Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 12, 2011

One of the (many) definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result while expecting a different result. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas and Lieutenant Governor while serving with Governor George W. Bush, is now going to run for president. Sound familiar? Could this country actually elect George Bush’s lieutenant governor? The G.O.Tea Party had a debate in Iowa yesterday, and the theme song “Send in the Clowns” played in the background. And finally, Mitt Romney has announced that “corporations are people”, confirming his belief in the lousy Citizens United Supreme Court decision as well as confirming his permanent confusion regarding the reasons why corporations even exist in the
first place.

Déjà vu?

One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes is “…it seems like déjà vu all over again”. The much anticipated entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry into the G.O.Tea Party presidential race is one more sign that the Republicans are determined to do their very best to re-elect Barack Obama.

Let’s see…..Rick Perry was lieutenant governor when George W. Bush was governor. President George W. Bush presided over multiple disasters – 9/11, Katrina and the collapse of the American economy come to mind. Former Texas Governor Bush led this country into not one, but two misguided and mismanaged wars costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. Rick Perry has never breathed a word of dissent regarding the policies of President Bush.

Let’s see, Governor Rick Perry declared that Texas should seriously consider seceding from the United States. The last time that was tried 600,000 Americans died. Clearly secession is not a term that should be bandied about, even for rhetorical effect.

And, it should be noted that Governor Perry has stated on numerous occasions that serving as governor (and presumably as president) is part of a plan to fulfill his Christian mission. While we should respect any person’s religious beliefs we should be wary of anyone seeking to advance their Christian, Jewish or Muslim mission through holding public office.

Barack Obama is certainly losing sleep (and gaining grey hairs) over the many challenges his Administration has been facing. He shouldn’t lose any sleep over facing Rick Perry in a presidential election.

Would You Like a Clown with that Pie?

A veritable gaggle of G.O.Tea Party presidential candidates showed up for a “debate” in Ames, Iowa yesterday. The word “debate” is in quotes because it was really not a contest of ideas, rather it was a competition for who could blame President Obama the most with a sub contest for catchiest sound bite. Mitt Romney muttered something about not eating “Obama’s dog food” – a real head scratcher.

Newt Gingrich railed against “gotcha questions” from the media. Presumably he is growing weary of explaining how he served his former wife with divorce papers as she was waking up from cancer surgery – and how he and his wife managed to get a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s and still be part of the middle class – and how his entire senior campaign staff just got up and walked out after working for him for………2 weeks.

Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty had a veritable Twin City Smack Down, but it was very hard to imagine any of the candidates on the Ames stage actually being on the world stage – without a clown suit.

Corporations Are People?

Campaigning in Iowa last week Mitt Romney stated that “corporations are people”. I guess it is now official. In the Citizens United case the United States Supreme Court led by G.O.Tea Party stalwarts Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights including the right to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.

Now the former governor of Massachusetts has gone a step further by stating that entities that only exist by reason of law are actually people. Presumably he means that corporations have rights and are entitled to safeguards that were previously reserved for human beings.

During my first year at Harvard Law School we were taught that corporations are simply a creation of the law. Clearly Mr. Romney, the G.O.Tea Party stalwarts on the Supreme Court and the right wing of the right wing intend to rewrite law to suit their own purposes.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Sex In The City – Sex In The Country

Sex and sexism are never too far from the surface of public discourse and private discussion. And then there are times when these issues come to the forefront and simply cannot be ignored.

The media has worked itself into an absolute frenzy over the latest developments in the sexual assault case of Dominque Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. For those of you who have been on the Planet Incommunicado for the past two months, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has been indicted on charges related to his having been accused of sexually assaulting a chamber maid in a $3000 per night suite in the posh Hotel Sofitel Hotel in New York City.

Rape and sexual assault cases are never genteel or pleasant. The charges in this case more unpleasant than the unfortunate norm. Mr. Strauss-Kahn is accused of sexually assaulting a domestic worker while he was nude in his suite. Torn clothing, coerced sexual acts and physical injuries consistent with a sexual attack led to DSK, as he is now known globally, being pulled out of a first class Air France cabin and arrested just before his departure for Paris.

