Point of View Columns

What’s in a Name? Everything.

For those Americans who believe that America has changed from its historical origins – origins that have included racially-based slavery, genocide and theft – recent news must have come as something of a disappointment. When President Obama announced that Mt. McKinley in Alaska would be renamed with its original, indigenous name, Mt. Denali, the hue and cry of opposition was at its birther worst.

First some history – the Iñupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian have lived in the area that is known as Alaska for thousands of year. At some point the largest mountain in the northern hemisphere was named “Denali”, a word meaning “tall” in the Koyukon language. And then came the Europeans.

Then came the Russians who in their infinite wisdom and ignorance of the indigenous people named the mountain Bolshaya Gora, the Russian translation of Denali or “tall”. And then came the Americans, no stranger to ignoring indigenous people. An American gold prospector decided to name Mount Denali Mount McKinley, since he supported a presidential candidate named William McKinley. Keep in mind that the naming of Mount McKinley would be akin to naming some geographical monument “Mount Santorum” or “Mount Bernie Sanders” – presidential candidates, not even a president.

But there is more, of course. The opponents of the righteous and rightful renaming of Mount Denali are the cultural and spiritual descendants of the Europeans who came to the Western Hemisphere and destroyed the culture and civilization of the people who had lived on these lands for thousands of years.

We hear the wails and moans of the archeologists after the destruction of undeniably historic sites by ISIS in Palmyra, Syria. The question is asked, what kind of people who engage in such wanton destruction of civilization?
The answer would be the same kind of people who destroyed all significant aspects of the Aztec civilization in Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City. The answer would be the same kind of people who destroyed the civilization of the Cherokee, the Apache, and the Iroquois, the Sioux and so many more peoples who have either been obliterated or relegated to being sports mascots and caricatures.

The mindset of those who would oppose the renaming of Mount Denali is the same mindset which has proudly and loudly proclaimed the predominance of white western civilization over all other civilizations. There is no way to justify the creation of the United States on the bones and bodies and civilizations of indigenous peoples. And while the clock cannot be turned back, there is no reason why this country should go forward with such a backward point of view.

One can only hope that after the tide of white ethnic indignation recedes that rational thought and fairness will make themselves known in the national discourse. It does no dishonor to William McKinley or the American presidency to restore the name of Mount Denali. Indeed, the renaming of Mount Denali is an honorable act and we can hope that it precedes other honorable acts of moral reparations – such as finally dispensing with the ethnic slur that is the name of the Washington NFL team along with the names of the Cleveland and Atlanta major league baseball teams along with the numerous college “mascots” that still demean the descendants of the indigenous people of this land.

It is time to say enough. It is enough that the founders and builders of this country killed the indigenous people. It is enough that they destroyed their civilizations and ways of life. It is not too much to ask that the desecration and mockery of their culture stop.

Today.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Not Only Baltimore is Burning

The death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody has sparked a conflagration in Baltimore. The death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody has created yet another wave of protests over yet another cop on black homicide of a black man. Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, Cleveland, Baltimore……the death dirge plays from coast to coast. And we continue to search for the reasons why.

We find ourselves asking once again why there appears to be a disproportionate number of deaths by cop in the black communities across this nation. Which in turn leads to the question of why there are a disproportionate number of arrests in the black community as well as convictions in the black community as well as more severe sentencing in the black community as well as the most onerous incarceration punishments in the black community? And why does it seem as if the criminal justice system is at war with the black community – the community that it is supposed to protect and serve?

The statistics are so appalling they tend to anesthetize and desensitize. This country has 5 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. This country has more prisoners per capita than so-called repressive regimes in Iran, North Korea and China. And a disproportionate number of these prisoners are black. And most of these prisoners are men – most of them imprisoned when they are young black men. Forty percent of America’s prisoners are black although black Americans make up only twelve percent of this country’s population.

During the modern Era of American Incarceration which began in the 1970’s, millions of black men have been incarcerated. During this Era of American Incarceration, entire neighborhoods, communities and cities have been eviscerated as young black men aged 18-34 have been the subject of a bizarre sort of ethnic cleansing.

