Point of View Columns

Obama in Africa and Unfinished Business

When President Obama visited Africa he took the opportunity of being in Africa to speak to the truths about Africa. He correctly stated that the African continent is overflowing with potential for progress and growth. He also correctly stated that until Africa confronts its challenges with respect to women, governance and human rights that it will never reach that potential. In other words, there is unfinished business in Africa.

When he spoke before the leadership of the African Union, President Obama said things that it would have been difficult for an African leader to say. As President of the United States he is cloaked with the power and prestige of his office. As the son of an African, as the grandson of Africans, as the brother of African brothers and sisters, Barack Hussein Obama has family ties that remove the possibility of him being considered a disinterested outsider lecturing the “natives”.

It is difficult to imagine President Mitt Romney giving Barack Obama’s speech in front of the African Union. It is virtually impossible to envision President John McCain, or President Donald Trump or President Scott Walker at the podium delivering that message. For that matter, it is difficult to envision President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders standing in that place – it had to be Obama.

And President Obama told the truth about the role and status of women in Africa – it must change. He said that the African traditions that oppress women and mutilate the genitals of girls and bind women with the chains of ignorance are bad traditions. He told the truth when he said that Africa will never, can never, reach anywhere near its true potential while half of its population is entrapped in the rickety cages of “tradition”.

President Obama was faithful to the truth when he pointed out that in a democracy there can be no “presidents for life”. He told the leaders of the fifty four countries on the continent that the peaceful transfer of power ensures peace just as holding on to power indefinitely ensures that there will never be peace. And, just as importantly, the peaceful transfer of power guarantees that the energy and genius of the youth of Africa will be encouraged to stay in Africa rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

President Obama also took the occasion to point out that respect for the human rights and dignity of all persons is necessary, otherwise no one will have their human rights and dignity respected. Marginalizing or imprisoning or murdering someone because they are from a different country or a different tribe, or because they love a man instead of a woman or a woman instead of a man are practices that keep Africa mired in the past. And marginalizing, imprisoning or murdering in the name of tradition can only mean that the tradition is wrong – as President Obama put it, “it is a bad tradition”.

What was so interesting about his address is that President Obama ultimately spoke in terms of unfinished business in Africa. But he alluded to the fact that there is also unfinished business in the United States. He could have pointed out that while American women have made major strides during the past fifty years, women still earn less than men and women are the majority population of the poor in this country.

He could have said that while this country has been governed by a democracy for over two hundred years, and at this very moment there are cadres of lawyers and activists all over this country who celebrated the demolition of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. He could have mentioned that voter suppression has now become a political tactic and that thanks to the Citizens United and McCullough Supreme Court decisions, obscene amounts of money flood and pollute the political process like never before.

President Obama could have mentioned that while there have been major advances in respecting the rights of individuals in this country, there are still states that fly the Confederate flag and there are legislatures considering bills that will somehow outlaw same sex marriage and constrain a woman’s right to choose.

He could have said all of those things. There is unfinished business in Africa. And there is also unfinished business in these United States.

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Point of View Columns

The Trouble with Trump

Donald Trump has become the poster boy for The New Jacked Up 21st century politics. Bluster, bigotry and bullying are now legitimate credentials for a presidential candidate, at least in the universe in which Teapublicans reside. While the spectacle that is the Trump campaign threatens the seating arrangement in the already overcrowded Teapublican Clown Car, there is actually a danger that the other candidates will try to out-Trump Trump in order to suck up some precious media oxygen.

As you are reading this, Donald Trump, the Heavyweight Self-Promoting Champion of the World, is leading all Teapublican candidates in national polls. Most self-confessed Teapublicans want him to stay in the race despite the daily exhibitions of classless and tasteless excess which define Trump as a candidate and as a human being. And as you are reading this it becomes clear that Donald Trump is not a momentary publicity comet flitting across the American skies (see Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain). His star has staying power and all of his competitors for the Teapublican presidential crown know it.

It is now a bizarre badge of honor for Teapublican candidates to be attacked by Donald Trump. Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham are thankful to be his targets because that means that for a few nanoseconds their name will be mentioned in the same breath as The Donald. Without being asked to respond to his insults, they would have few, if any talking points that anyone else wants to hear.

While Democrats are looking for ways to keep The Donald Clown Balloon floating high, they should be careful what they ask for. Donald Trump is impervious to insult and insulated from concern as to what others think. His run for president is an example of superselfindulgence on steroids. But, and this is important, if the polls are to be believed, there are millions (millions!) of American voters who think that Donald Trump is a serious presidential candidate.