Now the Manhattan District Attorney has issued information regarding facts that presumably cast doubts on the credibility of the accuser in this case. It now appears that the accuser may have misrepresented facts on her visa application in coming from her native Guinea to the United States, including fabricating a tale of having been gang-raped (turns out that she may have only been raped by an individual). There is also information about lying on tax returns and sources of income other than her salary at the Hotel Sofitel.

Somehow we are being led to the conclusion that, if a woman lies about a visa application or a financial statement that she cannot be a credible rape victim. If only blameless individuals could be credible crime victims the prisons would be virtually empty.

While the credibility of any witness is important in a criminal (or civil) matter, it would seem that the alleged female victim of a sexual assault has to have a pristine reputation and be possessed of a cloak of eternal virtue in order to be believed.

That the accused DSK is nicknamed “The Great Seducer” is somehow of little or no import given that his accuser may have misrepresented facts on her tax returns. Charges of unwanted sexual advances have followed The Great Seducer around for years seem to evaporate in the heated glare of inquiry over false statements on a visa application.

It would seem that in the delicate balance of “he said, she said”, “she” almost has to walk on water in order to be believed. And, at least in L’Affaire DSK, “he” can track the mud of sordid behavior through the courtroom and into the light of freedom without a care in the world.

And this is not the first case where a female that is the victim of an alleged sexual assault may not be believed – not because her version of the events is not credible, but because her “overall credibility” or “reputation” denies her the right to be able to accuse a man of sexual misdeeds. And this is unfair. And this is wrong.

Meanwhile, there are advocates of women in politics who, while not supporting Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, are complaining that they are receiving unfair treatment as they stalk and stomp their way through the political countryside. While it is certainly true that women are treated unfairly in many situations, it is hard to understand how Congresswoman Bachmann and former Governor Palin fall into the category of the aggrieved.

If anything, they both seem to be getting deferential treatment, perhaps in part because they are women. Consider – if a male candidate for national office could not name a single book, magazine or newspaper that they read on a regular basis they would justifiably be greeted with eternal hoots and catcalls. Sarah Palin revels in her ignorance and deflects any criticism of her limited intellectual capabilities as the fault of the “lame stream media”.

Michelle Bachmann has loudly proclaimed that God “told her” to run for President of the United States. Really? Can we really imagine Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty being credible presidential candidates if either of them stated that they had a mandate from God to run for president? But Michelle Bachmann and her rapture roll on as if she is some latter day Joan of Arc, conversing with God in the morning, and giving us the Word in the afternoon.

Perhaps they really are getting deferential treatment after all.

Point of View Columns

Alone in the Ebony Tower

The recent controversy surrounding the unfortunate personal attacks on President Obama by the once-respected Professor Cornel West could be written off as just another story from the United States of Stupid. There are an infinite number of such stories, recent ones including the $500,000 Tiffany’s line of credit enjoyed by the “populist” Newt Gingrich the manic media obsession with the marital life of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

But the Cornel West story is different in a very important way. His comments and his personal line of attack were not explosive, but they were corrosive. There is no way that a relative lightweight like Cornel West could collapse the Obama presidency with his pseudo-intellectual hoots and catcalls.

However petty, personal and disrespectful commentary gets more media coverage than any serious criticism of the policies and actions of the Obama Administration. Unfortunately many of the same people who read the National Enquirer for their news and get their facts from seminars held in barber shops and beauty salons are the same people who will pay attention to the likes of Cornel West. And they all vote – or don’t vote, based upon bits and pieces of information and nonsensical chatter such as the squawks that recently emanated from one of Princeton’s Finest.

If left unchallenged, over time commentary becomes fact. Cornel West has questioned whether Barack Obama is a “progressive”; he has also questioned whether he is truly connected to the black community in America. When Cornel West was selected as the arbiter of these matters is certainly a matter of some debate and mystery. Yet there are otherwise intelligent men and women who will listen to this nonsense. And they all vote -–or don’t vote.

The many critics of Professor West have pointed out the validity and need for a robust discussion, and where necessary critique, of the policies of President Obama, as would be the case for any president. But any African American who doesn’t recognize that the first African American President of the United States is a special case needs their head examined, and soon.

