Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 1, 2013

The first month of the New Year has come swirling to a close and while spring may be a little less than two months away there is already something in the air – the sound of Teapublicans on the run. In the aftermath of Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearing two numbers come to mind – 19,000 (the number of females raped in the military in one year) and 2 – the number of times that senators asked about this issue. And make no mistake, the Teapublican madness is alive and well in states like Texas which has a lot to say about the textbooks that your child learns from, wherever you may live. And finally, “The Central Park Five”, a documentary by Sarah Burns has been released. Three words – “please see it”.

Chuck Hagel – The U.S. Senate – and the Numbers Game

Former Senator Chuck Hagel appeared before the Senate Armed Forces Committee regarding President Obama nominating him to be Secretary of Defense. All of the headlines had to do with Senator Hagel being “grilled” by the likes of John McCain (“….was the surge a good idea”) and Lindsay Graham (“……name a single war crime committed by Israel”).

The clear intent of the Teapublicans at the Committee was to embarrass Chuck Hagel and President Obama while defending long since dismissed neo-con policies that have cost this country thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. And this line of questioning neatly avoided the very real fact that the Secretary of Defense does not define military strategy or create foreign policy for the United States.

Meanwhile, only Senator Gillibrand of New York and Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut stepped away from the media sideshow to ask Senator Hagel about one area in which the Secretary of Defense does have total control over policy and its implementation – the safety of all military personnel.

The rapes and sexual assaults committed against female members of the military are appalling in their frequency, viciousness and institutional acceptance. A woman in the American military has twice the chance of being raped as her counterpart in civilian life. How can this be?

We can be glad that the point of was raised and Senator Hagel promised to make this item a priority. And that is a much more important priority than trying to prop up dusty and damaged neocon ideals.

Deep in the Heart of Stupid

No matter where you live in these United States, if your child goes to public school there is a very good chance that textbook choices made by the Texas State Board of Education will determine the books that your child reads. California and Texas being the two largest purchasers of public school textbooks have tremendous sway over what actually goes into these textbooks.

And we should be very wary that representatives of a state that elected George W. Bush two times and Rick Perry three times have anything to say about learning anywhere in this country. But they do.

In addition to the right wing revisionist claptrap that adopts a “Gone with the Wind” version of slavery the members of this board have sought to slam the door shut on basic scientific facts. Believe it or not the Texas State Board of Education is pushing for evolution to be taught as an alternative scientific theory right along with the theory that the earth was created 6000 years ago and that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs.

It would be funny if it were not so pitiful. American students already rank 27th in academic achievement in recent global surveys. It is bad enough that the second most populous state in the Union is churning out students who will have medieval notions about this planet. A few years of Texas style education nationally and we will see this country plummeting towards third world status.

Central Park Five

In 1989 a female jogger was raped, beaten and left in a coma in Central Park in New York City. Within hours five young men of color were arrested and eventually indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison. But…..they didn’t do it.

The so-called Central Park Five are lucky only in the sense that this travesty occurred in 1989 instead of 1889 where the extrajudicial response to an accusation that men of color had sexually attacked a white female resulted in pre-trial lynching.

Sarah Burns, the daughter of the legendary documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, has directed “The Central Park Five” showing how a combination of racism, panic and institutional inertia can result in a horrific miscarriage of justice. See the film – read the book – see what you think!

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – July 15, 2011

What a week it has been…..just about wherever you are in the United States it is boilingstupidhot, so try and stay cool. But it is hard to stay cool when watching the twin forces of greed and meanness surface in the debt ceiling/budget debate. Meanwhile the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is finally going to remove the name “Nigger Lake” from its official records – that only took a few hundred years. And last, but not least, the Texas State Board of Education has renewed its efforts to introduce creationism into science courses taught in that state, presumably to make sure that Texas students get dumb and stay dumb.

For the Love of Money

Here is a brief primer on the current debt ceiling/budget debate. While there are many moving parts to this grand conflict and true philosophical battle between President Obama and the Democrats on one side and the G.O.Tea Party on the other, facts do matter:

1. Social Security and Medicare are key elements of the social services safety net in this country. Proposed cuts to these programs (cuts that have been demanded by the G.O.Tea Party as the price for raising the country’s debt ceiling and avoiding an economic Armageddon) will inflict true hardship and real pain on millions of Americans, typically men, women and children who can least afford any more pain and hardship in their lives.

2. The G.O.Tea Party has pledged to wreck this country’s international credit ratings for years to come rather than raise taxes or eliminate deductions that wealthy individuals and mammoth corporations have used to avoid paying taxes.

3. In this tax-friendly environment Google has an effective tax rate of 2.4%, Microsoft profits are up by 30% and General Electric pays no taxes on 2010 profits of $10 billion and has received a $3.2 billion tax credit. (Please note that General Electric also received a $140 billion taxpayer funded bailout.)
The presumed logic of the G.O.Tea Party is that any increase in taxes will “kill jobs”. What we know is that after over a decade of reducing corporate and personal taxes the rich are richer, the wealthy are wealthier, and the supremely profitable companies are raking in profits while creating few, if any, new jobs. And somehow the poor, the elderly, the working middle class are supposed to pay for phony wars, tax subsidies for the rich and bear the burden of reduced social services.

I doubt that many Americans actually signed up for this cruise. But right now we are on boat to Nowhere, and getting there fast.

What’s in a Name?

I read the news today…..oh boy! The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that it is removing the name “Nigger Lake” from it official records. This upstate lake has been on the official records of the state of New York for decades, if not centuries.

No one knows the origins of the lake’s name, but I would hazard a guess that if someone were to dredge that lake they would find the waterlogged remains of its namesake.

This little story should serve as a reminder regarding how far this country has come – and how far it still has to go.

Visiting the Tomb of Adam and Eve

Barbara Cargill was appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry (and soon to be G.O.Tea Party presidential candidate) as the chair of the Texas State Board of Education. She has stated that her mission is to bring “Christian values” to public education in Texas beginning with a requirement that creationism as a scientifically valid alternative to the theory of evolution.

Perhaps Ms. Cargill could better spend her time searching for the tomb of Adam and Eve or the wreckage of Noah’s Ark. Unfortunately she seems intent on seeing that the students in the Texas public school system will be ignorant of basic scientific theories and principles.

Chemistry, biology, physiology, astronomy and geology cannot be taught usefully from a curriculum based upon creationism. To ask the students in Texas, or anywhere else, to be ignorant during the most competitive economic times in the history of the planet is…..well, just ignorant.

Have a great weekend!