Consider that just six years ago this country was in what was arguably the most profound, and certainly the most frightening financial crisis in its history. During the past six years plans for universal healthcare coverage and reform of the financial regulatory system were devised and implements.

During this time this country has had to address crises ranging from the massive BP oil spill to the collapse of the Iraqi government to the rise of ISIS and the multiple implications of the Arab Spring. The dawning realization of the impact of climate change, addressing the necessity of a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran and the continued carnage that is woven into the fabric of the United States of Gun are all realities in modern America.

Russia in the Ukraine, new Chinese bellicosity and the explosive realization that black lives do matter, especially in the face of the domestic terror that American racism has supported are all issues that the President of the United States has had to address and we can be sure of only one thing, there will be no certainties for the next President, not here in the United States, not here on this planet.

It is virtually impossible to believe that Donald Trump has the competence, intelligence or intellectual capacity to manage any or all of these issues and more. But what Donald Trump has done is lower the bar for what are considered requisite qualifications to be president. Donald Trump is the one with the loudest bluster. Donald Trump is the one prepared to wrap himself in the hate-soaked banner of bigotry and racism in order to curry favor with the haters and the bigots. And by being the loudest bully on the Teapublican block he has virtually eliminated any possibility of intelligent debate on that block.

Democrats and Teapublicans alike should be concerned. By demeaning the presidential selection process with his antics, Donald Trump is also demeaning the institution of the presidency. If asinine antics and a half-baked act that wouldn’t make it in Las Vegas are enough to qualify someone to be a serious presidential candidate, then the presidency itself becomes seriously devalued.

And that is a danger that this country can ill afford in the 21st century.

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Point of View Columns

The Turtle on the Fence Post

Country sayings are interesting and, in many instances true. For example, if you see a turtle on a fence post, you can be pretty sure that it did not get there on its own. Similarly, when we see voting restrictions being imposed all over the country, we can be sure that it is neither a matter of coincidence nor serendipity.

Almost immediately upon the election of President Obama in 2009, Teapublicans began a monomaniacal jihad with the sole goal of preventing him from being reelected. This group of supposed patriots hit upon the idea of restricting voting rights and the ethnic cleansing of voter rolls as a way of diminishing the support for Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Historians will view this as strategy that is soaked in brutal irony – the patriotic right wing that claims to revere the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence has sought to deny the right to vote to certain Americans.

It took some time for the Teapublicans to get their act together, but after the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Scalia Supreme Court cabal eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, the path to constitutional villainy became an open highway. Indeed over fifteen states and numerous towns, counties and municipalities have instituted laws, rules and regulations which have as their goal the restriction of voting rights.

Claims that these laws, rules and regulations are intended to prevent voter fraud are simply lies. There are no statistical reports which indicate anything but a miniscule number of voter fraud cases over the past two decades. The fact that the voting rights restrictions have nothing to do with concerns about voter fraud brings us back to the story of the turtle on the fence post.

The effect of the voting rights restrictions has been to reduce the opportunity of blacks, Latinos, the elderly, the very young and the very poor from exercising their franchise as citizens of this country. The individuals in these demographic sectors are not known to be traditional supporters of Teapublican candidates or the Teapublican agenda.

Is this result simply a coincidence? Are voting limitations on the constituencies that elected and reelected Barack Obama just an unintended consequence of the Teapublican initiatives, however fortunate it might be for the right wing of the right wing? Just think about that turtle on the fence post.

The reality is that many of the current riders in the Teapublican Presidential Clown Bus have supported these voter suppression strategies – Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in Florida, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz in Texas are up to their eyeballs in denying constitutional rights to American citizens who don’t figure to support them. They will deny this, of course, but remember that turtle on the fence post.

The Teapublican voter suppression strategy began after Barack Obama was elected. This strategy has never had anything to do with voter fraud. This strategy has always been about reducing the turnout of voters likely to support Barack Obama and Democrats in general. And any Teapublican who is thinking about running for President of the United States will want to stack the deck in their favor by diminishing the turnout of the Obama/Democratic base.

So, as the denials will spew from the likes of Christie/Walker/Bush/Rubio/Perry/Cruz………….just remember that turtle on the fence post.

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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 tomorrow.

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 white hounds in the room heard him loud and clear.

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 or forever.

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 the racists and bigots to do what they do. 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.

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