Over the past forty years these young black men have not been afforded the opportunity to be a part of American life. They have not been able to go to school or college. They have not been able to be traditional fathers, traditional husbands or traditional family members. They have not become entrepreneurs or employers or community leaders. They have been disappeared for decades at a time and then returned as hollowed out shells of their former selves or of what could have been their future selves.

And they also return with a bagful of can’ts. They can’t get financial aid for education so they can’t get an education because they are ex-offenders. They can’t get public housing because they are ex-offenders. They can’t get employment because they have been in prison. They can’t get a loan to start a business because they have been in prison. In many states they can’t even get a license to drive a cab or be a barber because they have been in prison. They can’t. They can’t. They can’t.

It is no wonder that the death dance of violence and misogyny and nihilism has entrapped so many residents of the black communities of this country when so many of their neighbors, friends, fathers, husbands, sons and lovers are walking around with a bagful of can’ts. What should be a source of amazement and wonder that there has been any success or progress in this toxic environment.

One can predict that more than a few conservatives will look at the footage of Baltimore on fire and blame it on President Obama. More than a few denizens of the right wing of the right wing will borrow a page from Richard Nixon’s playbook and use the images of an American city on fire as the justification for more punitive and harsher law enforcement. The echo of Nixon’s “law and order” clarion call will almost certainly be heard across this land.

And, of course, that will be like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. The cause of the fire is the repressive and regressive use of law enforcement that is unfair, racially biased and in too many instances simply racist. The criminal justice system is the beast that consumes the hopes and dreams and aspirations of too many young black men (and increasingly young black women).

And until that beast is tamed and controlled and trained to do what it is supposed to do – protect and serve………….all Americans – the flames in Baltimore will one day be seen as just the coming attraction for what will come.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Cuba Si! Finally!

On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War also granted the people of Cuba independence. However, from that day until January 1, 1959, the United States continued to alternatively treat Cuba as a colony, protectorate, playground and private plantation. Ironically, when Cuba achieved true independence; that is when the real conflict between Cuba and the United States began.

When Cuba achieved its true independence, first from Spain and then from the United States, the United States acted like a spoiled child that had been deprived of a favorite toy or plaything. And, despite the fact that this country has a long history of embracing its former enemies, there has something about Cuba that has precluded reconciliation for over a half century.

The British committed war crimes during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Thousands of American men, women and children were murdered, abused and subject to incredible hardship as part of the military policy of the British. Yet Great Britain has become America’s closest ally and it is considered poor taste to reference past crimes.

During the Civil War that was started by the treasonous Confederate States of America. Over one million people died in that war – which represented 3 per cent of the country’s population at that time (that number would be over nine million today). At the conclusion of the war, even though a supporter of the CSA killed the President of the United States, even though the CSA was clearly guilty of war crimes like the death camp in Andersonville and the slaughter of black troops at Fort Pillow, despite all of these offenses (and many more) there were no mass war crime trials.

Despite all the justification for retribution there was Reconstruction instead. Despite the horrific results of the Civil War the former CSA states are allowed to fly their flag of rebellion and celebrate their treason without fear of punishment.

Total American casualties in World War II exceed one million with over 400,000 members of the military killed. Yet, within a few years of the cessation of hostilities the United States helped to rebuild Japan and Germany, their defeated foes. Within 15 years Americans were buying Toyotas and Volkswagens and all was forgiven.

Over 200,000 members of the American military were killed or wounded in the Vietnam War. Today members of the American military wear clothing made in Vietnam and American tourists travel to Vietnam for holidays on a daily basis.

The People’s Republic of China is unapologetically communist. With a population of over one billion people it is clearly, and obviously, the largest communist country in the world. Yet China is also one of America’s largest trading partners and an embargo against that country would be unthinkable.