The insults, degrading remarks and insane rhetoric directed at Barack Obama by the right wing of the right wing are unprecedented. To suggest that these attacks are not in some way connected with the racial and racist concerns would be delusional. That Cornel West would join in this madcap chorus is minstrelsy, pure and simple. Professor West may not lecture about the Stockholm Syndrome in his classes at Princeton, but he is certainly a walking illustration of this malady.

When queried as to how his attacks are different from those emanating from the G.O.Tea Party and the right wing of the right wing, West had a facile response. He (correctly) pointed out that much of the so-called grassroots Tea Party movements are financed by “billionaires and plutocrats”. He then (insanely) stated that he spoke for the otherwise voiceless “masses” that have either been ignored or further oppressed by the Obama Administration.

My research does not indicate the moment in time when Cornel West was anointed as the voice of the “masses”. He presumably considers the thousands of black congressional, state and local elected officials (elected by the “masses”) as being mute and complicit in the sins of President Obama. And finally, Professor West is seemingly oblivious to the great harm that he can be the result of his attacks.

Much in the same way that Ralph Nader was directly responsible for the election of George Bush in 2000, Cornel West’s ravings born of personal pique and misplaced self-importance could persuade just a few voters to not vote for Barack Obama in 2012. A relatively few black voters in key states that stay home in solidarity with Princeton’s Finest could tip the election in favor of a Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann.

Clearly it is news to Professor West that politics is about the achievement of the possible while striving for perfection. Questioning Barack Obama’s “blackness”, calling him a “black mascot of Wall Street” and suggesting that he is afraid of “free thinking black men” (which presumably includes the Princeton-based bit actor in “Matrix Reloaded”) does nothing but energize the right wing of the right wing while degrading and corroding support for the president.

Perhaps Cornel West will be satisfied with a Palin or Pawlenty presidency in 2013. This is not the future that I wish for my son or the children of this country. If he can’t see the error of his ways perhaps he might have the good grace to just be quiet.

Point of View Columns

A Message to Sarah P. and Other Rappers

In the United States the First Amendment provides an environment for virtually unfettered expression. In recent years rappers and members of the right wing of the right wing have made full use of this freedom. Consider some of these pearls of wisdom:

“My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”- Ann Coulter
“Don’t retreat, reload!” – Sarah Palin, March 2010
“I got myself a gun,Uh Ohhhh!
Yea, I got myself a gun” – Jay-Z, “Super Ugly”
“I’ll react like an animal, I’ll tear you apart
If the masterpiece was murder, I’d major in art” – 50 Cent, “Gattman and Robbin”

Over thirty years ago the Black Panthers threatened to “shoot the pigs” (referring to the police) and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were known for inflammatory rhetoric as well.

But it has been a while since the left wing of the left wing glorified murder, mass or otherwise. And its really hard to find a current instance of liberal and moderate elected officials openly using gun terminology as a part of their political rhetoric.

Rappers have gotten fair criticism and a deserved bad rap for glorifying and inciting violence in urban communities throughout the country. In New York City the Police Department estimates that 90% of the recorded gunshot victims are black and Latino, communities that make up a large part of the audience of the rappers who love their guns and bullets all the way to the bank.

Ministers, community leaders and many members of the right wing of the right wing have regularly denounced rap lyrics as contributing to violence and mayhem in society. I am certain that no one would suggest that multimillionaires like Jay-Z and 50 Cent are actually giving directives to street operatives to shoot and maim. And we would all agree that “Fitty” and all of his bling wearing colleagues are simply exercising their First Amendment right of free speech.

Yet the body bags are regularly filled in urban America. And one has to get a queasy feeling seeing so many young black men in wheelchairs, paralyzed from the waist down by a spray of automatic bullets that may have been inspired by the regular outpouring of music and lyrics and imagery that portrays gunplay as part of life – “keeping it real” as it were.

Rappers like Jay-Z, take no responsibility for the culture of Uzi’s and Glock’s and 9 millimeters that is now as American as baseball and apple pie. And in this regard Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are no different than any of the other rappers that are out there making their multimillions while spewing forth hateful and violent images that too many people hear and a few people take seriously.

