an “offense” that simply doesn’t exist in Colorado and is rarely enforced in suburbs of a different hue. This will also mean that fewer of these young men will be marginalized in the workforce because of a petty criminal record.

That is a great step in the right direction. The next step would be to retroactively eliminate such arrests from the criminal record of the hundreds of thousands of victims of this egregious policy. And the next step after that? That would be to totally eliminate the outrageous “Stop and Frisk” policy which torments hundreds of thousands of young men of color in New York City every year.

The New Pope’s Challenge

The announced resignation of Pope Benedict touched off a flurry of commentaries about his eight year reign and what he should or should not have done while serving as pope. Certainly historians will have plenty to discuss.

It is also important for the next pope to finally and decisively confront the five thousand pound gorilla in the Catholic living room. Unless and until every aspect of the global child abuse scandal (which is most certainly over a century old) is exposed and addressed many people of the faith and outside the faith will view the Catholic Church with suspicion.

It has not only been the horrific tales of continual abuse all over the world that has shocked and dismayed, it has been the institutional cover up of the crimes and the criminals. The steadfast refusal of the leaders of the Catholic Church to fully address not only the criminals but also the enablers who have masked this institutional disgrace is unbecoming of a religious institution with over a billion believers.

We can only hope that the new pope will see that now is the time to right the wrongs by confronting them.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 18, 2011

The first tendrils of Spring appear in seeming defiance of Winter’s presence. The Arab world is simmering and no one knows what broth will ensue. U.S. states are returning billions of dollars to the federal government as their citizens search for jobs. And Donald Trump continues to act as if he was a direct descendant of Barnum.

The Missing Safety Valve

In all of the discussion and controversy concerning the political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East there has been no shortage of theories and pronouncements as to what caused this frenzy of political awakenings. The internet and Facebook are given as major enablers of the ongoing rebellions and revolutions. The not so glowing example of democracy at work in Iraq is rarely cited.

But we should certainly consider the fact that over the past decade the United States and most countries in Europe have imposed more restrictions on immigration either through legislation or administrative practice. These restrictions have given special attention to those seeking to leave North Africa and the Middle East. Could there be a connection here?

After all, in the past educated and ambitious and eclectic men and women from places like Tunisia and Algeria and Egypt could emigrate to someplace and pursue their hopes and dreams.
Whatever their motives, many of them shared a common dissatisfaction with the status quo and the marble ceiling that was constructed over their ambitions.

Since 9/11, most of these “dissenters” do not have the option of moving to America or Europe. But their dissatisfaction with the status quo has not abated. The result has been the turmoil that we see every day and we will, in all likelihood, continue to see the drive for change.

It may turn out that Europe and America were the safety valves for the oligarchs and monarchs in the Middle East and North Africa. And it would appear that the safety valves just aren’t there anymore.

A Constant Struggle to Stay Behind

On November 2, 2010, the voters in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida elected Republican governors who ran on very conservative platforms. These men all claimed that the root cause of many of the problems of the citizens of their respective states was the federal government.

Since their election, all three of these governors have rejected and returned billions of federal dollars that were intended to finance high speed rail systems. These dollars were also intended to provide jobs and income for men and women in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

That would be Ohio with a 9% unemployment rate, Wisconsin with a 7% unemployment rate and Florida with an 11.6% unemployment rate.

The rail infrastructure of this country is woefully behind that of most of the developed world (including China) and it needs to be improved everywhere and now. The men and women seeking work, any kind of work, in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida most certainly would welcome federal government “interference” that came in the form of a paycheck.

When ideology overcomes common sense, the outcome is almost always a poor one.

Donald Trump for Pope?

Two weeks ago Donald Trump announced that he was “seriously considering” running against Barack Obama in 2012. He clearly assumes that his serial corporate bankruptcies and thousands of stranded bondholders will somehow disappear from the national memory banks by November of 2012.

Last week Mr. Trump announced that he was “seriously considering” purchasing a controlling interest in the New York Mets. Presumably he doesn’t think that Mets fans have suffered enough.

Who know what’s next? But Pope Benedict should watch his back!

Have a great weekend!

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