Although the current Cuban government has never attacked the United States (although the U.S. has attacked Cuba, i.e. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961) an embargo has been in place for over 50 years. The level of American governmental hostility and animosity directed against Cuba has the feel of a David and Goliath scenario except that this David has neither stone nor slingshot and this Goliath possesses nuclear weapons and the largest economy in the history of the planet.

There are so many reasons why the characterization of Cuba as an enemy of the United States is wrong and illogical. And that is why it is a sign of long overdue progress that, due to the leadership of President Obama, the commencement of diplomatic relations and the resumption of trade with Cuba has begun.

Progress long overdue is still progress.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Hate Begets Hate

Despite the lofty ideals set forth in founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the United States has always harbored hate as a very real part of its cultural DNA. So it should really not be a surprise that a particularly odious perversion of religious freedom has resulted in legislation in the state of Indiana that will make it legal to hate.

While there will always be those who argue that America is exceptional in every way, in one very way the United States is just like every other country in the world. Humans act out hatred of other humans for reasons ranging from race to gender to nationality to religion. And even a cursory overview of American history reveals organized and institutional hatred directed against Americans of African origin through slavery and beyond, Native Americans through genocide, Jews, Irish immigrants, Italian immigrants, women who wanted to vote or the right to choose control over their bodies, Chinese immigrants, Japanese Americans through concentration camps and gay men and women through continuing bigotry, discrimination and prejudice.

It would be nice to think that America has evolved to the point where hatred is no longer celebrated, much less legislated. But that thinking would not be fact based. Too many Americans hate President Obama because he is an American of African origin. Too many Americans, descendants of immigrants themselves, hate 21st century immigrants because they are not white. Too many Americans hate men and women simply because their gender preference does not conform to their own stated preference.

This hatred is sometimes celebrated with homophobic slurs or asinine racist songs on college campuses. This hatred is sometimes celebrated in dog whistle political rhetoric. But make no mistake, this hatred is indeed celebrated.

And now the state of Indiana joins twenty other states in legislating hate under the guise of protecting religious freedom. The Indiana “Restoration of Religious Freedom Act” is a politically inspired fig leaf covering the naked loins of homophobia and racism. The Act claims to protect “people of faith” (as distinguished from “people of no faith”?) from laws which prevent them from staying true to their religious principles.

Cutting through the verbiage and rhetorical prestidigitation, the Act will allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against individuals if their sexual preference, race or general appearance somehow offends their religious principles. What this Act does is continue to roll back the liberation of Americans that was brought about by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with the 14th Amendment of 1868. The brazen effort to deny Americans of their constitutional rights with the ruse of protecting constitutional rights is transparent and obvious.

What is troubling is that the outrage directed at Indiana, with Arkansas on deck, does not seem to focus on the fact that twenty other states have already passed similar legislation. What is troubling is the fact that almost half the states in this nation have already moved to restore the freedom to hate, not only celebrating hate but also legislating the free expression of hate.

It is ironic that the United States, the first nation on earth to codify principles of personal freedom, is becoming the first nation on earth to voluntarily withdraw those freedoms.

The end will come with not with a bang…but with one last whimper.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Rudy Giuliani – The Last Angry White Man

Last week Rudy Giuliani reminded this country that he remains the rhetorical thug and philosophical bully that most New Yorkers remember about his tenure as mayor of the City of New York. Giuliani is interesting just like a train wreck is interesting. You want to turn away but cannot resist taking a look. But it is clearly past time for all of us to turn away.

Rudy Giuliani is not the first Teapublican to cast doubt on the citizenship and patriotism of President Obama. Indeed, Giuliani was speaking at a fundraiser for Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin when he channeled his inner Angry White Man. That would be the same Scott Walker who, when asked after the Giuliani diatribe whether he thought President Obama was a Christian, opined that he “did not know”.

So Giuliani is not alone when he casts aspersions and launches attacks that are outside the pale (pun intended) of what passes for normal political discourse in America these days. If words had an odor, you would have to brace yourself for the stench emanating from Giuliani’s speech. But if you listen closely to his words, you will hear the words of a frightened and emotionally shriveled little man who is afraid of the now and terrified of the future.