Sara P. and her defenders are absolutely correct in stating that there is no direct connection between her rifle scope “targeting” of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords while urging her supporters to “reload” and the Congresswoman being shot in the head by a (presumably) deranged gunman during the Tucson Massacre.

But this is a culture that exists in an environment of viral communication.
The rifle scope “target” map was broadcast over the internet and around the world. Who knows who saw it and incorporated a not so subtle message into a twisted directive? Sarah P. tweets to millions who in turn use a multitude of media tools to pass on the message without nuance or caution.

And then one day a gunman shoots a member of Congress. Last year another (presumably) deranged man flew his plane into an IRS building in Texas. This suicide bomber wanted to strike out against “big government” and his interpretation of the message that he heard from Sarah P., Rush Limbaugh, Tim Pawlenty, Michael Steele and so many more created a perspective that made a suicide flight into a federal building a logical next step.

Some rappers have realized that their glorification of guns and violence has been taken too seriously by their audience and too many people have died as a result. Some have toned down their message recognizing that overheated lyrics can have unintended consequences.

Perhaps Sarah P. and some of her supporters can recognize that there is a Law of Unintended Consequences at work all around us. If Sarah Palin is intent on being a rapper at the very least she can become a responsible one.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 20, 2010

It is summertime, but few would suggest that the living is easy. There are also few songs about autumn or winter being any easier, so it will best for us to brace ourselves. Meanwhile, all around us the content of our national character is tested and ascertained daily:

In all of the discussion about the proposed Islamic cultural center (NOT a mosque) in Lower Manhattan, it would appear that the basic and dispositive constitutional point is ignored – purposely, I would imagine. The Constitution of the United States clearly establishes freedom of religion in this country and just as clearly states that government (that would mean federal, state and local) cannot take any steps to limit that freedom. That would seem to be the end of the discussion.

But Minnesota Governor Tim (“smash the government”) Pawlenty claims that this reference to the Constitution is a mere “technicality” and that the feelings of the majority in this country trump the rights of the minority. Former Governor Sarah Palin calls on the Muslim community to “refudiate” (whatever that means) the cultural center because it is offensive.

Of course there are some who find Jews offensive and would wish that there would be no synagogues. There are some who find African Americans offensive and would wish that their children should never go to school with white children. There are some who find Catholics offensive and would close every church, chapel and cathedral if they could. None of these represent the majority of Americans, but those feelings did represent the feelings of loud and large numbers of Americans at different points in time within the past 200 years and it was the Constitution that turned away the venomous slings and errors embodied in these points of view. But now, the Constitution is a “technicality” when it is applied to Muslims.

Of course, the worse part of this entire travesty is the transparent rabble rousing and hatemongering that is going on, without the slightest regard for fact or truth. Fact: there are two mosques close to the 9/11 site. One is 4 blocks away and the other is 12 blocks away. Both have been there before the 9/11 tragedy and have been in continuous operation ever since without the slightest hint of a trace of a glimmer of controversy. Fact: the proposed Islamic center is not a mosque. There is a prayer room planned along with a culinary school, a banquet facility and a basketball court. Could the logical outcome of this travesty be that Muslims be denied a place to pray in any place that the majority finds “offensive”? A useful question to ponder as we peer down the slippery slope slathered with mass hysteria and prejudice.

And finally, Fact: There is a mosque within the Pentagon, another site of attack during 9/11. Many American died at the Pentagon that day so presumably the ground is as “hallowed” as the ground in Lower Manhattan. Yet, there has not been the slightest hint of a trace of a glimmer of controversy. Where fear and hatemongering live, truth and justice find it hard to survive.

Time Travel
A recent poll indicates that 26% of (presumably) adult Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim. The fact that he is an acknowledged Christian who worships in Christian churches, was married in a Christian ceremony and has had his two daughters baptized as Christians doesn’t seem to matter.

What is not mentioned, but is just as fascinating, is that there is an underlying assumption that President Obama being a Muslim would be a bad thing. And I am reminded that there was a time that even the hint of being associated with Roman Catholicism would doom a political career for all time. Of course, that was over 100 years ago. And, of course, we really haven’t come that far in 100 years after all.

Have a great weekend!