Giuliani spoke of President Obama not loving this country like “we do”, saying this in a room with an overwhelming majority of white males. He said that President Obama did not grow up like “us” and you can be sure that he wasn’t just referring to the president’s childhood residences in Hawaii and Indonesia.

Over and over Giuliani beat the moribund steed of racism. His lips were dripping with words that were bloated with bigotry and echoed of discrimination. While he did not say that he hates Barack Obama because he is black – his dog whistle was in perfect working order – and the hounds heard him.

Although it is rare to see a racist burning a cross or wearing a bed sheet, this country should not stand in the shelter of smugness believing that those days are long behind us. While we do not often see a black person lynched – we do see Ferguson and Staten Island and we remember the name of Trayvon Martin just as we remember the name of Emmett Till.

The white robes of the Klan have been replaced by the black robes of Supreme Court justices who have gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While the film Selma harks back to the days of the civil rights movement and hard won victories, Shelby v. Holder reminds us that racism is a seven headed Hydra that does not die easily or quickly.

Indeed it reinvents itself and disguises itself with verbiage that is supposed to be “conservative” but in too many instances is just dog whistle rhetoric. Calls for “law and order” and “makers and takers” are just coded language that empowers that racists and bigots. These words allow a pitiful and largely forgotten nobody who wishes that he were somebody scuttle into the limelight for a moment.

Rudy Giuliani is a forgettable footnote in American history. But last week he spoke for all the scared and frightened white men in America who feel that “we” are losing this country and that “they” will soon outnumber “us” and then the world will be different for all time.

But here is a news bulletin for Giuliani and his dog whistle listening bigoted hounds – the world has already changed.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Prelude to Impeachment

Since the evening of the  very day day he was inaugurated as President of the United States on January 19, 2009, the opposition to Barack Obama has sought to delegitimize his presidency, obstruct his administration all the while dismissing his achievements and exaggerating his missteps. The results have been mixed. President Obama was reelected by a sizeable vote in 20012. Today his poll numbers are at an all-time low. On the Planet Teapublican that means it is time to play the Impeachment Card.

Only two American presidents have been impeached – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton (Richard Nixon narrowly escaped almost certain impeachment and conviction by resigning and fleeing the White House in disgrace). It is worth noting that neither impeachment resulted in conviction, leading to the slightly obvious conclusion that these proceedings were politically motivated rather than being inspired by “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

The politically charged atmosphere of the Obama Administration where negative ions are almost visible, it should come as no surprise that Teapublicans are feeling more empowered to use the “I” word every day. Of course it is hard to bring impeachment proceedings because his very presence in the White House offends the racial and political sensibilities of his opposition. That is where the Prelude to Impeachment becomes a part of the always rickety and forever bizarre Teapublican strategy.

While highly respected constitutional scholars like Sarah Palin and Darrell Issa have opined that there are already grounds to impeach President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner has settled on a game plan that begins with the House of Representatives filing a lawsuit against the president. The basis for this lawsuit appears to center around the use of executive orders and the president exercising his discretion in the face of historic Congressional inaction.

It must be noted that lawsuits have been filed by Congress against the President in years past. But this planned lawsuit must be seen within the context of a six year campaign to get Barack Obama out of the White House by any means necessary.

The “birther” mania, while brainless and idiotic, was given CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation through nuance, implication and inference by the likes of John Boehner, Mitt Romney and other “serious Teapublicans”, to say nothing of the braying of Donald Trump, the screeching of Sarah Palin and the caterwauling of Michele Bachmann. Even the dimmest of these dim bulbs have always known that the “birther” strategy was not going to work, but it represented a few grains of hope on the hard scrabble earth of reality.

Now there is some real sustenance for the meat eaters on the right. A lawsuit sounds sane and reasonable and it involves real lawyers and real judges – nothing nutty like questioning the provenance of a birth certificate.
A lawsuit by the United States Congress sounds reality-based and if it wasn’t in the sixth year of the Obama Era, it might possible that there would be a credible basis for legal action.

But this is the sixth year of the Obama Era and it is hard to separate the delegitimizing efforts of these six years from this proposed lawsuit. The fact that law school professors and other “scholars” have supported the notion of this lawsuit misses the point.

The proposed lawsuit is a clear Prelude to Impeachment. The Teapublican strategy can be described as follows:
1. File a lawsuit against President Obama claiming that he has overstepped his constitutional boundaries.
2. Tie up the Obama Administration and the media attention for the next few months.
3. Await the 2014 election results.
4. Regardless results of the election and the lawsuit commence impeachment proceedings in 2015.
5. Tie up the Obama Administration and media attention for all of 2015.
6. Even with the likely event that President Obama will not be convicted even if he is impeached; leave President Obama as the lamest of lame ducks in 2016 with his legacy forever tarnished.

This is the Teapublican strategy which, if you will notice, does nothing to address the economy, the environment, the infrastructure, immigration reform or immigration. What this strategy represents is the last major assault by the Teapublicans against President Obama.

Standard
Point of View Columns

The Disaster That Won’t Go Away

The Disaster That Won’t Go Away

Just as storm clouds just over the horizon are there for all to see, the prospect of horrific disaster looms over this country as the Obama Administration edges closer to the slippery precipice of military engagement in the Middle East. The irony is that Senator Obama was elected to extricate this country from the misguided policies in Afghanistan and the web of bloody lies that characterized the Iraq war plan. President Obama was reelected in part because he kept his promises on these important matters and resisted the urgings of Teapublican chickenhawks to take this country into war again.

History tells us that the United States went to war in Afghanistan with no credible exit plan. The U.S. went into Afghanistan with bloodlust fueled by 9/11 and lurched through that country like someone who gets punched in the nose in a dark room and is ready to hit anyone and everyone when the lights go on.

There can be no serious doubt that the United States went to war in Iraq based on lies, misinformation and a misguided desire on the part of the Bush-Cheney cabal to follow the neocon playbook in the Middle East. Thousands of American troops died in Iraq in vain. Tens of thousands of Americans suffered injury and trauma that they will endure for the rest of their lives for no good reason. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in their own homeland for no cause that anyone can explain.

Now, as Iraq seems to plunge into a canyon of death, destruction and self-inflicted wounds – due mainly to the instability brought about by the American invasion – there is a call for the United States to “do something”. And, seemingly in response to the squawks and chirps of Teapublican chickenhawks, President Obama has sent 800 military “advisors” to Iraq. The lessons of Vietnam tell us that “advisors” can become combat troops in the flash of an IED.

And in Syria the tyrannical regime of Bashir Assad has been under attack for over two years. The attacks are coming from Syrians and nameless others who seem to be looking for a good place to fight. There is no doubt that the Assad regime is despicable in so many ways. There is also no doubt that the United States has no nickels in this dime and that its military engagement in Syria can only lead to more death and destruction for Americans – in Syria, and quite likely in the United States.

Yet, President Obama is sending a half billion dollars of military aid to “moderate rebels in Syria – whatever “moderate” might mean in that part of the world. One would hope that someone in the Obama Administration might remember this country providing military aid to freedom loving people in another theater – Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Those freedom loving people were led by Osama bin Laden and we know how that story ended.

Meanwhile a new group called ISIS respects no borders or boundaries and has declared an Islamic caliphate from North Africa to Afghanistan. ISIS has been disowned by Al Qaeda as too radical. And somehow the U.S. is supposed to have a military answer for ISIS.

There simply can be no justification for bringing this country to the slippery slope of war in the Middle East – a part of the world that has been tossed and turned by conquests, crusades, colonization and countless wars. The United States cannot make it right for with all the good intentions in the world.

There is no comfort that President Obama or the Teapublican chickenhawks can provide to the inevitable widows and orphans of American troops who must surely die if this strategy is pursued. And the sadly reality it, they do not have to die.

Standard